Academic journal article Management Accounting Quarterly

The Ongoing Preparation Gap in Accounting Education: A Call to Action

Academic journal article Management Accounting Quarterly

The Ongoing Preparation Gap in Accounting Education: A Call to Action

Article excerpt

This article is based on a study supported by IMA's Foundation for Applied Research (FAR).

What does an accountant do? Few people, other than (perhaps) accountants, really know. In fact, if someone meets an accountant, he or she is most likely to say, "So, you do taxes?" or "You must be a CPA." The reality is that most accountants do not spend their careers preparing tax returns or even in positions that require them to hold the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) certification. The vast majority of accountants spend most of their careers within organizations where they have management accounting responsibilities; serve as trusted advisors, business partners, or consultants; or function as general managers. Given these varied roles, is accounting education appropriately synchronized with the needs of students and employers?

In this article, we present and synthesize 20 years of evidence that strongly suggests that significant gaps exist between what accounting educators teach and what practicing accountants do. We also document how little the functional focus of the undergraduate accounting curriculum has changed in recent decades. The second article in this series, which will published in the Summer 2010 issue, focuses explicitly on one aspect of accounting education--management accounting--and illustrates the extent of the synchronization gap that exists.

our intent is to raise several potentially provocative questions and encourage both the academic and business communities to engage in a dialogue about the content and focus of the accounting curriculum. We do not presume to have definitive answers to the questions we raise. The "right" answers will vary across colleges and universities and also by student. That said, we believe it is important to discuss questions such as:

* Is there an appropriate balance between financial and management accounting in the typical undergraduate curriculum?

* Should we reduce the financial reporting (based on Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) or externally focused) emphasis in the undergraduate accounting curriculum and move this emphasis to the graduate curriculum?

* Would a course in internal auditing rather than external auditing represent a better alternative for the student who elects to complete his or her accounting education in a four-year program?

* Is an increased emphasis on business-entity taxation over personal taxation appropriate for the typical undergraduate tax course?

* Should a primary focus of an undergraduate accounting curriculum be on preparing students to function in a management accounting environment for various-sized organizations?

* Should graduate coursework more directly target the skill set needed for the CPA exam and undergraduate coursework focus on the skills required for the Certified Management Accountant (CMA[R]) or Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) exams?


The content of and methods of delivering individual courses in accounting programs have changed in recent years. Nevertheless, the primary focus of the accounting curriculum, at least at the undergraduate level, is not much different today from what it was 10, 20, or even 40 years ago. The majority of core undergraduate accounting courses focuses on topics that academics assume students need to work in public accounting and that are necessary or useful for passing the CPA exam. Is this focus appropriate in a world where students must have at least 150 hours of college work to begin the CPA certification process and the majority of students who exit with only a four-year degree will work inside organizations rather than in public accounting?

Regardless of where students begin their accounting careers, most of them wind up working in a corporate setting. In 2008, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that more than 75% of accounting professionals work inside organizations and that the remaining work in professional service practice or public accounting. …

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