An Exploratory Study Assessing the Effectiveness of a Professional Responsibility Course

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Recent fraudulent financial scandals have the public questioning whether accountants and auditors have forgotten their professional responsibilities. Changes have been proposed by the Education Committee of the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) to increase the credit hour requirements in ethics education, supporting the importance of ethics training for our current students who will become our new professionals. However, prior studies on the effectiveness of ethics education in accounting have produced mixed results, leaving academics questioning whether ethics and professional responsibility can be taught. This study explores the impact of a 12-week professional responsibility capstone course required of all accounting seniors. This study takes a new approach in evaluating the effectiveness of ethics education by administering a course evaluation to assess the effectiveness of the components of the professional responsibility course (ethics intervention) in conjunction with the DIT-2, and vignettes related to accounting and business ethical dilemmas to determine whether ethical evaluations changed after an ethics intervention. This research provides interesting insights into the assessment of classroom instruction that are significant for faculty who wish to evaluate the effectiveness of ethics interventions.

Key words: Accounting ethics, ethics education

Data availability: Available from the author upon request.

INTRODUCTION

The Education Committee of the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) has proposed changes to the content of the 150 semester hour requirements that would increase the number of semester hours for ethics education, including three hours of ethics in accounting and three hours of ethics in business. Prior researchers suggest that ethics is not adequately covered in accounting programs (Frecka and Nichols, 2004; Wyatt and Gaa, 2004; Cohen and Pant, 1989) and most people agree that ethics should be a part of an accounting curriculum. However, studies on the effectiveness of ethics education in accounting have produced mixed results and there is disagreement as to how ethics should be covered in our accounting programs. Given these mixed results on the impact of accounting ethics education and publicized earnings scandals, many academics are left wondering where to go from here.

This study explores the impact of a 12-week professional responsibility capstone course required of all accounting seniors. This study extends ethics research by administering the DIT-2 to assess the level of moral reasoning of accounting students, accounting and business related vignettes developed by Cohen et al. (1998, 1996, 1993) for evaluation of ethical situations, and a course evaluation based on the goals of accounting ethics education that has never been tested by prior research. Conclusions are made from responses to course evaluations as to which course components are most effective in addressing the goals of ethics education in the classroom. Research assessing course components will allow educators to improve the effectiveness of teaching professional responsibility and ethics in our accounting classrooms.

Support for Accounting Ethics Education

The accounting profession has attempted to respond to earnings scandals by passing the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, and the Statement of Auditing Standards (SAS) 99 to clarify issues related to ethics and fraudulent financial reporting. However, there is growing concern that ethics and professional responsibility should become more prevalent in our accounting curriculums. The proposal from the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) to increase the number of semester hours for ethics education highlights the need to educate our future accounting professionals specifically in accounting ethics. This proposal validates prior researchers' concerns that ethics is not adequately covered in accounting programs (Frecka and Nichols, 2004; Gaa and Thorne, 2004; Wyatt and Gaa, 2004; Cohen and Pant, 1989). …

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