Reforming Accounting Education

Article excerpt

The AECC is trying to ensure classroom learning matches real-world needs.

Attention, CPAs: Think back on your undergraduate accounting curriculum. If you graduated in the early 1980s or before, it probably had a heavy emphasis on financial accounting, especially preparing external financial reports. Courses were taught independently of each other. Textbooks included all the existing accounting and auditing pronouncements. You followed along as your professor solved problems on the board. There was only one right answer. You or your professor rarely used any technology. You did little writing and made even fewer presentations in your accounting classes. You never worked with other students on group projects. The ultimate objective was to pass the Uniform CPA Examination.

How does your accounting education square with the professional demands you face today? To what extent did the accounting curriculum provide the professional knowledge and skills you rely on now? Probably very little. However, thanks to a working partnership between accounting educators and accountants in practice - those employed in industry and commerce, public practice and government - changes in accounting education are under way at last.

Recent developments have quickened the pace of change in accounting education:

* The practice of accounting, in all segments, has grown more complex.

* The accounting function's scope in all types of organizations, and therefore the CPA's role, have become broader.

* Standards continue to proliferate.

* Calls for greater accountability have increased.

* Technology has invaded all aspects of the CPA's professional life.

RESPONDING TO THE PROFESSION'S

NEEDS

Accounting practitioners and accounting educators together are reengineering the curriculum. In 1989, the then eight largest CPA firms entered a partnership with the American Accounting Association (AAA) leadership to form the Accounting Education Change Commission (AECC). With funding from the largest firms, the commission's objectives are to (1) provide leadership in changing accounting education so it will be responsive to the needs of those entering a variety of career paths and (2) address the educational needs of the principal stakeholders in accounting education. The latter's views are represented on the 18-member commission, which includes representatives from small firms (the American Institute of CPAs), large firms (the six largest firms), commerce and industry (the Financial Executives Institute and the Institute of Management Accountants), regulators (the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy), business school deans (the American Association of Collegiate Schools of Business) and accounting educators (the AAA) as well as a university president and an expert in higher education. The AECC also includes as ex-officio members the AICPA vice-president-education and the AAA director of education.

The commission views the design of a university's curriculum, which determines the breadth and depth of a student's education and thus must be relevant to the business and accounting world, to be its product design - that is, it shapes the student's educational experience. Curriculum design must have a "customer" focus, recognizing that both students and employers are education's customers.

The AECC believes the 150-hour requirement for future CPAs provides an excellent opportunity for accounting faculties to reexamine the entire curriculum and should result in fundamental changes in the structure and delivery of accounting education from the first course to the last.

To quick-start curriculum innovation and change, at the outset the commission committed the majority of its resources to a competitive grant program. The colleges and universities receiving grants, listed in exhibit 1, page 80, represent a variety of institutions and have proposed a variety of curriculum structures. …

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