While the word ‘forensics’ is typically associated with crime scene analysis and specialized criminal investigations, in reality, CSI only represents one aspect of the industry. There are forensic psychologists, for example, who work within the criminal justice system to examine the behavioral and emotional underpinnings of violent crimes, assessing the mental health of people accused or convicted of crimes. There are also forensic accountants, whose investigative skills are used to detect financial crimes like fraud or embezzlement. These expert analysts can be employed by law enforcement agencies, as well as by private clients such as attorneys, insurance companies, and financial institutions.
Unlike auditors who may focus exclusively on a company’s compliance with certain standards or practices, forensic accountants can look at all facets of business activity to search for possible wrongdoing, from individual accounts and departmental processes to overall operations and procedures.
Forensic accountants are called upon to uncover various white-collar crimes, including corruption, missing assets, money laundering, or negligence. More granularly, these professionals perform damage assessments, rigorously analyze financial data, work with cross-disciplinary teams, and serve as expert witnesses in court. Not surprisingly, this career requires a strong attention to detail and a working knowledge of financial and legal systems.
Overall, becoming a forensic accounting professional can provide a rewarding career; in fact, the National Association of Forensic Accountants (NAFA) reported that Al Capone—one of the most notorious criminals in American history—was finally brought to justice through the patient application of this discipline, which unearthed evidence of embezzlement, insurance fraud, money laundering, and other financial crimes.
Additionally, the opportunities for accountants—including those focused in forensics—are steadily growing. By illustration, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2016) projected that accounting positions would grow 11 percent between 2014 and 2024—adding 142,400 jobs nationally. This is much more robust than the average growth expected across all occupations during that same decade (6.5 percent).
Forensic accountants also command relatively generous salaries. According to a survey published by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE 2015-2016) titled the Compensation Guide for Anti-Fraud Professionals, forensic accountants made higher annual salaries than four related accounting professions: compliance officers, fraud examiners, internal auditors, and external auditors. Specifically, forensic accountants reported the following salary ranges:
In short, these professionals can expect a relatively bright career outlook into the future. So how does a person become a forensic accountant? Candidates must typically have at least a bachelor’s degree to achieve professional certification through esteemed entities such as the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), or the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA), among others. For those seeking more leadership opportunities and higher pay, however, earning a master’s degree can prove beneficial, especially with the rise of distance-based educational pathways.
This guide examines the wealth of online master’s degrees in forensic accounting, including discussions of the coursework, typical costs, and four exceptional online professors.
For full-time workers, people living in rural areas, or those with family commitments, attending a traditional, campus-based program can be difficult. Fortunately there’s a growing number of online graduate programs in forensic accounting to accommodate people with time- and distance-based constraints. These master’s degree programs generally combine web-based lectures, assignments, and examinations, along with an in-person component or externship, typically completed under the guidance of a locally approved mentor. In short, an online program can allow forensic accounting students the flexibility to design their studies around their lives, providing the latest accounting techniques plus some more advanced methods of investigation and detection.
Here are six standout online master’s degree programs in forensic accounting and three graduate certificate programs:
Online MS in Accounting/Forensic Accounting, Southern New Hampshire University
This distance-based master’s of science (MS) program teaches students to closely examine complex financial arrangements, including bankruptcies, contract disputes, and mergers and acquisitions. Over a 15-month period, students also learn how forensic accounting evidence can be presented in court. Completing this program can help qualify someone for more technical jobs or provide excellent groundwork for professional certifications such as the certified public accountant (CPA), certified fraud examiner (CFE), and certified management accountant (CMA) credentials.
Online MS in Accounting/Forensic Accounting, New England College
This distance-based program provides a collaborative and flexible environment to learn intricate details about the investigative process, forensic accounting, and proper reporting methods for litigation purposes. This degree program typically takes two years to complete and includes 40 credit-hours, mainly focusing on leadership and deductive skills. They also prepare students to apply for professional certifications, including the CFE designation.
Online MS in Forensic Accounting, Strayer University
This program builds upon undergraduate knowledge in accounting, honing students’ grasp of technical topics such as organizational environments, risk assessments, and complex fraud detection and prevention. This online M.S. also satisfies the requirements to allow the student to sit for various professional certifications. Notably, ‘success coaches’ assist online and on-campus students.
Online MS in Accounting, Forensics Track, Bay Path University
This online program is designed to be flexible, so students can complete their 30 required credits in eight, 12 or 24 months. Bay Path provides instruction in modern methods of accounting and meets CPA requirements. It is also designed to accommodate the busy season of working accountants, requiring no coursework between January and April.
Online MS in Business Ethics, Forensic Accounting, New England College of Business
This 30-credit program offers students advanced skills to qualify for a variety of positions, including compliance officers, compliance managers, financial examiners, and auditors.
Online MBA in Fraud Management, Utica College
This distance-based master’s of business administration (MBA) program prepares students for leadership roles within their organizations to identify or prevent fraud. The program was created as a partnership with the Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists, which can provide tuition discounts for students willing to take the CAMS exam upon completion. It also provides information to sit for the CFE credential. The program takes approximately two years to complete. Students can take either the MBA track in fraud management or the CPA track in financial forensics. Both programs involve 30 credits of coursework.
Finally,noteworthy online graduate certificate programs in forensic accounting include:
In general, the admissions processes for online forensic accounting graduate programs are similar to their on-campus counterparts. The admissions requirements generally include:
Prospective online students in forensic accounting are advised to ensure that their desired program follows current educational and industry standards in its curriculum, especially if the institution is based in another state. There are varied accreditation bodies across the country, but they aren’t all created equal. In general, the most reputable organizations have been recognized by the US Department of Education’s Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), including these six regional accreditation bodies:
Additionally, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) is internationally recognized accreditation entity for business schools, many of which have forensic accounting tracks.
Lastly, prior to applying to a distance-based graduate school, students should verify an institution’s ‘state authorization’ status. In short, sometimes a school based in one state isn’t allowed to offer online education to students from certain other states. Fortunately, programs typically list this information on their websites (e.g., Southern New Hampshire University), and for schools which don’t, students should contact program coordinators to ensure eligibility.
Dr. Touhey has been specializing in online program delivery for 20 years with an emphasis on accounting and leadership. She currently holds an adjunct position at Ocean County College and delivers YouTube educational lectures through her private site. Along with her education work, she is the vice president/comptroller of South Florida Financial Services, which focuses on complex financial issues, insurance, fraud, and auditing in four states. She has also held online teaching positions at Grand Canyon University, Southern New Hampshire University, and Broward College. Her numerous degrees include a doctorate of business administration and finance from Northcentral University and a master of science in accountancy from the University of Phoenix.
As dean of the School of Accounting and Bruce F. Braden School of Taxation at Golden Gate University, Fred Sroka, JD offers both in-person and online instruction in taxation and accounting. He was appointed dean of the program in 2014 shortly after retiring from PricewaterhouseCoopers. He has been an instructor at GGU since the early 1980s and serves on the institution’s tax advisory board. Notably, he practiced as a tax lawyer for 18 years.
Along with teaching part-time and serving as a senior lecturer at Northeastern Graduate School, Arlene Fothergill, JD is an attorney in the Boston area, as well as a CPA and a certified fraud examiner with 22 years of experience in public and private sector investigations. She performed audit work with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and also was an audit manager for Verizon. She currently teaches a variety of topics, including forensic auditing and investigative auditing.
Bay Path University is a women’s-only college that offers an assortment of online and in-person courses, including the accounting program where Decorti Rodgers-Tonge serves as an assistant professor as well as the undergraduate program chair. She has worked for more than a decade in public and private sector accounting, including managing auditing for a variety of clients, focusing on their compliance and financial functions. These included major corporations such as CIGNA Healthcare, Voya Financial, and Traveler’s Insurance.