Accounting program first in state to receive STEM designation

The University of Northern Iowa’s accounting program became the first in the state to receive a STEM designation from the U.S. Department of Education, making it a more attractive destination for international students and ensuring that graduates move into their careers prepared for the latest changes in the profession.

The new designation reflects an increasing emphasis on adding quantitative analysis and data science technologies courses in the curriculum, mirroring a trend in the accounting profession, where these skills are in high demand.

“We are seeing a shift in what new accountants are doing on the job, and, as a result, we are doing the best we can to have students ready when they reach the workforce. Both our undergraduate and graduate curriculum emphasize STEM skills or technologies in nearly every accounting course,” said Joe Ugrin, accounting department head. “UNI accounting students are already in high demand. This will make that demand even greater.”

The STEM designation is also important for international students. UNI accounting students in the country on an F-1 visa will be eligible to apply for the Department of Homeland Security’s OPT two-year F-1 visa extension upon graduation.  

“The visa extension will give international students an authorization to stay and work for 3 years after graduation. This should make UNI more appealing to international students,” Ugrin said. “This might help us increase the diversity in our program, which is good for all students, foreign and domestic.”

The U.S. Department of Education lays out a number of criteria for academic programs to receive the STEM designation. UNI’s accounting program earned its designation by having more than 50% of the program contain quantitative elements, Ugrin said.

The innovation in curricular offerings is one of the many reasons the UNI accounting program continues its legacy of excellence that stems back over four decades. The UNI accounting program was recently ranked in the top ten for their student’s success on the CPA exam, and its student teams often perform well in national competitions. Most recently, a UNI team of accounting students placed second at the 19th annual FanTAXtic competition held in January 2020, outpacing nearly 60 teams from more than 40 universities and colleges.  

“We focus on students first, and it has been happening at UNI for many years,” Ugrin said. “Seeing students leave our program with a degree, a CPA and a great job is the best part of our jobs as accounting faculty.”