The UL Accouting Department has traditionally had the highest pass rates in Louisiana on the CPA exam, and many of the faculty are well known for their research and involvement in professional and policy groups. ultoday.com recently spoke with Department Head Ellen Cook.

Tell us about yourself.

I'm a USL graduate, Class of 1974 in accounting. I got my masters at LSU, worked for a year in a Washington DC tax firm, and I came back. This is my 32nd year at UL.

What is accounting? Everyone deals with it, but I don't think most of us understand it.

I think most people's concept of accounting is bookkeeping, which we call "write-up work". Certainly there are accountants who do that, either on paper or with a computer.

What the accountant really does, is interpret and analyze the numbers. That's why industry accountants are sometimes called "managerial accountants". It's exactly what they do, they use numbers for planning. In the past I have taught our Managerial Accounting class, and I emphasized to the students that coming up with the numbers is not what the accountant does; it's interpreting what those numbers mean, and then advising management in making important decisions.

Accounting is called the language of business, and that is true. We have the traditional jobs, such as auditing, which is monitoring a business's compliance with bookkeeping rules. And then there's tax accounting, monitoring compliance with the IRS code, but which now also involves tax/wealth planning & management. Those are probably the two areas that people tend to think of when they think of accounting.

As business became global, however, so did accounting. For instance, a lot of our students now go into government accounting. We have UL alumni working for the Department of Defense, the FBI, the CIA, and so forth, as well as for state and local government.

We also have about four of our grads who currently work for the internal auditor here at UL. So they oversee our own compliance.

Industry is very big on accountants now. There are now more accountants & CPAs working in private industry than in public accounting. So many of our students are CFOs of major oil companies, major food production companies, and the like. In fact, Dean John of the Moody College of Business has recently organized the Acadiana CFO Round Table, and has invited the CFOs from the top 50 Acadiana companies to participate. The majority of those CFOs are UL accounting grads.

Nationally, a lot of your CEOs also come up from the CFO ranks, and many of the Fortune 500 leaders are accounting graduates.

There is a lot of analysis and critical thinking in forensic accounting.

Yes. We offer a fraud forensics course every couple of years. In fact, a few years ago we had a class analyze internal control procedures, and one of them identified a potential weakness that was later discovered to have apparently been exploited by an employee.

The students love the class. It's not rote work, they take their knowledge and apply it to different situations. There's a great deal more thinking and analyzing in accounting than most people realize.

Tell us about your Department.

We have a department of 10 full-time and 3 part-time faculty with wide-ranging backgrounds. We have 7 faculty who are CPAs, 2 with Certified Financial Planning credentials, and one who is a Certified Valuation Specialist. Our faculty work very hard to stay current & competent. If you can't do that in accounting, you won't survive in the business world.

We have over 550 majors, I don't yet know the exact numbers for this semester. In 2007-2008, we graduated 100 students from our program. We have slightly more females than males, and that's changed over the years. I was one of only two female grads in 1974.

I think we have the best accounting program in the state. We have an outstanding faculty that produces students who are ready for the rigors of the profession. Our students succeed in all areas of accounting, from the Big 4 accounting firms, to our local firms, to all levels of government.

And our pass rates on the CPA licensing exam have reflected that. Because of changes in the test, we don't get comparative information about what schools the candidates attended, so currently we can't show the numbers. But in the past, for many years UL led the state for pass rates on the accounting exam, or occasionally was neck & neck with UNO.

Currently I am taking over as Chair of the American Institute of CPA's Individual Income Tax Technical Resource Panel. So I will head the Committee that recommends legislation and administrative changes to Congress and to the Department of Treasury. It's a pretty important job, because we have a lot of influence over tax & corporate law.

We have also just filed an application to attain separate accounting accreditation from the AACSB [Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business]. Only 169 schools world-wide have such a designation. It's a 7 year process, but they put us on a fast-track and we skipped the first 5 1/2 years. We had to submit a report for our application, and the Accounting Accreditation Committee felt we were ready to skip to the 6th year in the process.

Many of our faculty are well-known nationally for either their research or their work with national accounting education associations. Two of them served on the National Council of the American Accounting Association. I doubt there are many schools, other than the few really big ones, who have done this. Certainly it is highly unusual for the "smaller" schools. I am confident than no other school in Louisiana has had two people serve on the Council.


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