The Versatility of an Accounting Degree: A Conversation with Dr. Patty Goedl

Dr. Patty Goedl oversees the University of Cincinnati’s online Associate of Applied Business in Accounting Technology degree program, and brings passion, experience, and insight to her role. Recently we spoke with Dr. Goedl to learn about her fascinating background, her commitment to eliminating barriers for students, and where she sees this “recession-proof” career path of accounting heading in the future.

Choosing a Career in Accounting

UC Online: Thank you for speaking with us today. How did you first know that accounting was the career path for you?

Dr. Goedl: At the very beginning I was a non-traditional student, like many of my students in the program that we offer at UC Clermont College. I found myself a single mom, divorced with two children. This was back in the early 1990s when the landscape wasn’t nearly as friendly towards single moms or non-traditional students. I realized I needed to do something to support my family. It was all on me.

At that time the Sunday newspapers still had the classified ads, and when you opened it up, it was accounting, accounting, accounting, accounting. I went back and I got an associate degree in accounting—I actually started with that just like a lot of my students do, and I’ve always been able to find gainful employment, productive and lucrative, and have been able to support my family.

I decided I needed to keep moving up. I went from an associate degree to a bachelor’s degree to a master’s degree, to a CPA, to a PhD in the span of 15 years. With each step, I was able to advance professionally.

And I would say that what was relevant in the field of accounting back in the 1990s is absolutely relevant today. There are so many jobs! We have employers coming to the college every day looking for our graduates. I just posted five announcements on LinkedIn looking for students with an associate degree in accounting because there’s just such a demand in the field right now. Many of the same reasons that I went into accounting would be the same reasons I would advise the contemporary student to go into accounting.

Why Accounting Jobs Are Always in Demand

UC Online: You once called accounting jobs “recession-proof.” Why are accounting jobs always in demand?

Dr. Goedl: Accounting data is required for public organizations, for private organizations, for nonprofit organizations, for governmental organizations, and even for small individual sole proprietorships. That’s just the way it is.

And that leads to a vast array of possibilities in the field of accounting. You can do job cost accounting, you can work in corporate accounting, you can work in taxation, you could be a bookkeeper, you can work in a medical field, you could work at the university, you can work in governments, you can work at the state level, you can work for the Department of Defense. There are so many opportunities to specialize.

Usually what happens is once you get a little experience in one area, then a lot of opportunities for advancement open up in that particular area. But if you get into an area and you decide, “No, I don’t like non-for-profit accounting, I think I want to go into job cost accounting,” you can switch easily and then get a little experience and the same kinds of opportunities open up. Even though it’s one skill set, there are a lot of applications and a lot of variety in the profession.

Options Beyond the Associate Degree

UC Online: After the associate degree, students could choose to pursue additional education if their goal is to become a certified public accountant (CPA). Why might a student choose one or the other—why might they continue on to the CPA pathway, or why might they be very happy with the jobs available through an associate degree?

Dr. Goedl: The associate degree is really appropriate for someone who wants to get into the workforce quickly. There is a great return on investment (ROI) with an associate degree, as you can get into a decent entry-level accounting professional position. With the associate degree program, unlike a bachelor’s degree program, you’re getting your technical skills right off the bat and you’re able to go right to work. The associate degree pathway is really good for someone who wants to get a little bit of schooling and get right to work, or someone who is, say, underemployed right now and wants to go through the whole pathway (associate, bachelor’s, CPA level), but they want to work at the same time.

Only about 25 to 30% of accounting graduates sit for the CPA. Most of them don’t because in industry, you really don’t need a CPA unless you do public accounting for a firm.

Now of course, at the higher level, the CPA is absolutely valuable. The return on investment is phenomenal. It demands a huge salary. You could pretty much write your ticket and go anywhere you want and have a high-level professional career with a CPA, but it’s not necessary. It’s not the singular focus.

For students who ultimately seek to take the CPA exam, the AAB in Accounting Technology program coursework contributes to the college credit requirement, totaling 60 semester credits. Given that most states mandate 150 semester college credits for a CPA, graduates will need to transition to a bachelor’s program to fulfill this requirement.

Accounting Without Advanced Mathematics

UC Online: Many students might believe that they need to excel at advanced math to be strong accounting students, but you make a clear distinction between calculus and managing money. Who might surprise themselves by being a great accounting student?

Dr. Goedl: I think that the single greatest misconception about the field of accounting is that it requires advanced mathematical skills. It simply does not. There are some branches of accounting that are very specialized, like actuaries, but they’re rare. The vast majority of accounting uses basic mathematical skills that you can perform on a $1 calculator: addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and basic fractions.

If you think about what accounting really is, it is a system in which we classify financial data. “Here is a transaction that happened. What happened here? How is it classified and how do we put it in the system?” The transaction is defined in terms of numerics, and the number is given to you. You’re not calculating it. You’re not projecting it. It’s a hard number.

What we do in accounting is take those numbers and classify them into a system. Is this an asset, is it an expense? Once it’s classified, we report on it in a meaningful way so that people understand: Were you profitable or not profitable? How many assets does your company own? How much liability? How many people does your company owe? It’s that simple.

Think about your personal checking account. When you think about money coming in and out of your checking account, or earning money or spending money, or borrowing money or paying down a debt that you owe, those are numeric transactions as well. Do they require advanced math? No, they don’t.

That’s why I say accounting really doesn’t require advanced math. You need to be confident working with numbers, but it’s really no more advanced than a lot of what we already do intuitively to manage our personal finances.

Eliminating Barriers for Accounting Students

UC Online: Recently you created your own digital textbook, Principles of Managerial Accounting, and offered it for free to students and non-students alike. How did that idea first arise, and how does this textbook initiative fit into your larger goal of eliminating barriers for students?

Principles of Managerial Accounting Digital TextbookDr. Goedl: I can’t tell you how many students come up to me and say, “I can’t afford the book. Can you help me?” It is a burden on you as a faculty member to know you’re requiring something that somebody cannot afford, and it hurts.

At the same time that was going on, I had two adult daughters who were going to college. I was buying their books, and they were a thousand dollars [per term] — five classes each, $200 a book, two students. When I saw the bills myself, it became personal. I started to understand that one student coming to me saying “I can’t afford the book” has four other classes. It seemed like a barrier.

I already use so much of my own material [when I teach]. I decided, “I am going to write my own book, and I’m going to break free.” And I did it! It’s free. It’s freely available. I published it with University of Cincinnati Press. It’s a high-quality book. It has everything that a publisher textbook would have, and then some — I call it a video e-text.

I surveyed hundreds of students and I said, “Do you prefer to read a book or do you prefer to watch a video?” 98% of them said, “I prefer to learn by video.” I created a video e-text: it has all the standard writing of a traditional academic textbook, so a student could read the book and learn all the material, but then following each section is a video explanation or application. A student who prefers to learn by watching the videos could not read a single word, watch the videos, and learn all the material.

It’s kind of revolutionary in its own right, even as a free resource.

Accounting Opens New Doors

UC Online: Dr. Goedl, it has been wonderful speaking with you. If you could give one final piece of advice to prospective accounting students, what would it be?

Dr. Goedl: If you enjoy working with money, and you feel that you are underemployed and you’re willing to put in a little work to learn some new skills, this degree will open a lot of doors and a lot of possibilities for you personally and professionally.


Interested in a lucrative job in the high-demand accounting field? Reach out to learn more about the University of Cincinnati’s two-year Associate of Applied Business in Accounting Technology program, which offers a self-paced learning schedule and the ability to balance work, life, and school!

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