Accounting and Finance: STEM Majors?

Here’s whether accounting and finance are STEM majors like computer science:

While there are good arguments in both directions, more often than not, formal systems do consider accounting and finance to be STEM degrees. 

It does depend on the program, but multiple aspects of the federal government recognize these fields of study as being STEM for official purposes.

If you want to learn all about whether accounting and finance are STEM majors, then you’re in the right place.

Keep reading!

What Does STEM Really Mean?

Most people are familiar with the acronym and what STEM stands for: science, technology, engineering, and math. 

That seems pretty simple, but STEM classifications can get weird in a hurry. 

Is political science an actual science, or is it the study of legal systems? 

Accounting uses math, does that make it STEM?

It’s easy to see why disagreement arises, so we can start this journey by clearly defining some STEM ideas, and to do that, we should take a quick tour through history.

The concept of STEM arose in the 50s. 

The cold war was off to the races, and the United States and Soviet Union were in a steep competition to produce better nuclear weapons and rockets to deliver them. 

Realizing that they needed a lot more people working in science and technology, the United States began to emphasize the core concepts behind them more and more in primary and secondary education.

In 2001, that evolution formalized into what we now know as STEM

Introduced by the US National Science Foundation, the acronym was developed as a way to try and categorize learning subjects that fell under the umbrella of science, technology, engineering, and math. 

The acronym caught on.

Since 2002, STEM has evolved further. 

It represents a broad range of disciplines from hard science to health occupations and a whole lot more.

Why Does It Matter if They Are STEM Degrees?

Mostly, there are two reasons why people care a lot about what counts as a STEM degree. 

The first is emotional, and the second is based on formal classifications.

The emotional point of view is pretty easy to understand. 

Some people view STEM degrees with a higher level of respect than other degrees. 

Other people feel the opposite way. 

Regardless, whether or not a degree is considered STEM affects how a lot of people feel about it.

Formal classifications matter more. 

Whether or not a degree is STEM might change which college within a university manages the degree. 

It can impact financial support of the program, enrollment, and even study visas.

Is Accounting STEM?

Now that we have a clear picture of what STEM is, would accounting fall under that category? 

It’s easy to think of arguments in either direction, and we’ll explore a lot of them, but if you want a clear, definitive answer, then yes. 

Accounting is considered STEM, but this wasn’t always the case.

In 2021, the House of Representatives introduced a bill that classified accounting as STEM for official purposes. 

It’s called the Accounting STEM Pursuit Act, and to simplify a lot of legalese, it opens up opportunities tied to STEM.

Basically, there are scholarships, grants, and other resources attached to STEM fields in colleges around the country. 

Plenty of these are funded or managed (at least partially) by government groups. 

So, whether or not a field of study counts as STEM can make a big difference in funding and accessibility.

The 2021 bill would make it so that accounting degree programs count as STEM for the purposes of the federal government. 

If federal resources are earmarked for STEM, an accounting program can qualify.

Is Finance STEM?

We covered a pretty strong technical basis for accounting. 

What about finance? 

The official answer is a little less straightforward. 

In simplest terms, finance straddles the line between STEM and not, and whether or not a finance program qualifies as STEM depends.

Again, we can look at government regulation to make a case. 

For instance, we can look at a finance degree program at MIT and see that it is formally recognized by the government as a STEM degree.

More specifically, the Department of Homeland Security has approved the program for approval for special immigration cases. 

To keep things simple, certain numbers of immigration approvals are reserved specifically for people who study or work in STEM fields. 

DHS has made it official that this MIT finance degree counts as STEM.

If you review a bunch of finance degree programs, you’ll see mixed results. 

Some are formally approved as STEM degrees, and others aren’t. 

There is no hard and fast rule, but a few trends emerge. 

Graduate finance degrees are a lot more likely to be considered STEM. 

sAlso, the range of math and technology studied in the program will impact its classification.

When Are Degrees Not STEM? (2 Points)

That seems pretty clear, right?

Accounting is definitely STEM, and financing certainly can be if the degree program is designed in the right way. 

That settles it. 

They’re both STEM.

Except, you’ve already seen that this isn’t always the case. 

Not all degree programs get the same classification, and that leads to an important question. 

Why?

Mostly, it’s because these majors can cover a lot of information that really has nothing to do with STEM fields. 

While the math and technology overlap certainly happens, there’s not much in the way of science or engineering. 

On top of that, for many degree programs, math and technology won’t come anywhere near covering the majority of topics that students have to learn.

Adding to that, there are two other compelling arguments against calling these STEM degrees.

#1 Regulation Management

One argument against considering these programs as STEM lies in the primary content and applications of the degree programs. 

As an example, a major component of accounting involves learning and understanding regulations. 

It’s not exactly mathematical or scientific, and it certainly isn’t a field of engineering or technology. 

It’s closer to a law degree than a STEM degree.

CPAs, for instance, have to be deeply familiar with federal, state, and local laws and regulations related to finances and taxes. 

It’s a lot to cover, and it’s a huge component of studying accounting (and finance has similar non-STEM content). 

If you compared it to something like a physics degree, the amount of math and science is not comparable.

It’s a big part of why many people still don’t consider these as STEM degrees, despite what you’ve learned so far.

#2 College of Business

Perhaps the strongest argument against considering these majors as STEM is how schools classify them. 

For the most part, accounting and finance degrees are managed under the college of business at a school.

Meanwhile, schools have colleges of science and colleges of engineering. 

Many math and technology degrees are run by those schools within the greater university. 

So, if a university doesn’t consider accounting and finance to be STEM degrees, shouldn’t that be the answer?

What Are the Justifications for Categorizing Them as STEM? (4 Things)

If accounting and finance degrees mostly cover non-STEM topics, then why does the government sometimes think of them as STEM fields? 

What’s the deal with that?

It mostly comes down to three cases. 

Both of these degree paths are likely to include math, coding, and technology, as points of study. 

So, if a program hits any or all of those three enough, then it might become reasonable to call it a STEM degree.

#1 Math

The truth is that accounting and finance can both get pretty deep into math. 

Not all degree programs will, but especially when you get into graduate studies, the math gets more complicated pretty fast.

Math-heavy majors are often considered as STEM, and it’s part of why different governing bodies are willing to say that accounting and finance are both STEM degrees.

Again, it really depends on the individual program. 

Math-heavy degrees are obvious candidates for STEM classification. 

Meanwhile, degrees that focus on the non-mathematical aspects of these fields maybe shouldn’t be STEM degrees.

#3 Coding

It is more and more common for various occupations to involve at least a little coding, and accounting and finance have not escaped this trend. 

The simple fact is that some accounting and finance work can involve a lot of numbers, data points, and calculations. 

And, there might not be existing software that can manage it all correctly.

Writing code is often the best way to resolve the problem, and it’s why coding is showing up more and more in accounting and finance degree programs. 

The coding may not be as intense as what a computer science major would experience, but this certainly suggests that accounting and finance can easily fit within the STEM classification structure.

#4 Technology

This is the argument that was made by the Accounting STEM Pursuit Act. 

Professionals in these fields have to work very closely with technology. 

If you have ever used accounting or tax software, at least some of the development came at the hands of accounting experts. 

The same can be said for financial software. 

Even looking up a mortgage calculator will bring up stuff that these professionals develop on a regular basis.

You could argue that many disciplines work closely with technology and that this argument waters down the STEM classification. 

But, when you add the technology argument to the others, you see that accounting and finance both fit very comfortably under the STEM umbrella. 

Some degree programs will be more overtly STEM-oriented than others, but it’s not a stretch to say that these are applications of math and technology.