How Does the New Generation of Accounting Majors Measure Up?

By Vance, Carol A.; Stephens, William L. | The CPA Journal, November 2010 | Go to article overview
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How Does the New Generation of Accounting Majors Measure Up?


Vance, Carol A., Stephens, William L., The CPA Journal


Observations from the Ivory Tower

Over the past 40 years of teaching accounting in the Florida university system, the authors have had the opportunity to work with many wonderful accounting students who have parlayed their educational experiences into becoming outstanding CPAs, captains of industry, leaders of their communities, and entrepreneurs. Professionals and other educators have often asked us: Are accounting students today different from the students 20 to 40 years ago? Are they as bright? Are they as prepared to enter the profession? Are they as dedicated? Up until the past 10 years or so, our answer was usually in the affirmative. When asked the same questions today, however, our response is instead one of great concern.

We do believe that today's students are better in several ways than they were in past years. For example, they are certainly more technologically savvy. Not only are they totally comfortable with computers, the Internet, and smartphones, they are also proficient with spreadsheets, databases, word processing programs, and accounting software packages. They are also much more aware of the importance of developing networking skills, of having a more extroverted personality, and of being more socially focused than accounting students from previous generations.

The authors believe the real problem facing the profession today is the possible lack of high-quality accounting majors to meet the future needs of the profession. We do not contend that the current generation of students lacks the intellectual ability to learn and be trained with the technical skills necessary to complete their accounting education and compete successfully in the professional workplace. We do contend, however, that the current generation often lacks the personal drive, commitment, focus, and work ethic that their predecessors had. Our concern is with the overall quality of the pool of students that the accounting profession will have to choose from in the future.

Obstacles to Finding Top Talent

The AICPA conducted a "Top Talent Study" in 2006 in order to determine how to best recruit and retain student talent in the profession. The discussion that follows will analyze some of the barriers to achieving that goal-problems that the authors feel are causing the current generation of students to fall short of those past. The opinions expressed are based on existing research in the field, qualitative interviews with a representative sample of 15 accountants in many of the most prestigious academic accounting programs in the United States, and the authors' personal observations over an extended period of time. We have identified what we and a concerned cadre of other accounting professors around the country believe are significant forces that have led to a change in the talent pool entering the profession. We realize that some of the points we make may be controversial, but if that leads to open and honest discussion, then that may lead to ideas on how academia and the profession can better adapt to the changing demographics.

There are three primary factors that lead to our pessimistic assessment of the new crop of accounting students. The first and perhaps most pervasive factor concerns environmental and societal issues. The second factor is our belief that the profession has had a contributing role, albeit unintentionally. The last factor relates to the increasing pressures within institutions of learning to acquiesce to the needs of this changing generation and for university administrators to shift from preparing students for careers to generating more graduates and increasing research productivity.

We also present some ideas on how to improve the situation. Some professors feel that we should adapt the education process to the less qualified and less driven students of today. Others believe that we should reject anyone with suboptimal motivation and substandard skills and accept a reduction in the population of qualified graduates.

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How Does the New Generation of Accounting Majors Measure Up?
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