Back to School!

Back To School

Over twelve months have passed since I decided to apply to the MPA program, and I’m finally here! I wanted to take a quick moment to discuss my admissions journey.

While looking for programs that would best set me up for future job advancements, I investigated a variety of different options, including MBA and JD programs. Ultimately, I found myself deciding between an MBA and an MPA degree. My personal thoughts were that an MBA would develop soft skills while a Master’s in Professional Accounting would concentrate more on hard skills. Clearly, I chose to hone my technical skills, but I wholeheartedly believe it is in an environment where soft skills are just as much a priority.

Like Olivia, I found the Live and Learn blog instrumental in understanding the program better. The Admissions blog is also very clear and very easy to understand,  providing a lot of valuable information directly from the admissions team. In the end, both the Live and Learn blog and Admissions blog are excellent resources to leverage in order to gain first-hand knowledge of the program.

The most influential decision I made, though, was coming out to Austin and visiting campus during the fall. I met with the MPA program staff, toured the business school and campus, and fell even more in love with Austin, Texas. Not only did I find the program to truly be the best in the country, but I found Austin’s entrepreneurial spirit captivating and full of opportunity. (In case you haven’t heard, it’s not exactly a boring city either!)

At the end of the day, my decision came down to fit. Do I complement the personality of the program, and does the character of the program (and town) match up to my needs and wants? Through reading Live and Learn and visiting campus, I figured out what life was like at the MPA—difficult, fulfilling, and fun—and that it would be a good fit. After that, the Admissions blog gave me all the information I needed for completing a successful application. To my fellow classmates, congratulations on making it through each of your unique journeys, and to any prospective students, I encourage you to use the resources at your disposable to make the best decision for you!

Summer Classes are Here

Summer SchoolWe are two weeks into the second semester of summer courses and time has been flying by. Between both of my classes, I have already read 13 textbook chapters this semester—McCombs professors do not mess around! This past week was especially busy between our Financial Accounting exam on Wednesday and our Introduction to Taxation exam on Friday (there was a bit of a sleep deprivation epidemic going around). Everyone in the program has at least some experience with Financial (Introduction to Financial Accounting is one of the program prerequisites, plus we were sent that whopper of a self-study packet I mentioned in my previous post), so some material is familiar there, but Tax is different because it is completely new to most of us. I definitely find tax interesting and I think it is wise for this class to be scheduled first thing so students can have time to feel out whether or not the tax track is something they would like to pursue. I know there are a few people in the class heavily considering it.

Both Brian Lendecky (Financial) and Terri Holbrook (Tax) have been great professors so far. They know summer courses are intense, so they make an effort to keep things fun and interesting. On Tuesday, Brian showed us a few methods for compiling a Statement of Cash Flows, one of which employed the formula: △Cash = △Liabilities + △Shareholder’s Equity – △Non-Cash Assets (a derivation of the standard accounting equation Assets = Liabilities + Shareholder’s Equity). Each time we would use the formula, he would call on a student to solve the equation and ask something along the lines of “What is 0 + 0 – 20,000?” The student would answer (always correctly of course), and then Brain would say “#1 accounting program in the country right here.” We laughed every time…or at least I did. Who knew Accounting could be so entertaining?

Ethics – Fundamental Attribution Error

When we read the stories about Enron, HealthSouth, and other accounting scandals, what is usually mentioned is the malicious intent of the executives to perpetrate a fraud. This is because “bad people do bad things,” right? Although the stories are instructive of how things can go wrong in an organization and how it can affect those involved, it is easy to forget about how we are all susceptible to the same temptations.

The fundamental attribution error is the human tendency to attribute the cause of these wrongdoings to the character of the individual who committed them. It’s called an error because, overwhelmingly, human behavior is determined more by environment than inherent personality traits. This error of perception works both ways, too: when something goes right, we tend to think that it was due to our virtues and/or skills rather than external factors (sheer luck, a good supporting staff who helped along the way, or a stock-market generally on an uptick). This, combined with the fact that people tend to rate their ethical inclinations higher than they actually are, is a troublesome sign for working professionals in just about every field. A fraud can begin with an innocent mistake, and continue because the perpetrator needs to cover it up. Of course, this is because they do not believe themselves to be a bad person.

However, being aware of the problem is an important step toward preventing future unethical behavior. That accountants spend a great deal of time thinking about internal control perhaps serves as a tribute to this way of thinking. We restrict access and separate duties of employees in a manner that reflects the notion that environmental factors are strong determinants of behavior. Surely these companies do not go around hiring bad people all the time so that they feel the need to exercise constant vigilance. These employees go along with it without feeling as though they are distrusted because the company thinks they are bad people and thus likely to steal from them. It is an unfortunate fact of life, but you can put an otherwise good person in a position where they can commit fraud without oversight or control, and you will run the risk of a fraud occurring.Thumbnail_FundamentalAttributionError_01_21_14_Version_01-1024x576

For more about the psychological aspects of ethics, see Ethical Decision Making: More Needed Than Good Intentions and the Ethics Unwrapped Series, both by Robert Prentice, McCombs School of Business.

International Potluck

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Recently, the MPA International Connection hosted a potluck where international students shared foods from their respective home countries. Fortunately, they invited all of us to come and try them out. In good spirit, the domestic students brought some of their own food to share with the international students. Career Consultant Dawn Shaw was there, too, helping promote unity among the varied group of students in the MPA program.

About 25 students brought food from China, Philippines, Korea, Vietnam, Mexico, Hawaii, and elsewhere. My only regret is that I didn’t save more room for the Korean BBQ. A bigger sampling might have given me enough ammo to write about another stop on my “BBQ trail” even though it’s pretty different from Texas BBQ.  There was so much food that I didn’t get to eat a substantial amount of any one dish, but I do not regret1610014_294678857356625_2368457516241372259_ntaking the opportunity to try out each one. My contribution, being a southerner, wassouthern-style sweet tea. I made a regular sweet tea version and another one infused with fruit.

Altogether, it was a great way to branch out and try something new that you would not otherwise be exposed to. I have always enjoyed eating foreign foods, but there’s nothing like home-cooking. That is a truism that transcends national and cultural boundaries. It also provided a venue to better get to know some fellow students who we may not have known at all otherwise.

That there is enough interest in an event like this is a testament to the diversity of the Texas MPA class, which is a quality important to me. I have enjoyed my travels outside the US and look forward to future travels, but experiencing fellowship in this context with others who are outside their home countries is the next best thing.

 

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Bill Powers and the University of Texas

Large_university-of-texas_seal_rgb(199-91-18)Despite having arrived in Texas only one year ago, I have been paying attention to the controversy surrounding the university’s President, Bill Powers, for some time. It has made national news and recently culminated in his announcement of resignation in 2015. The issue has many facets, not least of which is what the fundamental purpose of the university should be. The University of Texas is a world-class research institution and the flagship university of the state of Texas, but some argue that increasing tuition costs are cheating students out of a low-cost education.

Sure, if we could have it both ways we would provide every student with a top education for pennies. The fact is that tuition costs are soaring everywhere, not just UT, and declining state funding is part of the cause for the increase. Another reason commonly cited, again not just at UT, is the increasing administrative burden on university budgets. That said, the idea that college education should be cheaper to make it more accessible to students sounds like a positive notion on its face, but the side-effects could result in consequences antithetical to the stated goals of its proponents.

The Board of Regents has accused UT of wasting too much money on “ivory tower research” that does not result in much benefit to the public or students. The solution? Force professors to teach more classes and do less research so that fewer professors would be required to be on the payroll. Some unfortunate side-effects of that policy would be that the best professors would leave for other universities that do allow for research opportunities, leaving students with fewer professors that have extensive knowledge of current research in their fields. This is not to say that professors who do not engage in research are inferior, but an important part of a college education, particularly in technical fields, is learning about the forefront of progress. Another side effect would be found in rankings, which are dependent in part on the volume and quality of research. UT has numerous highly-ranked programs that would suffer in several ways. This would also result in employers of UT graduates that frequently recruit here because of the prestige of the academic programs becoming less inclined to do so.

Additionally, many of those students who come from out of state (or out of country, for that matter) would cease to come to Texas if not for the prestige and opportunity offered here. These are the students who pay the most in tuition, and whose absence would be well-noticed on UT’s “bottom line.” The brain-gain that Texas enjoys from these students coming from all over the world ripples through the state’s economy as they graduate and become employed in high-tech industries, which are attracted to the state because of its well-educated labor pool.

Further, what about the Texas residents seeking a world-class education? If UT’s education were cheapened, would they remain in-state at a public university? Not likely – top performers will seek their next best opportunity, and if that involves going to another state and paying top tuition rates there, they will do so.

If Texas is in need of more accessible college education for its citizens, why provide it at the expense of another group of its citizens and the economy at-large? Would it not be easier to convert, say, Austin Community College into a 4-year university? Is UT the only university in the state that is capable of providing what these reformers seek? They could also more effectively achieve their goal by attacking the administrative cost of the university, rather than sacrificing academic excellence in order to lower tuition. Of course, this would not necessarily make education at UT more accessible, but definitely less burdensome since colleges typically do not compete on tuition rates due to the fact that many students take on loans.

The bottom line is that UT has spent decades growing through investment to become one of the top universities in the country. That legacy should not be discarded so quickly. I agree with the Regents that we should do what we can to reduce tuition, but they should be more prudent in their actions and make sure that they do not sabotage their own goals by ignoring side effects that could potentially subvert those goals.