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Accounting for Innovation

July 31, 2012

Accounting programs should promote curricular flexibility to capture a new generation of students who are more technologically savvy, less patient with traditional teaching methods, and more wary of the career opportunities in accounting, according to a report released today by the Pathways Commission, which studies the future of higher education for accounting.

In 2008, the U.S. Treasury Department's  Advisory Committee on the Auditing Profession recommended that the American Accounting Association and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants form a commission to study the future structure and content of accounting education, and the Pathways Commission was formed to fulfill this recommendation and establish a national higher education strategy for accounting.

In the report, the commission acknowledges that some sporadic changes have been adopted, but it seeks to put in place a structure for much more regular and ambitious changes.

The report includes seven recommendations:

  • Integrate accounting research, education and practice for students, practitioners and educators by bringing professionally oriented faculty more fully into education programs.
  • Promote accessibility of doctoral education by allowing for flexible content and structure in doctoral programs and developing multiple pathways for degrees. The current path to an accounting Ph.D. includes lengthy, full-time residential programs and research training that is for the most part confined to quantitative rather than qualitative methods. More flexible programs -- that might be part-time, focus on applied research and emphasize training in teaching methods and curriculum development -- would appeal to graduate students with professional experience and candidates with families, according to the report.
  • Increase recognition and support for high-quality teaching and connect faculty review, promotion and tenure processes with teaching quality so that teaching is respected as a critical component in achieving each institution's mission. According to the report, accounting programs must balance recognition for work and accomplishments -- fed by increasing competition among institutions and programs -- along with recognition for teaching excellence.
  • Develop curriculum models, engaging learning resources and mechanisms to easily share them, as well as enhancing faculty development opportunities to sustain a robust curriculum that addresses a new generation of students who are more at home with technology and less patient with traditional teaching methods.
  • Improve the ability to attract high-potential, diverse entrants into the profession.
  • Create mechanisms for collecting, analyzing and disseminating information about the market needs by establishing a national committee on information needs, projecting future supply and demand for accounting professionals and faculty, and enhancing the benefits of a high school accounting education.
  • Establish an implementation process to address these and future recommendations by creating structures and mechanisms to support a continuous, sustainable change process.

According to the report, its two sponsoring organizations -- the American Accounting Association and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants -- will support the effort to carry out the report's recommendations, and they are finalizing a strategy for conducting this effort.

Hsihui Chang, a professor and head of Drexel University’s accounting department, said colleges must prepare students for the accounting field by encouraging three qualities: integrity, analytical skills and a global viewpoint.

“You need to look at things in a global scope,” he said. “One thing we’re always thinking about is how can we attract students from diverse groups?” Chang said the department’s faculty comprises members from several different countries, and the university also has four student organizations dedicated to accounting -- including one for Asian students and one for Hispanic students.

He said the university hosts guest speakers and accounting career days to provide information to prospective accounting students about career options: “They find out, ‘Hey, this seems to be quite exciting.’”

Jimmy Ye, a professor and chair of the accounting department at Baruch College of the City University of New York, wrote in an email to Inside Higher Ed that his department is already fulfilling some of the report’s recommendations by inviting professionals from accounting firms into classrooms and bringing in research staff from accounting firms to interact with faculty members and Ph.D. students.

Ye also said the AICPA should collect and analyze supply and demand trends in the accounting profession -- but not just in the short term. “Higher education does not just train students for getting their first jobs,” he wrote. “I would like to see some study on the career tracks of college accounting graduates.”

Mohamed Hussein, a professor and head of the accounting department at the University of Connecticut, also offered ways for the commission to expand its recommendations. He said the recommendations can’t be fully put into practice with the current structure of accounting education.

“There are two parts to this: one part is being able to have an innovative curriculum that will include changes in technology, changes in the economics of the firm, including risk, international issues and regulation,” he said. “And the other part is making sure that the students will take advantage of all this innovation.”

The university offers courses on some of these issues as electives, but it can’t fit all of the information in those courses into the major’s required courses, he said.

He said he thinks the commission’s recommendations will impact accounting education, but he hopes the commission will go a step further. “I’m hoping that it will also look at the issue of where do you put these innovations -- at what level? Should it be at the undergraduate level? Should it be at the master’s level?”

 

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