Practical ideas for practical education.by Cook, John W.
CPAs often ask why today's college graduates are not better prepared for working in public accounting. Comments are frequently made that newly hired graduates do not seem to have the detailed knowledge of accounting subjects that graduates used to have. Much of what today's students are exposed to does not seem to relate to what practicing CPAs do. These comments represent the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, and the larger problem is hidden below the surface. An urgent problem the profession must face is that college accounting programs do not emphasize the practical aspects of the profession. At many institutions of higher learning faculty members are evaluated not on teaching ability but on the number of articles they publish. Frequently, accounting professors are given few teaching responsibilities so that they can do research and produce articles to enhance their chances of being promoted and receiving tenure. The subject matter very likely is not of a practical nature because a practical subject would probably be rejected in academic circles.
If the graduates of accounting colleges are to be educated so that they are appropriately prepared to enter the profession, practicing accountants must exert their influence. I believe it is time for practicing accountants to become assertively involved in the education of future accountants. Three major actions should be taken to influence accounting education:
1. CPAs should participate in advisory councils to the accounting department of colleges.
2. Financial contributions to accounting programs should be restricted so that faculty members are rewarded for superior teaching and conducting research of a practical nature.
3. Accountants should encourage the establishment of new professional schools of accounting.
Accounting departments at many scholls have advisory councils. I urge you as a CPa to become a member of an existing council. If one does not exist at the college of your choice, volunteer to organize it. Your services are most likely needed at your alma mater, at a college in your community, or at the college where you recruit most of your employees. Once you are a member of a council, be willing to chair committees and take positions of leadership.
An advisory council should influence how faculty members are judged. This would include a review of the criteria for hiring as well as those for promotion and tenure. As long as the criteria are mainly oriented to research and publication, faculty will be inclined to devote little attention to teaching and practice. The individual who is most likely to be hired as a new accounting professor today is the one who has the greatest potential for publication in academic journals. As more and more research oriented individuals are employed, less attention will be given to the practical aspects of accounting. The advisory council may not be able to become a formal part of the hiring and promoting process, but they can exert strong influence.
The content of the curriculum is another area the advisory council can influence. Many CPA firms have developed their own courses for training personnel. Sharing such information could be of great benefit to academics in the development of practical courses. Faculty members should be invited to attend courses offered by CPa firms and various industry trade associations. Faculty members would probably be unwilling to attend training sessions or develop new courses unless the effort is recognized in the same manner as is research and publication. The advisory council should demand that faculty members be given similar recognition for such efforts.
At only a few institutions is the endowment or state appropriation sufficient to support the programs offered. Nearly all receive financial assistance from outside sources. CPa firms and their foundations are frequently a major source of financial aid for accounting programs. Numerous universities attract prominent educators by supplementing their salaries with endowed chairs. Today, many of the chairs are held by persons devoting the major portion of their efforts to empirical research and writing. The occupants of these chairs have reduced teaching duties and less contact with students than other faculty members. For example, one professor occupying a chair of accountancy is quoted as saying his evaluation gives weighting of 90% to his research and 10% to teaching and professional endeavors. He is available to students only three hours per week.
Research is an essential role for a university. Accounting research, however, should have some relationship to the actual activities of the profession. When CPAs, foundations, and private companies endow chairs of accounting, I believe they have an obligation to see that the people in those chairs contribute to the practical advancement of the working profession. Although colleges and universities may not like restrictions upon the use of funds contributed for endowed chairs, the financial need is so great that they will accept an oversight role by the contributor. Accounting entities funding endowed chairs should see to it that the course material benefits the profession. Financial contributions are also made by means other than endowed chairs. Each time a contribution is made, there should be a requirement for periodic reports on the use of the funds. I recommend that contributions should be continued only when expenditures reflect rewards to faculty members who devote their time and efforts to effective teaching, student enrichment, and advancement of practical knowledge.
Professional Schools of Accountancy
Many faculty members say that excessive emphasis is placed on empirical research and publication in the world of academe. These same faculty members intimate that little can be done to change the situation because of the philosophy of those in authority. It would seem that the solution is for individuals with an appreciation for the practical aspects of accounting to be placed in authority. At this time, many departments of accounting are parts of colleges or universities where the standards of promotion, salary, and tenure are controlled by persons with backgrounds in other disciplines, and they have little appreciation for the practical problems of CPAs. The establishment of professional schools of accountancy would enable accountants to be in control and establish standards that adhere to the demands of practicing accountants.
Professional schools of accounting can contribute much to the advancement of the profession. The large favorable vote by members of the AICPA to require 150 semester hours of college education for membership by the year 2000 seems to be a commitment to the idea of advanced education. As more and more schools modify programs to meet this 150-hour requirement, the need for professional schools of accounting will become greater and greater.
All education in accounting should be relevant to the profession. This means more interchange between practicing members and the academic community. Practitioners should help academics obtain practical experience by establishing internships and other opportunities to work in the field. Additionally, all would benefit if practicing members could devote time to the classroom.
The accreditation of programs of accounting today is effectively controlled by the American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). Major criteria for accreditation of accounting programs are that faculty have PhD degrees, that they engage in significant research and are published. As long as these are major requisites for accreditation, the practical aspects of accounting practice and class contact with students will be neglected. Several years ago, a major criterion for accreditation was that faculty members have significant practical experience that was both recent and relevant. The AACSB standards no longer give significant consideration to such qualifications. Perhaps an accrediting body should be established that would include significant representation of practicing CPAs. The profession needs accredited programs that give proper emphasis to classroom instruction, practical experience, and concern for students. CPAs should demand that representative accrediting groups be organized and empowered to revise accreditation standards.
A school of accounting should be closely aligned with a college of business and a college of liberal arts. Many subjects that need to be mastered by accounting students are offered in various departments of affiliated schools. However, when a school of accounting is an integral unit of a business college it cannot control its own curriculum and establish the criteria for hiring and advancing its own facility. CPAs should participate in the design of curriculum, engage in class room instruction, and be members of accreditation review teams.
Graduates of professional schools of accounting with some educational aptitude and training should be able to start teaching in the schools after gaining practical experience. They should not be required to have PhD degrees. Today the PhD most often means that the recipient has been trained to conduct empirical research. It is more important the recognition be given for practical exposure and training in teaching.
Renewed emphasis on professional schools of accounting is timely because of the upcoming requirement for 150 semester hours of education for AICPA membership and for sitting for the CPA examination. This is the time for practicing members of the accounting profession to speak up and influence the curriculum and staffing of these schools.
CPAs as individuals, as firms, as members of CPA associations, and as graduates of colleges must take the initiative in advancing accounting education. They should actively participate in advisory councils in order to influence accounting programs. Financial assistance should be earned by every accounting program receiving a grant. Such aid can be directed to those programs that emphasize aspects of the profession desired by practicing members. New professional schools and revised professional programs are on the horizon, and CPAs ought to be influential in shaping their character.
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