While in high school I once read an article in my local paper that detailed how an avid baseball card collector had shelled out something on the order of five digits to own the rookie card of some long-deceased Hall of Famer.

When I asked my father how a frayed and antiquated card could fetch more money than both our cars, he replied, “Something like that is worth only what someone is willing to pay.”

In this case, obviously a small fortune.

Now accounting college graduates may not be able to command the pricing equivalent of rookie cards for Mel Ott or Grover Cleveland Alexander, but, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the starting salary for entry-level accountants is $46,292. That’s about 3 percent higher than last year and roughly equal to those graduates in economics and finance.

In addition, the NACE said that those who are scheduled to graduate in 2008 (in a variety of fields) would enjoy a “healthy” job market. According to the association, employers plan  to hire some 16 percent more graduates in 2006-2007 than they had the prior year.

Fueled by a confluence of factors — Sarbanes-Oxley to name just one — entry-level accountants are entering a seller’s market giving them a solid position of leverage — certainly not the zeitgeist that many veterans of the profession were weaned on, when making partner meant logging a mandatory 2,800 hours a year.

In a quick show of hands, how many of you partners under the age of 40 earned anything that approaches what is being waved at new recruits?

I’ll bet the number is smaller than gloves signed by Lou Gehrig.

What’s more, many CPA firms — particularly the Big Four — are on a hiring tear. KPMG for example hired roughly 3,000 people this year and next year estimates about 3,200 more will be on the payroll.

PricewaterhouseCoopers said its hiring has doubled over the past five years, while Ernst & Young lured some 5,400 students aboard this year with more than 3,000 of those being full-time hires.

In an attempt to connect with the younger generation, firms’ hiring strategies have shed the shopworn strategy of print classified ads and evolved to such online Gen Y stalwarts as Facebook and YouTube.

In a recent survey released by Business Week, the Big Four audit firms captured four of the top 11 spots in its ranking of the best companies for college graduates, with Deloitte taking the No. 1 slot.

Accountants may never be perceived in the same value-pricing light as say Honus Wagner memorabilia, but those entering the profession appear to be holding most of the cards.


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