Accounting Education: Charting the Course through a Perilous Future

By Bloom, Robert | The Journal of Government Financial Management, Spring 2002 | Go to article overview

Accounting Education: Charting the Course through a Perilous Future


Bloom, Robert, The Journal of Government Financial Management


This is a study of the future of accounting education sponsored by the Institute of Management Accountants, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, the American Accounting Association, and the Big 5. The authors, W.S. Albrecht from Brigham Young University and R.J. Sack from the University of Virginia, were charged to prepare "a high-level thought piece, supported by evidence where possible, aboutthe future of accounting education"That they did.

The research methodology of this study consisted of:

1. reading recent authoritative reports of the AAA, IMA and AICPA as well as recent accounting education articles,

2. interviewing many leaders of business, accounting, and consulting,

3. conducting focus-group sessions with individuals selected by the four sponsoring organizations and

4. circulating three questionnaire surveys.

This study falls in the tradition of the Bedford Report(1986) by the American Accounting Association, which also found that accounting education was inadequate, and the Big 8 White Paper (1989), which echoed the conclusions of the Bedford Report from a practitioners' perspective. Albrecht and Sack paint a gloomy picture of state of accounting education today, providing evidence to show that recent changes in accounting education have not been satisfactory. The authors point to significantly decreasing student enrollments in accounting programs nationwide. Beyond that, they observe that accounting practitioners and educators are so disenchanted with their profession that they would major in another discipline if they had the opportunity to restart their careers from scratch. The authors do not just criticize the deplorable status of accounting education, but also recommend specific changes for its survival.

This monograph consists of six chapters:

1. "Why Accounting Education May Not Survive in the Future"

2. "Changes in the Business Environment"

3. "Fewer and Less Qualified Students Are Choosing Accounting as a Major"

4. "Why Accounting Practitioners and Educators Would Not Major in Accounting Again"

5. "Improving Accounting Education"

6. "Summary and Recommendation"

Albrecht and Sack observe recent changes in the business environment impacting accounting education, including technology and globalization as well as the growing market power of large mutual funds and pension funds. Additionally, there has been a decreasing reliance on historical financial statements. Also, disclosure of nonfinancial information is far more prevalent today. A movement away from traditional to data base financial reporting is developing.

The authors cite data indicating that the number of accounting degrees awarded in the 1998-99 academic year was 47,600, down 20 percent from 1995-96. Enrollments in 1998-99 are also down 23 percent relative to 1995-96. Albrecht and Sack contend that the reasons for the enrollment decline include the following: lower starting salaries for accounting graduates compared to other business majors, the emergence of several other attractive business majors, a willingness by graduates to accept risky job opportunities and a lack of clarity about the role of accountants. It is not clear, however, from the surveys conducted for this study whether the quality of accounting majors has declined. Faculty indicate that is the case, but their department chairs tend to disagree.

If student enrollments are rapidly decreasing, what will happen to budgets of academic accounting departments that are based on such enrollments?The authors fear budgets too will decline significantly to the point that separate accounting departments might be eliminated.

The report asserts: "Although nearly 100 percent of accounting educators and 79 percent of accounting practitioners who responded to our surveys had undergraduate degrees in accounting, most of them stated that they would not get an accounting degree if completing their education over again" (p. …

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