Nationwide, student loans outpace credit card debt, and at Robert Morris, a school built around its renowned accountancy program, that number cries out for an accounting of a special sort. So Carol MacPhail M'88, who chairs RMU’s accounting and taxation program, has joined with the accounting faculty to develop a first-of-its-kind faculty-founded scholarship program to put fresh scholarship dollars into the hands of accounting students.
The plan is simple: for every dollar MacPhail’s faculty colleagues put forward to create the Accounting and Taxation Legacy Endowed
Scholarship Fund, she and her husband, Doug MacPhail ’74, have matched the amount. The hope is to inspire alumni and other
stakeholders to create a large enough sum to generate income that will help promising students live up to the promise of a career in accounting. So far, the effort has raised roughly $30,000. They’re going to need more.
“Students at RMU do not have it handed to them,” says MacPhail. “Nearly every student in the accounting program has a part-time
job. Some are working 30-40 hours a week. I am overwhelmed by the needs of the students and their efforts to earn their degrees.”
As Dave Hess, a practicing accountant and professor at RMU puts it: “The Robert Morris profile is hard-working kids who don’t have a
lot of money.” Many of them are students like Kyle Neff, a fourth-year accounting major from Johnstown about to enter the master’s
degree program. He’ll carry $45,000 in student debt into a new life. In years past, college graduates spoke of a new car, travel, or money down on a house. Today, notes Hess, college students “leave with debt that is life-limiting, life-deferring.”
MacPhail says the dilemma is poignant. A career in accounting is a ticket to professional fulfillment and financial success, but getting that ticket punched is now more costly by a factor of one academic year. In the wake of financial scandals of the previous decade,
licensing boards in most states, including Pennsylvania, upped the number of credits needed to become licensed as a certified public
accountant. Instead of the usual 120 credits to graduate, RMU students seeking to become CPAs now need 150 credits— effectively
adding a fifth year to their studies.
That CPA status is what made MacPhail’s life. As a partner in the global public accounting firm of Deloitte LLP, she became one of the
pioneers of women in the top ranks of Pittsburgh’s business community. Like so many students at RMU, hers was the first generation of her family to earn a college degree and the standard of living that comes with it. “I grew up in a house where my parents often had to
borrow from my grandparents to get through to the end of the month,” she says. “I have had a very fulfilling life because of the accounting profession.”
Accounting is the foundation on which RMU grew from a small, regional college to one of the schools of business with the coveted accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. This year, it added a second-place win in a case competition sponsored by the Institute of Internal Auditors and the Pennsylvania Institute of CPAs.
One key to that win was a prototypical RMU student: Zachery Thompson came to RMU as the first generation of his family to attend a
university. His part time jobs have ranged from construction and making pizza to soccer referee. He says he discovered that accounting isn’t just “pushing numbers,” and speaks of a change that came over him after freshman year, where small class sizes and personal attention from the accounting faculty focused him on the goal of getting somewhere through critical thinking. “It’s helped me with where I wanted to go,” he says.
He’s the student RMU is aiming for, says Dave Hess: “They create the culture from which excellent results can be expected.” Those are the same students, adds MacPhail, who could use the boost she is seeking from alumni and friends for the Accounting and Taxation Legacy Endowed Scholarship Fund.
R M U | A REPORT ON GIVING