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Best Accounting Schools in Iowa in 2021

October 4, 2021 | Staff Writers

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While there aren’t many TV shows based on the accountant profession, it’s just as important to the entertainment industry as any other. Many assume it’s not a growing profession, because it’s not directly focused on data science or algorithms. The truth is many organizations, including the government, will need even more because of the technological growth in many sectors as well as throughout society. The state of Iowa is a well-known manufacturing hub as well as a big player in healthcare and retail. As those industries move to more advanced practices, there will be significant expansion and this is why accounting schools in Iowa may see an influx of students.

Benefits of earning your accounting degree in Iowa

Job outlook and benefits

The growth rate for accountants is about 4 percent, which puts it at pace with the overall job growth. By 2029, the U.S. will need over 61,000 accountants and auditors, and for those with a keen interest in numbers, finance, and logic, there are many rewards to reap from this profession including:

  • Steady demand for your expertise: Because money is the lifeblood of any business, including the government, there will always be a need for accountants. With changes to income tax laws, individuals are also going to need your help in figuring their finances out. This puts you on a potentially entrepreneurial path.
  • Healthy salary: Even with an associates degree average pay can be around $40,000 to $45,000 per year to start. With a bachelor’s, it’s more like between $60,000 and $80,000, but with the right experience, you can earn well over $100,000 per year. In Iowa, the annual mean is between $69,000 and $74,000, with some areas paying far more for the right combination of knowledge and experience
  • Diversified skill set: As a staff accountant you will need to apply context to the figures. This means learning about different industries and the ways they conduct business. When hiring accountants, companies favor candidates who know about various areas, because it can save teams from extra work.
  • Continuous growth: Continuous growth leads to increased promotion opportunities. This entails not only getting advanced degrees but the additional training, certifications, and networking opportunities that come along with your on-the-job experience. There’s no such thing as a terminal education in accounting.

Why earn your accounting degree

Accounting is a universal discipline. It’s great as a first career or as a second act for someone looking to change careers. It’s more than just about numbers. It’s about knowledge that spans an entire economy and using it to put the pieces of that financial puzzle together, which requires certain problem solving skills. With a bachelor’s degree you can work as:

  • Staff auditor: Staff Auditors take a look at company data, such as financial and personnel, to ensure that its compliance with regulation.
  • Financial analyst: This role can have different titles, including securities analyst, investment analyst, or any other roles depending on the industry. Financial analysts guide businesses about how much they need to invest to get the profits they want.
  • Budget analyst: Budget analysts take a look at spending and prepare the necessary reports to help organizations plan their finances.
  • Cost estimator: When organizations need to understand how much time, money, labor, and materials are required for a project, cost estimators come up with the numbers and analyses. They typically specialize in an industry or product, like construction, for example,

While the concept of job security has been called into question, earning your degree is your way of keeping the doors open even in a tough labor market.

Benefits of attending accounting school in Iowa

Iowa has almost 70 higher education institutions, making it one of the most educationally dense states in the U.S. Its high school graduation rate is considered higher than the national average and school costs are lower along with the state’s cost of living. Students have access to key financial aid opportunities and can graduate with less debt that they can pay off faster than students in other states.

On top of that, there is also a lot of industrial movement and growth within the state. As home to more than 80 insurance company headquarters and a growing advanced manufacturing sector, Iowa’s economy is incredibly diverse, which is probably why it’s ranked as one of the best-run states in the country. All of these benefits make getting your accounting degree in Iowa a positive move.

What to expect while earning your accounting degree at a school in Iowa

Earning your accounting degree is one of the first steps to having a solid professional foundation for becoming a certified accounting professional. There are many specializations to choose from, but the key is to get the experience you need, hone your craft, and find what you are great at. With that in mind, when starting your journey there are a few core concepts that you’ll need to understand.

Introduction to Financial Accounts and Introduction to Managerial Accounts: Financial accounting is about keeping track of a company’s transactions as a way to ultimately assess its value, should there be activity, such as a merger, acquisition, or public offering. Managerial accounting is all about budgeting, forecasting, financial analysis, and other areas being used as a way of supporting management decisions and growing the business’ value.

Financial Accounting Theory and Practice: This course talks about why financial reporting is important, and the supply and demand dynamic that creates information asymmetry.

Auditing Theory and Practice: Auditing theory and practice is about understanding the fundamental concepts of auditing, and how it’s affected by the internal control procedures, regulating organizations, and professional standards. This course prepares students to create and submit the necessary reports and follow the necessary procedures.

Accounting Entities: Accounting entities are like economic silos that isolate their records from other subdivisions. This course introduces you to the chart of accounts concept as it relates to trusts, corporations, and partnerships.

Accounting certifications

There are quite a few designations accountants can achieve as they gain more experience and discover their specialization focus.

  • Accredited Business Advisor/Accountant (ABA): An ABA declares that the holder is proficient in financial reporting, managerial accounting, business law, and other knowledge small and medium-sized businesses need. This credential is a recognized standard.
  • Accredited Tax Preparer (ATP): These accounting professionals have thorough knowledge of the tax code and ethics and are able to expertly prepare individual returns and supported schedules.
  • Accredited Tax Advisor (ATA): ATAs are accredited tax advisors who can handle sophisticated tax planning situations for businesses, estates, fiduciaries, and trusts. They can also do tax consulting.
  • Licensed Public Accountant (LPA): In the state of Iowa licensed accountants are known as LPAs. LPAs can be accountants employed by a certified accountant or even a graduate with a bachelor’s in accounting from a school accredited by the North Central Accreditation Association. These professionals prepare and analyze financial reports as well as develop and install accounting systems, but they cannot do audits or publicly verify financial data accuracy. Their licenses are $100 and they need continuing education credits to maintain compliance every three years.

Becoming a CPA in Iowa

One of the major milestones in any accountant’s career is becoming a certified public accountant, CPA. CPAs, also known as chartered accountants in other countries, are highly experienced professional accountants that are strategic business advisors and decision-makers. They are often recruited by large corporations and federal law enforcement agencies. While licensing varies from state-to-state, passing the CPA exam is a recognizable credential around the world.

Becoming a CPA in Iowa starts with earning at least a bachelor’s degree with a minimum of 150 semester hours. These hours must include upper-level business and accounting courses, such as economics, business law, and taxation. Internships and special courses taken at an accredited institution can count towards these credits. Additionally, accountants need at least 2,000 practical hours of experience over a 12-month period.

Candidates must also prove competency in understanding accounting information systems, cost analysis, asset management, and other practices. They need to pass the American Institute of Certified Professional Accountants, AICPA, course on professional ethics with at least a grade of 90.

Once you have successfully passed all units of the CPA exam and the ethics portion as well as fulfilled the other requirements, then you can apply for your Iowa state accounting license or LPA. 

To continue as an LPA for the state of Iowa, you’ll need to take 40 continuing professional education, CPE, hours starting after December 31st of your first fully licensed year until December 31st of your second year. For the third year, requirement is 80 hours and after that third year candidates must complete 120 CPE hours every 3 years with the following breakdown:

  • A maximum of four hours must be on ethics
  • A maximum of 24 hours on non-technical subjects, such as marketing and leadership
  • The remainder of the hours must be on technical accounting subjects, such as auditing or assurance

Classes must be approved by the AICPA to count towards your CPE. Formats include taking a university semester course, which is the most advantageous path. For credit courses, one semester hour equals 15 CPE, while for non-credit courses the ratio is one-to-one. Speaking engagements and publishing articles or books all count as a percentage of total hours. There’s a helpful list of activities you can do to fulfill your requirements.

Types of accounting degree programs available at Iowa schools

Levels of accounting degree types range from training someone with zero experience in the field to conducting research.

Different types of accounting degrees

Accounting certificate: This short program helps those unfamiliar with accounting to get their feet wet. A certificate in accounting, which is composed of a few courses at a community college, provides students who have just a high school diploma with an entry-level qualification to become a bookkeeper. While it may not count as credit towards the degree, it does provide the opportunity to gain experience in the field and build your way up. 

Associate degree: An associate’s is a two-year 60-credit degree in general accounting that is relatively inexpensive and a step above a certificate. Individuals with an associate degree can work as accounting assistants, auditing clerk’s, and even tax preparers. The daily experience of managing receipts and recording financial transactions may lead to certifications. The good thing is that these credits can be transferred to an undergraduate degree program.

Bachelor’s degree: with a bachelor’s, students start their journey to become a CPA. Math, statistics, finance, and business are some of the courses you will be tackling. This degree gives students a chance to go for a specialization, because the job market demands qualified accountants from the undergraduate level.

Masters degree in accounting: The Master in Accounting (MAcc) requires another one to two years of study. They’ll learn advanced theory and skills and specialize in a concentration. A graduate degree sets candidates apart from the competition as the bachelor’s becomes more commonplace.

MBA in accounting: A Master of Business Administration, MBA, has more of an emphasis on business management, but students can choose a concentration in accounting. This MBA program prepares professionals for leadership positions in a company or as an entrepreneur.

Doctorate in accounting: Doctorate degrees in accounting are uncommon and there are two types. The Ph.D is geared more towards research, teaching or consulting. A Doctor of Business Administration, DBA, is more professional and practical. Those who work in the field and possess a DBA are more about leadership and leveraging their expertise to be C-suite professionals or vice presidents. Doctorates take anywhere from one to five years, depending on the level of commitment.

Four types of accountants 

When choosing a concentration, there are four broad categories all accountants that dictate your professional path.

Corporate accounting

Corporate accountants handle reports filing and overall management of a company’s financial data. They have to tap their knowledge about certain methodologies to ensure financial accuracy and compliance. These accountants rely heavily on the generally accepted accounting principles, GAAP, international financial reporting standards, and international revenue codes, as they are key standards and procedures needed to properly file taxes.

Public accounting

Public accountants deal with small, medium, and large companies to ensure that they properly comply with the tax codes and other regulations by applying GAAP and other industry-specific standards.

Government accounting

Government accountants work for local, state, and federal government institutions which have different frameworks than everyone else. In many cases, they keep privileged and confidential information, which means these accountants have to be vetted and cleared.

Forensic accounting

Forensic accountants collect, reconstruct, and analyze financial data. This type of accountancy involves resourcefulness, attention to detail, and being able to solve complex problems, because now the data that they are dealing with is more like a puzzle missing some of its pieces. Law firms and government agencies are two common employers. On average, many certified forensic accountants are self-employed or consultants for private corporations.

As you become more educated and experienced, you’ll discover your niche and dive deeper into the discipline. There are a few other certifications that will both enhance and further your expertise, and they require at least two years of relevant work experience before they can be achieved.

  • Certified Internal Auditor (CIA): Certified internal auditors review financial records for deficiencies in internal controls that can lead to inappropriate financial actions. This means working to find fabricated numbers and ethics violations. CIAs require 40 hours of continuing education for renewal.
  • Certified Financial Manager (CFM): CFMs are specialists in understanding how finance and accounting affects businesses, making them ideal for executive-level positions. This is a certification that covers history, theory, and the cornerstones of business accountancy.
  • Certified Management Accountant (CMA): CMAs are financial accountants who are also experts in strategic management. Their analyses go well beyond the GAAP standards, because their corporate insight and performance metrics shape business strategy.
  • Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE): CFEs are anti-fraud professionals that know the signs and red flags of fraud and fraud risk. They’re trained to detect, and deter fraud by understanding the underlying factors of the act, and how it’s committed. They are tested in the major disciplines of the profession and must complete at least 20 hours of CE annually.
  • Certified Government Finance Manager (CGFM): CGFMs must be proficient in government accounting, auditing, reporting, and budgeting at all levels. Applicants need to submit all documents and verifications to the AGA, Association of government accountants, and pass the three exams. To maintain certification, you need 80 hours of CE yearly
  • Certified Financial Planner (CFP): CFPs help individuals plan their finances. This includes preparing individuals for retirement, handling taxes, investment, and education. CFPs have to complete the coursework that takes 12 to 18 months and pass a 170-question exam. They can fulfill the 4,000- to 6,000-hour experience requirement before or after they get certified.
  • Enrolled Agent (EA): An EA is an IRS-designated role where you can represent taxpayers before the IRS. Those who worked for the IRS can earn this EA designation while everyone else has to pass the examination. EAs are unrestricted by location, or even the type of clients with tax issues they can handle. Once enrolled, agents need 72 hours of continuing education every three years

Can you be an accountant in Iowa?

Many look at accounting and automatically decide that they don’t like it. It could be that they aren’t good at math, or it seems boring. While math is an absolute requirement, there are a few other considerations that make it a top profession choice.

  • Ethics: When it comes to integrity and moral standards, accountants must check all boxes. With the kind of sensitive information involved as well as the high volumes of money, ethical behavior is paramount
  • Keen attention to detail: Numbers speak a language all their own, and if one decimal is out of place, accountants need to cash it immediately. Eagle-eyed attention to detail is a professional requirement.
  • Ability to withstand pressure: Back in the olden days, accountants were seldom seen, rarely heard guys hidden in a back office. Things have changed. They need to make presentations and stand in the forefront of company information management. If something goes wrong financially they need the fortitude to withstand the heat and speak to the numbers.
  • You’re like a financial archaeologist: Archaeologists dig deeply to find what they need. Accountants need to ask questions, dig, and show their creativity in an effort to make sure the numbers pan out. Curiosity and creativity are an accountant’s best tools.
  • Not necessarily 9-to-5: Deadlines happen all the time. Whether it’s corporate tax time, income taxes, or audits, days aren’t always 9-to-5. If you can handle some intense crunch times, then this may be the path for you.

Once you understand the different types of accounting, certifications, and characteristics that go into being a successful accounting professional, you have enough time to understand what are the different accounting paths you can pursue in Iowa. Schools offer an accounting certificate and associate’s programs but the majority of them have bachelor’s programs. There are fewer schools with a master’s concentration, roughly a third of those with bachelor’s programs. The national CPA pass rate is 50 percent, but the Iowa CPA pass rate is 10 percentage points higher, making the idea of getting an accounting degree in Iowa smart investment.

Best schools in Iowa with accounting degree programs

There are a few reasons why the best accounting degree programs are preferred by many students

  • Flexibility: The best schools have both online and in-person programs as well as hybrid programs to accommodate individuals. You can go full-time or do courses part-time online due to commitments.
  • Affordability: Tuition for students studying in Iowa is lower than average. The average yearly loan amount is between $7,000 and $8,000, far less than the tens of thousands others incur over a year. Some schools have even gone so far as to charge in-state tuition for their online programs regardless of where the student is.
  • Resources available: The best schools have active career centers that can help students find internships and jobs upon graduation.
  • Faculty: This is a make-or-break point for degree program. The best ones attract faculty with both extensive experience in the power to engage students by showing them how classroom lessons translate into the real world.

Top accounting degree programs in Iowa

Drake University

As a private university, Drake is considered the top accounting school in Iowa. It offers both a bachelor’s and master’s, and the program introduces students to real-world experiences from their first semester. Undergrad applicants can opt to include their test scores or they can choose the test-optional path, which uses interviews or essays. Drake’s Master of Accountancy program focuses on leadership and prepares students for their CPA exam. What makes it one of the top schools is that 90 percent of graduates were placed in the ‘Big 4’ accounting firms, which are Deloitte, EY, PwC, and KPMG, as well as resident Fortune 500 companies. Graduates with a bachelor’s earn over $10,000 more than the national average which is almost $44,000, while those with the master’s program in salary close to $60,000 per year.

University of Iowa

The Tippie College of Business is one of the few schools in the state to offer a Ph.D in Accounting which focuses on augmenting teaching, research and publishing skills. Along with an undergraduate program, its accounting master’s degree does not require a GMAT score. The school also has the highest CPA pass rate, 80.7 percent, of Iowa public universities and is ranked 13th across large U.S. accounting programs. Accounting major students get hands-on experience through the VITA, volunteer income tax assistance, a program that provides free tax preparation program for low and medium income taxpayers.

University of Northern Iowa

UNIBusiness provides a CPA and non-CPA track for undergraduates. A majority of students who opted for the CPA track pass it before their first day of work. The non-CPA track requires at least 57 semester hours and is focused on business and management courses. UNI also has its Accounting Club that helps students to attend networking events with potential employers and recruiters.

Iowa State University

The Ivy College of Business offers a master’s and bachelor’s as well as a minor in accounting. Graduate students get to prep for the CPA exam or the CMA exam while undergraduates get the experience they need through the VITA program. Roughly 84 percent of all the faculties full-time, which enables them to spend more time guiding students, and about 97 percent of graduates wind up being employed by public and private firms including the ‘Big 4’, John Deere, Cargill, and Union Pacific. Undergraduate admissions relies on the Regent Admission Index, RAI, which incorporates a student’s ACT score, cumulative GPA, and high school core courses into a special formula. Master’s candidates provide their resumes, essays, transcripts and GMAT or GRE scores.

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