Many people have asked why students in the open enrollment, online undergraduate School of Business and Management program at Thomas Edison State College are outperforming students from more selective, traditional residential schools, like Rutgers, on the CPA exam. And those who have not asked often express quiet disbelief. In fact, there is some merit to the arguments of doubters. Thomas Edison has far fewer students taking the CPA exam than say, Rutgers, and so while our passage rates are high, our overall numbers are not. And yes, our students are not known for test-taking as we do not use SAT scores in admissions formulas. But there is still reason to consider why there might be some selection bias leading to better than average results by TESC students on a professional exam, such as the CPA. Below are my top 3 factors, culled from anecdotal evidence:
- Thomas Edison State College offers online degree programs for self-directed adult students. The methods of individual study and preparation needed for success in achieving licensure and certification are similar to the methods used by our students to learn and to eventually earn a degree in our non-traditional programs. I recall a colleague at a private undergraduate institution responding to a critique by outside auditors that she “babies” her students, and that the school would better achieve its goals--and save money--by giving students less help and more independence. This is not the culture at Thomas Edison. We have caring faculty and staff, online tutoring, and hours appropriate for our students' busy lives, but we do treat our students like responsible and professional adults.
- Students at Thomas Edison State College are older on average than at traditional residential colleges (the average age is 36). They are more discriminating when it comes to their use of time and money. Simply put, our students will not put themselves through an exam or exam preparation course--or pay for these same services--unless they expect to succeed. They are working, raising families, doing community service, etc. Therefore, fewer of our students take the exam, and more of them are likely to pass. Our online degree programs are very affordable and appeal to those who are price sensitive, as Get Educated has so frequently pointed out with the Best Buy college affordability award recognition!
- Many students in our undergraduate accounting programs are already working as accountants. Hence they may already be fairly prepared, from a knowledge perspective, to become CPAs. We are a degree completion college; student come to us to finish their bachelor degrees and to take supplemental course hours in order to qualify for CPA certification. The students who choose Thomas Edison’s online accounting programs are receiving advice and support from a wide network within Thomas Edison State College and from an external support network at their places of employment. As working professionals, they are more invested in achieving a professional certification goal than someone younger or who is studying at an earlier stage in their accounting career.
About the Author: Appointed Dean of the School of Business Management at Thomas Edison State College (TESC) in 2010, Dr. Susan P. Gilbert is known for growing enrollments, improving rankings, and bolstering academic programs for her institution. Before working at TESC, Gilbert served as the Executive Director and Associate Dean of the MBA programs at Rutgers University and the Associate Dean of the Evening MBA Program at Emory University, where she is especially distinguished for growing enrollment by 90 percent. Gilbert holds both a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from Binghamton University and a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Pennsylvania.