Shea Bryant, financial analysis and reporting manager at Michigan State University, moved to higher education in 2018 after spending time in public accounting serving clients in higher education and the service industry. He joined NACUBO’s Accounting Principles Council (APC) in 2021 and has been very active with its projects. Shea has given many presentations at NACUBO and other events, addressing GASB standards and NACUBO’s new guidance on tuition discounting for public institutions. In recognition of his contributions to higher education accounting, he was named the 2023 recipient of NACUBO’s Daniel D. Robinson Accounting Award, which recognizes leadership and continuous commitment to college and university accounting and reporting.
Shea spoke with Chris Leach, NACUBO’s accounting policy analyst, about accounting and reporting, representing higher education at the national level, and some of his personal interests.
Where did you begin your career? I spent the first seven-plus years of my career at Plante Moran, a large regional CPA firm headquartered in Michigan.
What drew you to higher education? As a diehard Spartan fan (my oldest son’s middle name is Dantonio, after the former football coach) working at the East Lansing office of Plante Moran, I was immediately drawn to the Michigan State University audit. I split my time at Plante Moran between higher education in the summer months and for-profit service companies during the winter months. While I enjoyed the for-profit world, particularly some of the interesting strategies related to managing tax outcomes while adhering to GAAP accounting, I found myself being drawn more to the higher education field. The important mission of our universities and positive impacts on the world gave an intrinsic motivation that the for-profit sector could not match. When the opportunity to join my beloved Michigan State arose, it was a no brainer to make the switch.
What are your main responsibilities at Michigan State? I lead a team of seven CPAs tasked with serving as the central accountants for the university. A big part of our job is preparing the university’s year-end financial statements and coordinating the various external audits we are subject to (financial statement audit, single audit, NCAA agreed-upon procedures, and TV and radio audit). This involves implementing new GASB accounting standards, maintaining the chart of accounts, and applying GASB accounting to the various unique accounting transactions we run into each year. When not focused on year-end reporting, we provide a lot of financial analysis work to upper management and perform numerous monthly reconciliations to identify any issues that arise during the year, as well as assist in various other departmental and regulatory reporting needs. My team also oversees the service billing function of the university and reviews internal and external billing rates of our various departments.
What is your view of the role of the APC? I believe the role of the APC is to assist NACUBO in guiding and shaping its advocacy efforts towards regulatory compliance within the higher education sector. The council is comprised of representatives from various institutions across the country, both public and private, each of whom brings their own unique perspective, background, and experience. I believe the overall diversity of the council is one of its greatest strengths, as it allows us to leverage the breadth and depth of experience across each institution in order to help NACUBO best advocate for its members.
What was your reaction to being named the 2023 Daniel D. Robinson Award recipient? I was deeply honored and surprised to be named the 2023 award winner. When looking at the prior winners, many of whom I work with on the NACUBO Accounting Principles Council, it is humbling to be included with such talented individuals.
You have given many presentations at NACUBO and other events; what motivates you to take these on? I point to three primary factors that motivate me to regularly present:
- I love Michigan State University and see this as a way to raise the university’s profile and present our talented controller’s office team as thought leaders on complex issues facing our industry.
- I used to find public speaking extremely frightening. During my time at Plante Moran, I had the opportunity to lead a training course with new staff at the firm, which would require a week of presentation three times a year. I thought that would be a relatively low-risk environment that would help me get over my fear. It ended up working, so I try to present as much as possible so that it never becomes scary again.
- In order to present, you need to be an expert on the subject, so these presentations serve as a nice motivator to take a deep dive into new GASB accounting standards and other issues facing our industry. This benefits my role at the university while also contributing to items 1 and 2 above.
What’s the most challenging GASB statement you’ve implemented? That’s a tough one. It seems like the GASB has hit us with at least one tough new standard annually the last few years. Maybe because it is so fresh, I will point to GASB 87, Leases. It required the implementation of brand-new software, working with a lot of groups around campus to find our leases, which had never really been tracked, and then many hours reading the actual lease agreements and entering the data. I want to say we ended up spending a solid 18 months of focused work to properly implement GASB 87.
What do you see as the top accounting issue public institutions are facing? From the perspective of an accounting professional, I would say it’s the rapid rate that new and complex GASB standards have been issued the last few years. We are fortunate to have great industry groups like NACUBO, as well as such a collaborative industry at large, because without such a robust support structure it would have been a monumental challenge to keep up. The pending Financial Reporting Model and Revenue and Expense Recognition standards are also likely to present a huge challenge as they appear poised to introduce some significant changes to the accounting rules that we’ve all gotten used to.
What do you like to do in your spare time? I’m getting up there in age at this point, but for the past 14 years I’ve played international level men’s fastpitch softball, which has given me a nice excuse to stay in shape as well as some fun distractions in the busy summer months. I also spend a lot of time playing with my three children (one daughter and two sons) and enjoy watching them start to get into sports. My wife and I have held season tickets for Michigan State football for the past 10 years and will often pop onto campus to watch the many other sports offerings when schedules align. I also enjoy playing video games at night in my spare time.