December 2003

Introducing the Basics

I agree with Eric Rothenburg (“Incorporating Business Ethics into Introductory Accounting Courses,” October 2003) that ethics should be a component of the accounting curriculum. Whether it should be incorporated into the initial accounting class is another matter. Rothenburg thinks that this might help increase accounting enrollments. My view is entirely opposite.

The initial accounting class (financial accounting) is taken by all students enrolled in the business school at Iona College, where I teach. I venture to say this is typical of most schools. This is the pool from where accounting majors will sprout. To the extent the introductory class piques their interest in accounting, they pursue other accounting courses and a major. Or they may be so turned off by the class that they investigate other majors in the business field.

The introductory course should do one thing: teach the basic foundation of accounting, also known as bookkeeping, and then go a little past that to incorporate adjusting entries, and other topics. But at the basic level the intro course should grant the student a solid footing in bookkeeping. No one likes to call it that, but that is what it is.

Textbooks integrate “decision tool kits” and “critical thinking” passages in part to justify their $160 price tag. This extends the reading needlessly and turns off students. The material does not need to be covered in a textbook that runs 800 pages (see Accounting Demystified, which I wrote, for how the same material can be covered in 150 pages).

A semester-long case study at the introductory level is wasted time without the students having a proper footing in the subject matter. If the material were accessible, students might stay to major in accounting. As it is, the course tends to push students away. The material can be made interesting by bringing real-life business anecdotes to class about how the understanding of basic accounting had real-life impact. If we do better with the introductory class we might have more students going on to major in accounting.

As I tell my students, trying to succeed in business without understanding accounting is like trying to be a writer without learning the alphabet.

Jeffry R. Haber, PhD, CPA
Iona College
Hagan School of Business

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