the AICPA Core Competencies into Classroom Teaching
A Practitioner’s Experiences in Transitioning
By Angela Jing Wu
- In 2004, after working at two Big Four firms and an investment
bank, and after starting a business specializing in global opportunities,
I became a college professor, teaching introductory and intermediate
accounting. During the transition, I noticed differences between
practice and the classroom environment. For example, college students
are judged by test results, while accounting firm employees are
judged by the “results” they deliver to their employers.
only are employees required to comprehend concepts; they are judged
by three measurements: quality, efficiency, and productivity.
Quality means the individual’s work requires little or no
correction, is error-free, and reflects a professional presentation
of the final product. Efficiency measures how fast one delivers
the work. (Faster is better: Someone who spends less time than
his peers is considered a top performer.) Productivity involves
how much one contributes to a firm within a specified timeframe.
Billable hours are one measure of employees’ performance
at the entry level: The more billable hours one logs, the more
one is contributing to the firm. The most highly regarded entry-level
employees are those who contribute the largest quantity of high-quality
work in the least amount of time.
defines competency as a set of requisite skills for all students
preparing to enter the accounting profession. Since 1999, the
AICPA has been providing resources to help educators integrate
the skills-based competencies needed by entry-level accounting
professionals. These competencies are always evolving over time,
as the accounting profession positions itself higher on the information
value chain. The AICPA core competency model
issued in 2006, is one source for identifying the determinants
of professional success. The framework categorizes competencies
as functional (technical competencies most closely aligned with
the value contributed by accounting professionals), personal (individual
attributes and values), and broad business perspective competencies
(understanding internal and external business contexts).
reflects upon my experiences as a CPA in both public practice
and academia, and my realization of the great importance of certain
AICPA core competencies, such as the leverage of technology, lifelong
learning, communication, leadership, and teamwork. To help my
students develop and enhance these skills, I have adjusted my
accounting courses and designed a new accounting pedagogy based
on the AICPA core-competencies model. My hope is that, by sharing
my industry and teaching experiences, other accounting educators
At one Big
Four firm where I worked, employees used sample templates in the
“repository,” an electronic, firmwide global database
of standardized work documents. Before starting an engagement,
one retrieved from the repository sample workpapers developed
by experts in the firm. The project executors later customized
a sample workpaper, based on the client’s information, and
prepared a final presentation to be delivered to the client. Upon
completion of a new project, the project executors modified, perfected,
and submitted the revised workpapers to the repository. In this
way, successors and colleagues from other offices could leverage
work done by the project executors. The repository significantly
improved work quality, efficiency, and productivity for the firm
as a whole.
In any firm,
individuals and the firm benefit from “leveraging”
technology, information, and best practices among their peers.
The work documents ensure the continuity of the business and the
ability of a new employee to serve the clients, even if prior
project executors eventually leave the firm. Thus, information-
and knowledge-sharing become an ongoing, collaborative process.
students with technology, I designed a computerized accounting
practice. An electronic portfolio (web space) serves as a digital
platform for teaching and learning. It simulates an accounting
firm’s repository, a collection of cumulative knowledge
and best practices. It also ensures lifelong learning.
I also created
an electronic course portfolio and uploaded documents about my
teaching vision: new trends in accounting education; teaching
materials, including syllabi; PowerPoint slides from each chapter
for each course; homework assignments and solutions; and external
links to resources such as the AICPA core competency website,
the Wall Street Journal, and the Financial Times.
A special section housed students’ best coursework. In the
classroom, students no longer worry about not capturing everything
because they can download materials anytime, anywhere. Their role
has shifted from note-taking to problem solving, and from mechanical
memorization of concepts to comprehension of those concepts.
computerized accounting practice, students learn how to create
and edit their own e-portfolios, where they can store coursework
and share class projects with professors and classmates. The e-portfolio
essentially digitizes the traditional manual-based accounting
curriculum. Under this new approach, students find their accounting
courses more relevant, interesting, and engaging because they
can use their textbook knowledge to analyze and solve real-world
problems. Students also become more familiar with the Internet
and software applications such as Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint,
in completing assignments and demonstrating their learning.
benefits students in several ways:
homework assignments help improve the quality, efficiency, and
effectiveness of their work.
can easily organize their learning, such as homework assignments
or projects, by chapter and by course.
can share best practices among themselves, and, as a result,
they are further motivated to improve their work continuously.
become adopters of emerging technologies when technology becomes
an integral part of learning.
because testing technology proficiency has become popular in the
recruitment process, regular experience can give students a competitive
edge in the workplace. One student, Chris, organized his e-portfolio
into three sections. In “About Me,” he included personal
information on where he came from, his major, the progress of
his studies, and how he came to choose accounting as his major.
He also discussed his interests/hobbies and his plans after graduation.
In “Classes and Projects,” he organized his homework
by course and chapter, and stored projects from his accounting
courses. Chris tracked his learning across semesters by comparing
the complexity of different levels of accounting courses. In the
third section, “Assessments and Reflections,” Chris
posted digitized forms of his self-assessment surveys about the
AICPA core competency, one filled out at the beginning of the
semester, another at the end. In this way, Chris could see the
learning progress he made in a semester. In addition, he posted
a reflective essay on what kind of AICPA competencies he had acquired
by taking the course.
the professor’s and the students’ course portfolios
provide a feedback loop for teaching and learning, because the
instructor can track students’ learning across semesters
and compare the work of peer students within a semester.
learning is an essential skill that accountants need to keep pace
with globalization and a constantly changing profession. Paul
R. Brown (“Updating the Educational Model,” in “CPA
Journal Education Forum Anticipates Future,” The
CPA Journal, August 2002) urged that graduates be taught
how to learn in order to attain and maintain the status of a professional
accountant. According to a study by Janice L. Ammons and Sherry
K. Mills (“Course-Embedded Assessments for Evaluating Cross-Functional
Integration and Improving the Teaching-Learning Process,”
Issues in Accounting Education, February 2005), many
business and accounting programs promote lifelong learning as
part of their missions.
serves as a platform for lifelong learning; students can store
coursework and projects cumulatively, compare their work at different
levels, and track their learning growth. It also helps students
develop and enhance the AICPA core competencies from functional,
personal, and broad business perspectives.
to the example above, when taking Introduction to Accounting,
Chris tracked his learning on basic transaction recording; financial
statement reporting; and measurements of simple assets and liabilities
such as inventory, accounts receivable, and fixed assets. Several
semesters later, at the upper course level, he had learned fundamental
concepts and the rationales behind them. In his e-portfolio, he
cited and conducted SFAS and APO opinion pronouncements for each
learning subject. Chris has started to prepare for the CPA exam,
and his AICPA core competencies have developed significantly over
several semesters. He has learned more advanced accounting topics
such as dollar-value LIFO, capitalized interest, goodwill valuation
and impairment, and intangible assets—typical CPA exam question
topics and subjects that will later be directly related to his
Research, and Presentation Competencies
CPAs in public
practice conduct research, write reports and memos, and present
solutions to clients’ problems. Presentations and written
documents cover topics such as finding tax-saving strategies,
updating changes in accounting and tax rules, converting between
U.S. GAAP and IFRS, and conducting industry trend analyses. CPAs
are also trained to use online research databases such as EDGAR
filings for companies’ 10-Ks, and CCH for tax issues. In
my own experience, nothing in the traditional accounting curriculum
required the development of writing, research, and presentation
these skills, I assigned students a research project, “Track
Your Favorite Company,” using real-time financial data from
the chosen company’s website, as well as Yahoo Finance,
CNNfn, Lexis-Nexis, EDGAR filings, and IPO-Alerts. Students in
Introduction to Accounting are required to give me a one-to-two-page
memorandum or a five-slide PowerPoint presentation, analyzing
their favorite companies’ financial information, such as
identifying components of the basic accounting equation (Assets
= Liabilities + Owner’s Equity) from the balance sheet,
and breakdowns of the basic multistep income statement (sales,
cost of goods sold, gross profit, operating income, and net income).
Intermediate Accounting students are required to use real-time
financial data from the chosen company’s 10-K, consolidated
financial statements, footnote disclosures, and supplementary
data to conduct research in a 5-to-10-page written report or a
35-to-40-slide PowerPoint presentation, on intermediate accounting
topics specifically. One team of students conducted research on
the Coca-Cola Company’s equity-method investments in its
subsidiaries. Another analyzed trends in the global automobile
industry by looking at General Motors versus Toyota.
teams completed their written projects, I selected some of them
to present their research findings in front of the class. For
some students, it was their first experience with public speaking.
Many of them felt shy and nervous, but they soon came to enjoy
making presentations about work they were proud of.
Teamwork, and Interaction with People
In an accounting
firm, a good accountant needs leadership and teamwork skills and
the ability to effectively interact with people. One engagement
that I worked on involved a consulting project that saved the
client millions of dollars. To support those savings, we coordinated
with the client’s accounting, engineering, and human resources
departments. We also wrote up the substantiations through questionnaires
and interviews with the client company’s engineers and managers.
In the CPA firm’s home office, we teamed up with different
people, including partners from various other offices.
this business practice in the classroom, students are assigned
to work on classroom exercises and complete projects in teams
of two to three. Recognizing that individual work is central to
the learning process, the team project usually counts for 20%
or 30% of the course grade. I assign the team project only when
I determine that the students are ready—that is, when their
median score for the first midterm (a three-hour, closed-book,
no-notes, individual exam covering a complete accounting cycle
and financial statement) is 90/100. I assign students a research
project on their favorite company covering six areas: business
description, industry trends, growth, earning, stock performance,
and competition. Working in teams, they can divide the workload
by topic or by skill set. (For example, one student knows the
company and industry, another is technology-savvy, and a third
is strong in writing and oral communication.) To avoid the potential
“free-rider” issue, each student has to specify his
or her role (i.e., the portion of the project for which she is
responsible). The common goal of each team is to conduct an insightful
analysis of its favorite company and present its research findings
in front of the class.
makes students “learn how to learn” and goes beyond
traditional accounting to further explore broader business perspectives
(industry trends, product innovation, branding, and globalization).
Their strategic thinking gets strengthened while they learn to
identify their favorite company’s strengths, weaknesses,
opportunities, and threats (SWOT) and exchange the company’s
financial and nonfinancial information with classmates. One benefit
is that students can see analyses of different companies and their
competitors, as well as different industries, across time.
leadership and group dynamics, the first two teams that move their
projects forward can present their work in front of the class.
These groups receive extra credit for their first-mover status
and for achieving common goals by using complementary skills.
When the class sees the good work done by their peers, more teams
begin to participate, and they compete to deliver better work.
In addition, the students experienced teamwork’s power and
challenges at the same time—like learning to assume responsibility
and take initiative, ensuring that common goals are achieved,
using consensus-building to resolve controversial issues, and
matching complementary skills and talents in appropriate ways.
background proved valuable when I was designing my teaching methods
based on AICPA core competencies. Overall, they have proved effective.
While traditional accounting is rule-focused, narrow, outdated,
and based on memorization, this new accounting pedagogy trains
students to learn how to learn. When designing course assignments,
I bear in mind what attributes are needed in the workplace, and
I introduce to my students linkages between textbook theory and
these methods, it is crucial for the professor to spend time increasing
students’ awareness of the AICPA core competencies by, for
example, explaining what these core competencies mean, why such
competencies are needed, and the rationale behind each assigned
project. From explanations and interpretations of AICPA core competencies
on a frequent basis, students can gain a clearer understanding
of the big picture of accounting education and the profession.
They can start to view accounting education from a holistic viewpoint
and take valuable experience away from projects they work on.
new accounting pedagogy simulates business practice, it provides
students with clear career direction that shows what kinds of
skills are needed. The simulation equips students to make a smoother
transition from school to a future workplace. In other words,
students will not be surprised by discrepancies between what they
learned in school and what attributes are required in good accountants.
Implementing a new accounting education model is a challenging
and evolving process. It requires professors to reflect on their
experiences, making trial-and-error adjustments over time to syllabi,
assigned projects, and grading standards. Implementing a new education
model is also very time-consuming for both professors and students.
A professor may need to test the water first, before deciding
whether students are ready to engage in these methods. Based on
students’ different levels of prior knowledge, a professor
may also need to customize pedagogies to different groups of students.
Jing Wu, MBA, CPA, is an associate professor of accounting
and managerial studies at LaGuardia Community College, City University
of New York (CUNY). She previously worked at Salomon Smith Barney,
Ernst & Young, and KPMG Peat Marwick, and was a cofounder of
the Chinese-American Entrepreneurs Society.