Quality over Quantity
How to Improve Accounting Education

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JANUARY 2007 - Moving up the ladder in the accounting profession isn’t easy for entry-level CPAs. To succeed in today’s complex business environment, recent accounting graduates need to enter the workforce with an arsenal of disparate skills.

On the one hand, entry-level CPAs need the “right brain” technical knowledge that has become increasingly important for accountants. Technical knowledge includes everything from accelerated depreciation to zero-coupon bonds and is, for many students, comparable to learning an entirely new language.

On the other hand, “left brain” communication skills are equally, if not more, important for entry-level CPAs. Good communication skills allow CPAs to gather and report information—technical and otherwise—through writing, listening, speaking, and even body language.

In the end, the most successful CPAs are usually the ones who manage to combine a solid technical knowledge base with top-notch communication skills. But many practitioners have expressed concerns that, in general, accounting students are graduating with insufficient communication skills, and are, as a result, unable to adapt to changes in the workplace. A dynamic regulatory system and the public’s growing expectations of a CPA’s responsibilities have created additional complexities. Many accounting professionals are beginning to question the integrity of an outdated educational structure that seems to come up short in meeting the realities of our current business environment.

So what are we to do? There is, perhaps, no more important question facing the profession today. The profession’s future depends on the education of tomorrow’s CPAs. If there are better ways to prepare accounting students, we must actively seek to enhance the educational process. How can the profession make the most of a student’s time in school, and where are the gaps in accounting curricula today?

A New Focus

There are no easy answers. But perhaps it’s time to focus on the substance of accounting education, not merely the number of credit-hours required. Below are some suggestions for improvement.

  • Hire more accounting educators with practical experience. Not enough accounting professors have practical, “real-world” experience. As a result, many students are learning only textbook theory, not the application of concepts necessary for their success after graduation. Hiring more accounting educators with practical experience might also improve what appears to be a communications gap between academics and practitioners.
  • Integrate communication exercises throughout required courses. Interactive communication exercises should be integrated into technical course material so students learn by doing. Case studies, for example, would help students to develop communication skills in the technical areas of accounting and audit, tax, and business law, as well as improve critical thinking and language skills. The profession and academia need to recognize the difference between education and training; schools have a responsibility to educate, while employers should provide training and professional development.
  • Increase focus on ethics education. Ethics education should be integrated throughout the curriculum. Relevant and updated content should be covered within the context of the course material for each requisite class in an accounting program. For example, an auditing course should cover fiduciary responsibilities, and an information systems course should discuss privacy rights. This interdisciplinary approach to ethics education would help to better prepare students for the complex, conflicting, and, at times, highly problematic interests and opportunities they’re likely to face in their professional lives.

I hope these suggestions serve as a catalyst for discussion, and further the process of continually improving accounting education. Let me know what you think. Are there other areas of accounting education that you would like to see changed or improved? And lest you think your opinion won’t make any difference, don’t forget: The large-scale changes in the state government beginning this month will give the Society an excellent opportunity to effect change in accounting education regulations.

Louis Grumet
Publisher, The CPA Journal
Executive Director, NYSSCPA




















The CPA Journal is broadly recognized as an outstanding, technical-refereed publication aimed at public practitioners, management, educators, and other accounting professionals. It is edited by CPAs for CPAs. Our goal is to provide CPAs and other accounting professionals with the information and news to enable them to be successful accountants, managers, and executives in today's practice environments.

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