SHERIDAN — At the start of the Fall 2020 semester, the University of Wyoming College of Business will offer a fully online Bachelor of Science in Accounting to help meet high demand for the profession and preserving flexibility for students across the state. A number of the courses will be available online in the Spring 2019 semester.
“Our purpose as a university is to meet the educational needs of the state, and it has become clear over the years that students want this program, and we are here to deliver,” College of Business Relations Representative Taylor True said in an email.
The online version of the degree program will be entirely self-paced. True said it was important to allow flexibility for students to complete the program on whatever timeline best suits their needs. Sheridan College Director of business education Doug Cherry said he considers accounting amenable to online and part-time study but emphasized the difficulty of the courses, even in person.
He cited a difficult 300-level course with a fail rate over 50% that serves in effect to decide who will and will not become an accountant, and said he believes the difficulty will be magnified online.
“From a state demand perspective, they are so overdue,” Cherry said. “We have a huge economic demand for it. In reality, the University is a decade behind. They should’ve been doing this 10 years ago.”
The courses will make use of a variety of projects, assignments, examinations and discussion boards.
Students entering the program with the appropriate prerequisites are expected to be able to complete the degree in two years, and True said the college expects a large number of students to enter the program with their associate’s degrees in hand. True also said the College of Business had received inquiries from students interested in earning a second bachelor’s degree because of the need for accountants in the workforce.
“The non-traditional student that’s working full-time is going to be able to do these kind of programs,” Cherry said. “These are the students that we are seeking out as far as the state at the macro level is concerned. We need to offer opportunities for them.”
True said students who enroll in the online program will enjoy the same support for professional certifications before and following graduation to be able to gain employment as accountants.
“We have a long history of supporting on campus students through the steps of tests and certifications, and the experience of our online students will be no different,” True said. “Part of the advising process we work through with each student is identifying their interests and goals after degree completion, and from there we can help students achieve those steps.”
True said the idea for the program has been around for a long time but gained traction with new College of Business Dean David Sprott and the opening of the College of Business Peter M. & Paula Green Johnson Student Success Center. True said the Board of Trustees and administration supported and approved the programs.
“They’ve had no real leadership in their college of business for three years, and that’s why the community colleges frankly have captured a lot of the market share there,” Cherry said.
However, Cherry met with Sprott and the UW business leadership in October and believes they will launch the program effectively.
True did not have an anticipated number of students for the program. The UW College of Business also currently offers an online Bachelor of Science in business administration.
Sheridan High School Chairperson for Career and Technical Education Heidi Richins said CTE students are regularly interested in accounting, with two interns in the field this year and four last year.
“And our accountants in town have been fantastic to give kids internships, across the board, to give them that opportunity,” Richins said.
Sheridan High School business teachers Shirley Coulter and Larry Ligocki each teach a section of introduction to accounting to 50 or 60 students, and each year about a third of these consider the profession.
Ligocki thinks accounting lends itself to online and independent study better than many other common degrees. He also pointed out that online study can save students a significant amount of money, and accountants can find work in almost any community.
Ligocki said he would favor streamlining the degree to eliminate general education requirements for returning students who may already be in the workforce and expects even higher interest in the field once it’s available online.
Cherry said the biggest challenge to higher education in Wyoming is access. Cherry noted that about 60% of Sheridan College business students continue on to UW currently, but students tend to transfer from Gillette College to Black Hills State University because it’s closer.
Cherry also said accounting faculty are always the hardest to hire, especially during the spring semester when they’re in demand for tax season. Sheridan College currently has three instructors teaching accounting, but Cherry said he could probably use five in reality.
“I think it’s a win-win,” Cherry said. “It’s a win for the university, it’s a win for Wyoming communities, it’s a win for the colleges.”