A testimonial from Utah for master's degree in governmental accounting

In the Utah community of Midvale, about 10 miles south of Salt Lake City, Mark Katter flies a black and red Rutgers flag outside his home.

It is a conversation starter as much as a gesture of Katter’s enthusiasm for a unique online program that has given him an opportunity to earn a master’s degree from Rutgers Business School without disrupting his career, overloading his schedule – or leaving Utah.   

Three years ago, Katter, an accounting manager with Utah’s South Davis Sewer District, decided to pursue Rutgers Business School’s Master of Accountancy in Governmental Accounting Program. “It’s just been exhilarating to get back into school and to start learning again, especially in an area that I’m involved with,” Katter said recently.

“I feel like I’m a more competent accountant,’’ he said, “and I feel like I’m contributing more.”

Rutgers Business School has carved out a niche with its master’s degree in governmental accounting. There are no other advanced programs like it in the country and because it is offered online, it is open to professionals like Katter who live far beyond the school’s campuses.

Irfan Bora, director of the master's degree program in governmental accounting, said nearly 50 percent of the participants are from out-of-state. The program started growing beyond New Jersey in 2006 when it became possible to complete the degree entirely online. Two years ago, students from out-of-state were offered the same tuition rate as New Jersey residents, which also fueled some growth.

Growth is coming from elsewhere as well. "We're seeing an increasing interest by the military," Bora said. Currently, a student is working on his master's in governmental accounting from Afghanistan.

The 30-credit program is designed to prepare professionals who are interested in advancing their careers in government financial management, accounting and auditing. Over the years, it has attracted a range of professionals, including accountants for governmental organizations, prospective certified public accountants and MBA students who want to specialize in government financial management.

Katter said one of the benefits of the program is its breadth.  It focuses on accounting and finance, ethics and it emphasizes the transparency required in public accounting.

“It has broadened my understanding about how government functions,” he said.

Katter, who is 54, received his undergraduate degree in accounting from the University of Utah. “One thing you don’t get is a lot of governmental accounting,” he said. “They focus much more on financial accounting.”

When Katter made the jump into public accounting from the private sector, he had to learn a lot on his own, including familiarizing himself with statutes that set out how the sewer district raises its revenues and shares property taxes with other parts of the government.

The South Davis Sewer District is a government agency that provides sewer services to five cities and 26,000 households. It has an annual budget of $10 million.

Katter said he had flirted with the idea of pursuing a master’s for years, but when he was flipping through an edition of the Journal of Government Financial Management, which is published by the Association of Governmental Accountants, he came across an advertisement for the RBS program.

“It caught my eye,” he said. “I thought I could probably use that training even though I’ve been here for a while.”

“I never had a class online before, but I thought there’s no other way to do it,” he said. The online aspect proved to give him the benefit of flexibility and there were other discoveries.

“One thing I found out, just because it’s online doesn’t mean the instructors aren’t accessible,” he added. “I’ve never had to wait long if I had a question.”

Now, he is two courses away from completing the master’s, a goal he expects to attain in the fall.

With the enrichment he has gained through the master’s program, Katter said he realizes he would have had far less of a learning curve if he had known more about public accounting when he started his current job a decade ago.

 “I could have come into this job running,” he said, “instead of climbing a mountain.”

-Susan Todd

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