By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – When people think about the most exciting career options, accounting and finance don’t often come to mind.
They’re just a bunch of number crunchers and pencil pushers, right?
In reality, these fields offer a variety of job opportunities that are anything but boring, and more students are beginning to take notice.
“There’s a misconception that accounting and finance are just calculations and spreadsheets. That’s part of it, but it’s how you use the data to help businesses and organizations that is challenging and rewarding. Should the business move into a new market or launch new products? Should it make an acquisition? Should it purchase a new piece of equipment? It’s the accounting and finance folks who bring their analyses to the table to help the company make these decisions and avoid unprofitable business moves,” said Bree Dority, an associate finance professor and associate dean of the University of Nebraska at Kearney College of Business and Technology.
“Also, there are a variety of roles and industries so you’re not just stuck with the job you land after college. You have options and can continue to gain a variety of skills to move toward the career you want,” Dority added.
Enrollment in UNK’s accounting and finance programs has risen 11% over the past five years, driven by a strong demand and high pay for these professionals. Both UNK programs had 100% job placement rates in 2020-21, with graduates earning a median starting salary around $50,000.
“Students know they will be able to find a job upon graduation and that it will be a good-paying job,” said professor Frank Tenkorang, chair of UNK’s Department of Accounting, Finance and Economics.
Nationwide, the median annual salary for accounting and finance positions is around $73,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, much higher than the $42,000 median salary for all occupations.
Job security and high wages were among the selling points for UNK junior Laine SaBell, who’s studying business administration with an accounting emphasis.
“A lot of times students have a job before they even graduate, and that was huge for me,” she said. “That’s one less thing I have to worry about.”
The Aurora native already has connections with several accounting firms, thanks to professional development events that allow students to learn from industry leaders, network with employers and discuss future internship and job opportunities. SaBell is currently completing a tax season internship at Lutz in Grand Island, and she’ll start an auditing internship there this summer.
“What’s really nice about UNK and the accounting program is they know students have busy season internships, so they schedule classes for only Tuesdays and Thursdays so you can go to your internship on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays,” she said. “The professors here really do want you to succeed, and they’ll do everything they can to make that happen.”
SaBell is on track to graduate in May 2023, then she’ll take the exam to become a certified public accountant. She plans to accept a full-time position with Lutz.
Experiential learning is also an integral part of the finance program, which provides real-world experience through the William L. Bauhard Student Managed Investment Fund. Established in 2014, the fund allows students to buy and sell securities on the stock market using real money and the knowledge they’ve gained in the classroom. The portfolio currently contains assets in excess of $210,000.
“Experiential learning activities such as the Bauhard Fund and internships at regionally and nationally reputable firms prepare our students well for the job market,” Tenkorang said. “The external activities are complemented by hands-on learning in the classroom led by faculty with substantial industry experience.”
The “top-notch” education he received at UNK allowed Austin Partridge to make an immediate impact at First National of Nebraska, the largest privately owned banking company in the U.S. That’s where he’s worked since graduating in May 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a finance emphasis.
“I can’t say enough good things about the preparation I received at UNK. I really do mean that. The rigor of those programs helped prepare me for the challenges I face every day,” said Partridge, who’s pursuing a Master of Business Administration through Creighton University.
A Grand Island native, Partridge completed First National Bank of Omaha’s management trainee program before joining the First National Capital Markets team in Omaha, where he currently serves as a director in the public finance investment banking division. Partridge works with cities, counties, school districts, hospitals, power districts and other public entities in the state, including the University of Nebraska System, to help them develop financing strategies for capital improvement projects.
“Every project we’re part of is rewarding in its own way,” said Partridge, whose team has a hand in the construction of roads, schools, water systems and other infrastructure across the state. “I can’t see another way that you could be more directly involved in growing a community than where I work with our public finance team.”
Partridge calls finance an “exciting and ever-evolving” industry that will continue to change as new technology is introduced.
“It’s an incredibly interesting industry to go into because there are so many different fields and subfields within finance,” he said. “If I was a young student in high school or college, I would love to learn about these things that are happening in the banking space and how I can be involved in that.”
SaBell feels the same way about accounting.
“One thing I really like about accounting is you can do so much with it. There are so many routes you can take,” she said. “If you’re kind of uncertain about what you want to do in the business world, this program provides useful information that can be applied to pretty much any profession.”