Accounting Education: The Next Horizon

By Previts, Gary John | Journal of Accountancy, October 1991 | Go to article overview

Accounting Education: The Next Horizon


Previts, Gary John, Journal of Accountancy


In 1967 Robert H. Roy and James H. MacNeil's Horizons for a Profession proposed a common body of knowledge for CPAs. That study's horizons are being attained as more highly qualified people are entering the CPA profession, which is changing from an undergraduate to a graduate entry-level profession. By the next decade the changeover should be complete. The modifications needed to bring about the change in accounting education should benefit the CPA's employer and the individual CPA as well as provide the public with a more valuable set of services.

SCOPE OF SERVICES

At present accounting is taught along functional-technical course lines (auditing, financial reporting, managerial, tax, fund accounting, etc.), which follow the Uniform CPA Examination, with little emphasis on specific industry applications. Until the 1970s public accounting practice was well served by this approach. Now, however, the scope of CPA firms' services has further developed along functional lines; today firms emphasize lines of business, resulting in, for example, practitioners who concentrate on oil and gas tax issues and others who focus exclusively on auditing retail business.

This change will have a significant impact on accounting curriculums as the scope of CPA services in both public and corporate practice, not the professional exam, will be the primary driving force behind accounting curriculum development.

ETHICAL RESPONSIBILITIES

Beginning in 1994, the changed content of the CPA exam will include a new component on professional duties and responsibilities. Adding such a topic to the accounting curriculum will emphasize that the ethical aspects of practice are as important as technical competency.

This will be a challenge to educators, who may consider such "subjective" notions as integrity, objectivity, competence and commitment to serve others' interests as difficult--if not inappropriate--subject matter for an accounting curriculum. However, other professions for generations have been incorporating similar treatments in their curriculums. Lawyers are educated in their responsibility to serve as advocates of their clients' rights; physicians are taught the Hippocratic oath's provisions to place their patients' well-being above all else; other social service disciplines provide similar, if less obvious, treatments in their education programs. In the past such an emphasis in the accounting curriculum has been secondary to the functional-technical focus on competency as measured by the CPA examination.

Employers and society have a right to expect the coming generation of CPAs to be functionally and technically competent as well as to incorporate the ideals of professionalism that are commonly expected in practice.

AGENTS OF CHANGE

Education reform will be limited and ineffective without broader social and institutional support. The Accounting Education Change Commission (AECC) is the prototype of the agency that will be required if institution and curriculum reforms are to occur on a timely and efficient basis. However, the AECC's charter, which was developed in cooperation with the largest CPA firms, sets limits on its financial resources.

Can accounting--the language of business--be transformed through a single, limited education effort, even if well administered? For pervasive reforms to be accomplished, a permanent agency with access to broad public support and resources at a national level, along the lines of the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health or some other body, is needed.

LIFELONG LEARNING

Among the most important changes affecting CPAs are the efforts to implement formal continuing professional education requirements to maintain and upgrade every CPA's skills. Educators and professional and academic institutions need to cooperate in developing consistent, convenient and cost-effective lifelong learning education systems. …

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