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Mar 28, 2017 2017-03 Accountancy Faculty

University of Illinois to offer online Master of Science in Accounting program

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will be the first of the top 5 ranked accountancy programs to offer a completely online MS in Accountancy, the iMSA. Delivered in partnership with the online learning platform Coursera, the iMSA will be heavily hands-on and practice-oriented.

In a rapidly changing field, the degree will prepare and enable students everywhere to earn a premier master’s degree from an accounting powerhouse.

“We’re looking to bring more talent into the field by improving accessibility to top-notch quality education and star faculty,” said W. Brooke Elliott, EY Distinguished Professor and Accountancy Head Designate in the College of Business at Illinois. “We’re lowering barriers to entry for talented people to become leaders in the accounting profession.”


Elliott added that the most sought-after candidate of companies hiring MSA graduates possesses three key attributes: a solid understanding of accounting fundamentals, a competency in data analytics, and the ability to communicate what the numbers mean.

“We’re developing people who deliver that trifecta of competencies,” said Elliott.

The launch of the iMSA comes at a time when job growth in the accounting field is strong, and there is demand for a new generation of accounting professionals who are able to leverage new technologies to access and analyze the mass amount of data that is now being produced.

“The US regulatory landscape continues to transform, and companies need highly skilled accounting professionals who have the capacity to adapt and the financial competencies to stay on top,” said Nikhil Sinha, Chief Business Officer at Coursera. “The iMSA, delivered entirely online, will put an accounting career from an elite academic program within the reach of anyone, anywhere.”

The iMSA is uniquely structured as a stackable degree in order to allow students to try out the curriculum with the iMSA’s open enrollment courses on Coursera. Learners can decide whether a few courses are all they need or go on to apply to the iMSA. If admitted, the progress they have made in open courses can be applied toward the degree.

“Traditionally, degrees are an all-or-nothing endeavor. We are pioneering a new model of credentialing with Illinois that enables learners to gain valuable certificates along the way toward earning a degree,” said Sinha.

The open enrollment component of iMSA courses can be accessed and completed on a learner’s own schedule and consists of on-demand videos, reading material, quizzes to test knowledge, and forums where learners can interact with their peers globally. A high-engagement, for-credit component of iMSA courses enables students to learn and practice their skills in live sessions, where they work with faculty, practitioners from top accounting firms, and fellow students.

Faculty also meet with degree students in office hours, and students get access to community events like guest lectures and an eminent speaker series.

“We are leveraging our close ties to the accounting profession to deliver an innovative online learning experience,” said Elliott. “We are excited to offer our iMSA students the opportunity to hear from and engage with leaders in the field—many of whom are our own alumni.”

The iMSA will build expertise in the fundamentals of accounting: financial reporting, audit and control, and US federal taxation. But beyond that it will develop students’ skills in communication and data visualization, as the ability to explain what the numbers mean to non-experts becomes increasingly important in a world of increasingly complex—and valuable—data.

The flexible program format allows students to balance academic life with other obligations.

The five core and three elective courses can be completed in as few as four semesters (18 months) or as many as eight semesters (36 months). The program, at an affordable cost, is designed both for professionals already working in accounting looking to refresh their skills and for those who want to make a career change into the accounting field.

“For people who are deciding whether accounting is right for them, the iMSA allows an unprecedented ability to explore this field while learning from the best faculty in the industry,” said Sinha.

The iMSA is the University of Illinois’ third master’s degree offered with Coursera. Last year, the University launched the iMBA from the College of Business and the Master’s of Computer Science in Data Science. Both programs are growing rapidly, with students enrolled from all over the world. The first class for the iMSA will start in August and applications will open in May.

To learn more about the iMSA program, visit

Editor’s notes: For more information, contact Mary Kay Dailey, executive director of communications at the College of Business, by calling 217-244-8706; email To contact W. Brooke Elliott, call 217-333-9247 or email    

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