A Novel Approach to Accounting Education

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Although accounting can be dry and difficult to teach, the subject can hold considerable interest, even excitement, for those already committed to the field. But what about people that may be considering a career choice or change and know little about accounting and its possibilities? Herein lies a dilemma: The practitioner and academic communities both want to attract and retain the "best" students, those that are smart, interesting, imaginative, and creative. Because university programs are an entree to accounting, a key question becomes how universities and their faculties attract and retain accounting students with the traits needed to be successful in the profession.

A wide array of landmark studies and reports have given the search for innovative classroom techniques an added sense of urgency. These include the Accounting Education Commission's 1990 report "Composite Profile of Capabilities Needed by Accounting Graduates," the AICPA's 1990 release of "Education Requirements For entry into the Accounting Profession," and Albrecht and Sack's 2000 study, "Accounting Education: Charting the Course Through a Perilous Future." (See The CPA Journal, March 2001.) To varying degrees, these reports called for greater attention in accounting education to such attributes as values, ethics, analytical and interpersonal skills, and creativity.

The intellectual skill set and attributes identified in these reports suggest that the classroom dialogue encouraged by a novel about accounting may be helpful. Awareness of personal and social values, the process of inquiry and judgment, logical thinking, reasoning, critical analysis, communication skills, ethics: What better way to hone these traits than giveand-take discussion of a relevant (albeit fictional) case study?

Professor Richard E. Brown has already co-authored one such accounting novel, The Rose Engagement (see book review on p. 13), which has been adopted by more than two dozen universities as a supplement to the usual accounting textbooks and also forms the nucleus of a larger continuing education program. The positive student reaction to use of this book in government and nonprofit accounting courses encouraged the authors to develop a second novel in the field of managerial accounting. The manuscript, with the working title The Margin of Safety, was completed in 1998 and over the next two years was used and evaluated in the classroom in several courses.

The novel's setting is the fictional Clark State University, where three MBA students involved in a group project stumble upon a plot by university officials to manipulate enrollment data (thereby increasing public funding) and to increase endowment funding by murdering individuals currently benefiting from life income trusts (the trusts then reverting to the university).

Evidence suggests that use of the accounting novel in classrooms is fairly widespread and growing in acceptance. Such books are generally designed to supplement course texts, not replace them. One possible exception is Management Accounting: A Road of Discovery (South-Western College Publishing), which offers the content and concepts of a traditional textbook but uses a fictional family business throughout to illustrate and reinforce the concepts. Study

Four different courses used the completed manuscript of The Margin of Safety to test the reactions of different accounting students to the accounting novel. Although the main purposes of using the book in the courses varied, there was a common interest in determining whether students found the manuscript useful in explaining or reinforcing basic managerial concepts and helpful in making the course more interesting and even enjoyable. Regardless of their major, students were asked whether their appreciation of the accounting profession and ethical issues had been enhanced by using the book.

The evaluation instrument had to differentiate between different student audiences. …