The VITA Program: A Catalyst for Improving Accounting Education

Article excerpt

There is a growing consensus among accounting profession- als that recent accounting graduates do not adequately meet the high standards set by potential employers. In 2000, the Accounting Education Change Commission (AECC) argued that accounting education must change to survive the future. According to the report: "The one message that came across loud and clear in our research, and of which we became con- vinced, is that most of the educational models we use are 'bro- ken' or in desperate need of repair. In many ways, it is not what we have done that has resulted in our current situation as much as it is what we have not done."

As articulated in the report, the problems that had bedeviled accounting education are as follows:

Course content and curricula. Accounting curricula are too narrow and often outdated or irrelevant. They are driven by the interests of faculty and not by the demands of the market. Students are not sufficiently exposed to relevant concepts such as globalization, technology, and ethics.

Pedagogy. The current education model is rules-based, relies on memorization, tests for content, and teaches to certifying exams. It is inefficient and, more importantly, does not prepare students for the ambiguous business world they will encounter upon graduation. The pedagogy often lacks creativity, depends too much on lectures and textbooks, and does not develop students' ability to learn skills. Professors are too bound by class time and do not require enough student contact with business.

Skill development. There is too much focus on content at the expense of skill development - skills students need in order to be successful professionals.

Technology. Accounting is taught as if information were still costly. Focusing on information gathering and recording is now a waste of time. Information processing, a historically important part of the accounting educational model, can now be managed quickly by anyone using the right computer software. Students are not sufficiently exposed to the impact of technology on business and ways in which technology can be leveraged to make business decisions.

Faculty development and reward systems. Accounting faculty are often isolated from business school peers and business professionals. As a result, they are becoming increasingly out of touch with market and competitive expectations.

The Skills Gap

The gap between the skills set and technical knowledge that college accounting graduates entering the workforce possess versus what employers think is adequate for an entry-level associate continues to widen. This sentiment is succinctly echoed in "Meeting of the Minds: Preparing Future Accounting Professionals" (The CPA Journal, March, April 2008), which detailed a forum on the topic.

At the forum, George I. Victor, a partner at Holtz Rubenstein Reminick LLP, discussed the issue of the expectation gap in accounting professionals. He argued that the deficiencies entry-level accounting professionals generally possess are not in the technical areas of accounting, but instead are in "soft" skills. He opined that novice professionals need to learn to dress professionally, manage time efficiently, meet deadlines, communicate effectively, plan and organize their work, resolve problems, and think critically. Victor articulated that internship programs provide an excellent opportunity to gain experience while learning these necessary skills. All other things being equal, internships may also address the accounting experience requirement for most entry-level positions.

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VTTA) program provides another vehicle through which essential skills can be acquired by college students. It is an IRSsponsored program that was established almost 40 years ago. Its initial objective was to provide underserved communities and low-to-moderate-income individuals with free tax filing assistance. Presently, there are more than 40,000 volunteers assisting in the VITA tax preparation program. …