NSA's Role in Growth and Development
Morehead, Andrew T., The National Public Accountant
Recent accounting journal articles have examined the supposedly outdated methods of continuing professional education available to our profession (see "CPE is Broke; Let's Fix It" in the December edition of the Journal of Accountancy; and "Changing the Direction of CPE" in the January issue of The Practical Accountant.)
They point out, correctly in my opinion, that learning has become secondary to obtaining the necessary hours, in the approved (rather than appropriate) types of courses, so one can keep a license or accreditation. There is less emphasis on knowledge gained than on compliance. Perhaps the least acceptable assumption is that sitting in a chair for eight hours automatically translates into an educational experience that provides the professional with new or updated competency.
As usual, the various proposals to "fix" the problem tend to founder when the subject of measurement of the effects of CPE is raised. The traditional way is by a minimum number of hours per period, but when testing is proposed the argument begins on what types of tests, administered how and when. Moreover, from the public perspective, x hours of education is easy to understand; the alternatives fail this test, and provide NASBA and the state boards of accountancy with both a compliance and public relations problem.
While the educational experts evaluate and plan, the need continues for CPE that is aimed at both the core functions of today's accounting professional and at much more specialized training as the practitioner develops niche areas in his/her practice. Moreover, the methods of delivery must be varied; attendance at in-person conferences and seminars may be perfect for one practitioner while the next prefers audio, or videotape, or CD-Rom, or Internet, or another method of training.
The delivery of CPE by alternative means to seminars/meetings may be attractive but there are technological problems everywhere. Should the programs be DOS- or Windows- or MAC-based? Is a 386, 486, or Pentium machine needed? How interactive should the program be, and can immediate testing be incorporated into the framework of the program? Floppy disks, CD-ROM, DVD or Internet? Or perhaps all? The purveyors of CPE are in a quandary as they debate the relative merits of each platform and, perhaps just as important, its acceptability to the profession.
The expense of in-person seminars has been a large part of the movement toward alternative training techniques. Speakers must be recompensed for the research, drafting and presentation time. Travel costs have become so inflated that only subjects attracting large numbers of attendees will remain cost-competitive, and even then Saturday night stays are almost required to keep airfares low.
The debate on CPE content and delivery, as well as testing methods to be used, if any, is likely to continue well into the next millennium. What, you may ask, is NSA doing as the argument rages?
The NSA answer: trying to provide its members with as broad a range of educational alternatives as possible in the most popular and useful formats while we too look at alternative means of delivery of education to our members and reevaluate the usefulness of our programs in light of changing demand and regulatory requirements. Toward this end, we are working with some of the most innovative companies in the CPE field.
Faithful readers of this magazine see in most issues a section called "Market Place for Professional Growth," containing descriptions of both general and specialized course available in a variety of media. A recent issue contained: a course on cost and managerial accounting on audio tape; not-for-profit accounting training on every size floppy disk available; an ACAT preparatory course in loose-leaf format; a Living Trust hardbound/floppy disk set; and a plain old book on estate planning. Elsewhere in the issue, there was even a 1997-1998 Tax Seminar Interactive Multimedia CD with audio commentary. …