Magazine article Strategic Finance

Management Accounting Career Readiness: Shaping Your Curriculum

Magazine article Strategic Finance

Management Accounting Career Readiness: Shaping Your Curriculum

Article excerpt

The results are in: Accounting is still a hot major for college students.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of accounting jobs is expected to grow 13% over the next decade. This growth can be attributed to an increase in the number of businesses, changing finance laws, corporate governance regulations, and increased accountability for protecting an organization's stakeholders. With so many different opportunities for employment after graduation, deciding which job to take should be the biggest challenge facing an accounting student, right?

Wrong! The challenge actually presents itself much sooner, while students are selecting their courses. Most undergraduate accounting programs are geared toward preparing students for careers in public accounting. This means the typical entry-level corporate accountant's "toolbox" is overflowing with public accounting knowledge, while management accounting concepts, crucial for the person to perform his or her daily responsibilities, take up a small compartment in the back of the box. The traditional undergraduate curriculum's sparse offerings of classes that cover key management accounting topics must be changed.

Are Most Curricula Misguided?

According to the most recent American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) statistics, only 39% of accounting undergraduates enter careers in public accounting. This means more than 60% are entering management accounting or other fields when they graduate. Within five years of leaving campus, approximately 80% of graduates are employed in organizations from Fortune 500 companies to family-owned businesses, government agencies, or nonprofits.

How can schools better prepare their newly minted professionals for the business world?

Once they begin their careers, accounting students have the option of pursuing a number of professional certifications, two of which are CPA (Certified Public Accountant) and CMA[R] (Certified Management Accountant). Because the curriculum of each of the top 50 undergraduate accounting programs in the United States is largely aligned with the components of the CPA exam and updated with changes in the public accounting sector, accounting grads are well prepared for entry-level public accounting positions. Just as the CPA exam today, prompted by heightened accounting regulations some years back, serves as the foundation for the structure of most existing accounting curricula, why can't the content of the CMA exam serve as the framework for the shape of an undergraduate management accounting track?

It can. Arguably "the gold standard" certification for accountants and financial professionals, the CMA demonstrates a person's ability to manifest "critical accounting and financial management skills demanded by today's dynamic businesses," according to IMA[R] (Institute of Management Accountants). To ensure this metric remains reflective of current management accounting practices, the ICMA[R] (Institute of Certified Management Accountants) periodically conducts studies that identify current job tasks of management accountants, determine skills and abilities needed to perform those tasks, and validate the relevance of exam content as changes occur in the profession. Evidence of this validation is the ICMA's decision, announced March 24, 2014, to update the curriculum and modify the format of the CMA exam.

The CMA Exam Gets a Facelift

The new CMA exam, launching January 1, 2015, consists of two parts: (1) Financial Reporting, Planning, Performance, and Control and (2) Financial Decision Making. The major topics in each part are individually ascribed relative weights represented by coverage percentages that mirror how often various subject areas come up in current management accounting practices. Each major topic requires skill levels of knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. …

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