In its first 25 years, the Professional Program (PPA) at Mays Business School has become one of the largest providers of CPAs nationally and by far the largest in Texas, producing about 4,500 graduates to date.
The Professional Program is an integrated five-year curriculum that offers students the opportunity to simultaneously earn a bachelor’s degree in accounting and a master’s of science degree in any one of the business majors. Placement rates for graduates are nearly 100 percent, as the program is a leading source of prospects for the largest public accounting firms. PPA graduates are also sought after by companies in the consulting, investment banking and corporate accounting/finance, energy, financial services and technology arenas.
At a recent reunion and scholarship drive at Texas A&M University, about 200 former students, supporters and faculty members gathered at the Zone Club at Kyle Field to share stories and meet with former classmates and faculty members. They heard from inaugural program director Austin Daily and Accounting Department Head Jim Benjamin, and they donated funds for scholarships for fifth-year PPA students.
PPA Director Annie McGowan visited with Austin Daily, the program’s first director.
The program began in 1992 as the accounting profession began calling for increased education for CPA’s, and Texas added a requirement of 150 hours of education to sit for the CPA exam, Benjamin said. While the requirement did not mandate a master’s degree, Mays added non-traditional academic tracks providing the option of master’s degrees. Both degrees are awarded simultaneously at the end of the program. “Many peer schools now have integrated programs, but the formats vary considerably,” Benjamin said. “What makes our program truly unique from all others is the opportunity for students to get the MS degree in finance, MIS, marketing or entrepreneurship in the program. I am not aware of any other schools that have such an option.”
All PPA graduates are eligible to sit for the CPA exam, and most start their careers in public accounting, but Benjamin said Mays faculty and administrators believe that the master’s degree options give Mays graduates greater career opportunities – as evidenced through the success and career progression of the PPA graduates.
Mays is consistently ranked in the top 10 accounting programs nationally by a number of ranking services. The CPA exam pass rates of the Mays PPA students significantly exceed national averages, and the program is usually in the top 10 in that category among large accounting programs. Almost all of the PPA students have paid internships during their fourth year, and most have accepted jobs prior to graduation.
“Parents and students were initially somewhat skeptical of the need for accountants to have a graduate degree,” Benjamin added, “but the value proposition seemed to be accepted relatively quickly and the integrated concept became well branded quickly.”
PPA picks up, maintains steam
Annie McGowan, current director of the program, said it quickly earned a very positive reputation among employers and that most graduates have job offers prior to graduation. Most of the students have internships during their fourth year. The consensus among employers has been that the Professional Program adds value well beyond a traditional bachelor’s program coupled with a traditional stand-alone master’s program.
“The program was designed to focus on problem solving, teamwork, technology, leadership and communication, as well as other broader business issues,” McGowan said. “The success of the tracks required not only substantial cooperation among the departments involved, but also a seamless relationship between the program’s BBA and MS phases.”
For Brett Parrish ’93, one of the students in the first cohort, the PPA was a springboard for a successful career that led him to become a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. He said the program helped him be a more well-rounded graduate. “I was much more qualified, both technically and professionally, than if I had not gone through the program,” he said. “Being a part of Group 1 was a neat experience, helping to establish something that has continued to grow and flourish. I enjoy getting to come back to campus and meet with students and recruit. It is always neat to see the students’ reactions when I tell them I’m from Group I.”
Brett Parrish, Group I, and Samantha Bates, Group XXV, with Brett’s wife and Samantha’s mother, Stacey Parrish.
Parrish said the internship was built into the program at a good time. “I was able to obtain career experience while still a student, then take that knowledge back for the rest of my schooling and apply what I learned,” he said. “Because of the experiences during my internship, I was much more focused on learning the skills and information that would benefit me going forward, instead of learning to achieve a grade.”
Parrish said the program has changed quite a bit since he was in it. For one thing, the program initially had no name, so that became one of the first tasks for the students. Also, when he began, there wasn’t a 150-hour requirement to receive a CPA license. “This made recruiting students into the program difficult since it wasn’t a necessity to have the master’s degree,” he said. “Additionally, we lost several folks after the internship when they decided to not come back for their fifth year. By the time we graduated, there were approximately 30-35 students. Now the program has grown to around 250.”
The program continues to be proactive in providing its students with options to expand the breadth of available opportunities. The program partners with the Bush School to offer students the option to integrate a transfer pricing or non-profit certificate into their course of study. Students are also offered an opportunity to participate in a global immersion program to Australia.
PPA’s next generation
Sometimes a good thing comes full circle, and such is the case with PPA. Samantha Bates ’17 is a current student in Group XXV of the program. She said she knew she wanted to study business, but was undecided on what field to pursue. She was strongly influenced by her stepfather, Brett Parrish, and Bates set her goal during her freshman year to get admitted to the program.
She said she knew of the program’s good reputation and advantages, which open many doors in the business world. She liked the idea of getting a master’s degree and being able to sit for the CPA exam before graduating, as well as the opportunity to interview and intern with the most prestigious accounting firms. “In my opinion, the program really sets you up for success and gives you all the tools you need to excel in the ‘real world,’” Bates said. “I hope to gain experience and connections in the industry as well as continue to learn and expand my knowledge base through the master’s degree.”