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.
How to Improve Accounting Education
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.
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.
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beginning to question the integrity of an outdated educational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.
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
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
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.
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.
Publisher, The CPA Journal
Executive Director, NYSSCPA