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How to Get a Free Degree From Your Future Employer

KPMG will offer young adults a master’s in accounting.

It’s a nice enough perk when your company helps pay for your education. Here comes a little twist: an employer bankrolling degrees for future workers.

KPMG announced on Thursday that it will pay for young adults to get master’s degrees in accounting after they graduate from college 1 To qualify for the program, students need to be getting a bachelor's degree in accounting, or the equivalent.  and before they join the firm full-time, partly to prepare them to be “data-age auditors.”

The plan is for 50 students to participate in the pilot program, doing their coursework at the Villanova School of Business or at Ohio State University's Max M. Fisher College of Business. They will spend the fall 2017 semester in the classroom, do a stint as audit interns at the Big Four accounting firm, complete their degrees in the summer, and then start jobs in the firm's audit practice, with a three-year commitment to KPMG.

Participants will enter Ohio State’s program integrated with all Master of Accounting students. At Villanova, they’ll be in a separate group, doing a program that Vice Dean Daniel Wright described as “a marriage of higher-level concepts in accounting with higher-level concepts in analytics.”

As accounting evolves in the digital age, the firm is teaming up with the schools to help develop “a new way of thinking about what training to become [an accountant] looks like,” said Scott Marcello, vice chair of audit at KPMG.

“Not just adding data and analytics but actually integrating and combining those skills into a lot of other skills that our professionals need—both professional capabilities, like understanding how to audit, as well as critical-thinking skills,” he said.

Why pay for a bunch of students before they've started full-time work? Well, it isn't a bad piece of marketing. But Marcello said KPMG, while it has in-house training, was finding it hard to encourage some recruits, eager to get through school and enter the workforce, to gain additional classroom experience.

“Would it help us to give those students that opportunity in school while they’re still there, if we could create the right incentives—i.e., a really good internship and a commitment that they’d start working?” he said. “Part of our goal is to actually accelerate their development. Because they’ll have been through this intense program, we think they’ll be able to start work and be even more effective earlier.” 

Lots of companies provide education assistance in one form or another. Ernst & Young, another of the Big Four, has a program that pays for minority students to get their master of science degrees in accounting, taxation, or economics, or a master of laws (an LL.M.) in general taxation. Participants have done an internship with the firm and commit to working there for four years after completing their degrees.

Then there’s Amazon's Career Choice program, which helps pay for hourly employees to study in fields in demand, even if they’re not building skills useful in careers at the company.

KPMG’s pilot looks like a hybrid of a degree and training program. Villanova’s Wright said of its program that “it’s a hundred percent a degree” that, while customized, isn’t “so specific that it doesn’t focus on the skills that students need to be successful in accounting and in analytics outside of KPMG.”

The firm is considering “the audit of the future” (words you don't see together every day) and thinks the skills needed to conduct it “will be much more diverse than just people with, I’ll call it, historic auditing and accounting degrees,” Marcello said. “You’re going to need data scientists. We’re going to need professionals in analytics, mathematicians, computer scientists.”

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