Academic journal article Journal of Accountancy

Practitioners as Mentors: Influencing Students to Study Accounting

Academic journal article Journal of Accountancy

Practitioners as Mentors: Influencing Students to Study Accounting

Article excerpt

Enrollment in accounting programs is falling. The percentage of college students majoring in accounting dropped to 2% in 2000 from 4% in 1990. Several recent studies report that high school and college students generally view accountants' work as boring and monotonous. They envision creative, rewarding, people-oriented careers for themselves and rank accounting low on all these characteristics. In their 2000 report Accounting Education: Charting the Course through a Perilous Future, W. Steve Albrecht and Robert J. Sack identified students' lack of knowledge and misperceptions about accounting careers as one of the challenges facing educators in attracting students to the profession.

While academics may be best suited to training students in the skills they need to be accountants, practicing CPAs can make an important contribution as well. They are in the unique position of being able to describe what one observer called the "nature, variety, challenge and rewards of practicing accounting." One way to do this is through mentoring programs. This article describes such a program the authors helped develop at the Boler Business School at John Carroll University in Cleveland where CPA practitioners served in this important advisory role. Educators will learn how to set up a program at their school and practitioners can get a better understanding of why they should participate if asked.

ACCOUNTING FIRSTHAND

Any school, regardless of size, can develop a mentoring program that provides interested students the opportunity to learn about the accounting profession firsthand from practitioners. At John Carroll we offer a mentor to students enrolled in the introductory accounting course. Most schools require students considering a major in any area of business to complete a two-semester introductory course in accounting before making a final decision. We believe that a student armed with a realistic picture of career opportunities and job responsibilities might be more inclined to major in accounting.

Unlike a formal internship, our mentoring program is designed to be flexible. The form and frequency of contact between mentors and students varies but generally is guided by the student's wishes. With some mentor relationships, contact is exclusively an exchange of e-mails or conversations by phone. For others, the student and mentor meet for lunch and an office visit. Some mentoring relationships continue into the next academic year while others end because the student is no longer interested in accounting or has gathered all the information he or she needs to decide on a major. John Carroll students who have had more than one contact with their mentor have expressed only positive opinions about their experiences. For those thinking of majoring in accounting, a chance to speak with a practitioner helped reinforce their decision.

IDENTIFYING INTERESTED STUDENTS

At John Carroll we make students enrolled in the introductory accounting course aware of the mentoring program in two ways. First, we include a statement in the syllabus (see "Attracting Students to the Mentorship Program" on page 44). Second, during a class meeting early in the term, the instructor explains the program, emphasizing these points:

* Participation is voluntary.

* The degree of contact between the student and his or her mentor is flexible.

* The program is not a recruiting tool.

* The student is not obligated to accept invitations for face-to-face meetings but should respond in a timely fashion to any invitations.

The instructor distributes a sign-up sheet soliciting the names, phone numbers and e-mail addresses of students interested in participating.

The timing for signing up students is important to the program's success. In 1999, the first year we had a mentoring program at John Carroll, we made the mistake of soliciting student names during the first week of class, which we discovered was much too early. …

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