The Great Divide: Academia and Practice

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FEBRUARY 2007 - When the Renaissance mathematician Luca Pacioli developed the method now known as the double-entry system, he could never have envisioned the divergent needs that would evolve for those who practice accounting and those who teach its methods and principles. During my discussions with practitioners, one common theme comes through: their frustration with the inadequate level of skills and preparation of accounting graduates. Professors, on the other hand, have their own issues to tackle:
  • Teaching a rigorous curriculum to students (many of whom are unprepared for college-level work);
  • Providing academic and career guidance to students;
  • Reviewing and updating curricula to address changes in professional standards, state board requirements, the CPA exam, and the business environment;
  • Meeting the administrative demands of accrediting organizations.

And the list goes on.

Beyond such daily challenges, however, long-term success in academia requires that professors engage in a number of different pursuits that pull them away from the issues with which practitioners are most concerned. Faculty members are expected to demonstrate teaching effectiveness, pursue scholarly research and publish in their field of expertise, and serve on college or university committees as the basis—at least in part—for reappointment, tenure, and promotion decisions.

Teaching Effectiveness

An ongoing debate in higher education involves whether a PhD should be required for college teaching, or if an MBA with a CPA license is acceptable, or even preferable. One might argue that those with the best teaching effectiveness should be in front of the classroom. But how do we identify the best teachers? Many universities require that a professorial candidate have a PhD to qualify for a full-time, tenure-track position. The Association for the Advancement of Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), currently the only accounting-program accrediting organization, requires that a minimum of 50% of faculty members be academically qualified (AQ), which means that they must have a PhD. However, many PhDs lack the practical work experience to provide real-life war stories. Although some colleges will accept an MBA with a CPA license as the equivalent to a “terminal degree,” the AACSB’s criteria severely limit this option. At the same time, there is a looming shortage of accounting PhDs. The principle of supply-and-demand will further exacerbate the cost of higher education and will force the profession, in conjunction with the academic community, to make some difficult choices.

Research and Scholarly Writing

The adage “publish or perish” originates from the second of the three primary requirements for reappointment, tenure, and promotion. For faculty members at research institutions, this may be the most important. Although the peer-review process is essential to any scholarly endeavor, some colleges and universities limit consideration of publication in peer-reviewed journals, for employment decisions, to “scholarly” journals, such as those published by the American Accounting Association (AAA). As a result, academic researchers’ interests diverge further from practitioners’ concerns.

One of the biggest challenges The CPA Journal faces is to maintain a balance between providing useful information for CPAs in practice and addressing the conceptual analysis of emerging issues for educators. Because accounting is an applied discipline, its primary value lies in the application of the knowledge gained from the study of theoretical concepts. In other words, accounting practice should be an integral driver for the discipline. As accounting researchers grapple with how to make their research relevant to practitioners, the profession must find a way to enhance the communication between these constituencies.

Committee Service

In academia, there is always another committee slot to be filled, followed by what seems like never-ending meetings—search committees, curriculum committees, governance committees. This leaves precious little time for professors to become actively involved on the committees of professional organizations—the one sure way to keep abreast of emerging issues in our profession and also to help guide its direction.

How to Bridge the Gap

Recently, the NYSSCPA’s Quality Enhancement Policy Committee (QEPC) took up the issue of accounting education, and seeks input from practitioners and academics concerning how to improve workplace success for new accountants. With the implementation of the 150 credit-hour requirement looming in New York, Society members from “both sides of the aisle” have an invaluable opportunity to get involved and help shape the future of our profession. Another way practitioners can participate in this effort is to contact their local college or university and offer to serve as a guest speaker in one of their classes. At last year’s Annual AAA Conference, historically almost exclusively attended by accounting educators, I was encouraged to see a significant number of representatives from many large accounting firms, as well as from the PCAOB, the SEC, FASB, the AICPA, and state CPA societies. Let’s hope this is the start of a trend.

As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions.

Mary-Jo Kranacher, MBA, CPA, CFE




















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