It’s a Great Time to Be a Tax Man (or Woman)
With the U.S. government passing new laws that will usher in sweeping tax changes—like health care—it’s a great time to be a tax man, or woman, says Donald Williamson, director of the Master's of Science in Taxation (MST) degree program at American University's Kogod School of Business in Washington, D.C.
"Down the road, government expansion will likely lead to jobs for tax professionals," he said.
Including AU, only about 6 percent of all U.S. universities (approximately 42) that are members of the AACSB—the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business—offer graduate taxation degree programs for non-law students/ attorneys.
More focused on tax policy, law, planning, procedure, and research than an MBA with a concentration in taxation, master’s degrees in taxation prepare students for a variety of careers. Many students pursue their CPA (Certified Public Accountant) license or work as tax consultants for corporations as well as tax-related roles in the public sector.
Taxation Education in the Nation’s Capital
AU offers the only MST degree for non-law students/attorneys in Washington, D.C., where tax laws and policies are debated and created. Faculty members include prominent academics and professionals who offer insight into the relationship between business and government and the importance of professional standards to achieve economic success.
Students in AU’s MST program have visited the Treasury Department to meet and learn from high level tax officials, and regularly have the opportunity to hear from and question guest speakers such as Bill Thomas, former chair of the House Ways and Means Committee; Don Korb, former chief counsel of the IRS; John Calvin, chief judge of the U.S. Tax Court; and Ed Karl, tax director for the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.
While not every career in taxation requires a master's degree, having one helps a prospective tax professional land a position and command a higher salary.
"Our graduates are going to be equipped to do well for themselves," stated Williamson referring to the high return on investment for master's degrees in taxation.
Changes for Paid Tax Preparers
Right now, there is no mandatory, uniform licensing of paid tax preparers. Hairdressers, nail technicians, and barbers must be licensed to charge for their services, but people who handle your most sensitive financial information at tax time do not.
But that will change in 2011 when all paid tax preparers, except for certified public accountants, enrolled agents, and attorneys in good standing with their respective licensing agencies, will be required to take an annual competency test administered by the IRS and take annual continuing education courses in taxation.
While aimed at cracking down on fraudulent preparers, Williamson says these new regulations will also raise the public consciousness that programs like the MST exist and are a valuable credential, even if the majority of paid tax preparers are unlikely to pursue such a degree.
"The MST program is for people committed to pursuing a career in taxation," said Williamson. "Our students will be well prepared for the certification test, whether they have to take it or not."