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A Pathway for Access to the Profession

Joanne S. Barry

Accounting educators are well aware of the challenges facing accounting education in this country—one of them being that tenure-track educators have become somewhat of an endangered species. Without enough accounting educators in the pipeline to meet demand, the education of the next generation of CPAs risks becoming compromised, unless accounting education can adapt to meet evolving circumstances.

The recent Pathways Commission on Accounting Higher Education report, “Charting a National Strategy for the Next Generation of Accountants,” released in July, gives us a roadmap on how to do just that. The commission was created two years ago when the AICPA and the American Accounting Association (AAA) gathered a broad range of accounting educators and representatives from various accounting professional associations to study the future structure of higher education for the accounting profession and develop recommendations for “educational pathways” to engage and retain not just the best and brightest students and educators, but also practitioners and other accounting professionals, in higher education and in practice.

At more than 130 pages long, the commission's report offers a broadly defined national strategy for accounting higher education through a series of recommendations and objectives designed to meet the challenges of accounting education in the 21st century (http://commons.aaahq.org/files/0b14318188/Pathways_Commission_Final_Report_Complete.pdf). The report is a comprehensive blueprint that considers the diverse paths, changing pedagogical models, and various bodies of knowledge available for research, while also acknowledging the challenges and impediments to implementing its recommendations. Of all of the commission's recommendations, there is one that could have an enormous impact and generate long-range positive results: the establishment of a high school accounting class that would be eligible for advanced placement (AP) credit.

An Opportunity for Students and Educators

Although accounting courses are available to high school students as part of New York State's Career and Technical Education (CTE) program, which prepares students for employment and post-secondary education, the study of accounting needs to come out from the shadow of our technical schools and into classrooms that require the high-level critical-thinking and problem-solving skills demanded by AP courses. Accounting can then be understood not only as a career for those who are “good at math,” but also as a global, licensed profession that offers diverse possibilities for success.

AP courses allow high-achieving high school students to earn a weighted GPA beyond the standard 4.0, so that they can get the best grades that will get them into the best schools; yet, accounting is excluded from that talented pipeline. The best and brightest high school students in the country are instead exposed to 34 other subjects—including biology, computer science, and environmental science—that lead to careers in areas other than accounting. In order for this to change, high school accounting teachers would need to undergo appropriate training, which would provide the tools required to teach these classes. Such an AP course would need the approval of the College Board, the nonprofit membership organization that oversees high school AP curricula and examinations. In practical terms, this means getting a certain number of member high schools to adopt the course, finding a champion to get the proposal through the process, and persuading a number of universities to accept the course, according to the report. Once the College Board accepts the program, high schools could begin offering AP accounting courses within two years.

The good news is that this groundwork is being laid right now. Kansas State University launched the Accounting Pilot and Bridge Project, which is dedicated to establishing an AP accounting course in classrooms across the country. (Educators can read more about it at www.accountingpilot.com.) An AP course in accounting would not only introduce high school students to the CPA profession; it would also finally bring the profession to a place where it is too-rarely found—American homes. The commission confirms that once an AP accounting class is in place, the accounting profession will have a viable infrastructure that will provide effective, long-term access to these students. According to the College Board, approximately 3.2 million AP exams were administered in the 2010 academic year, showing that there is no shortage of interest in AP courses; because New York State is one of the largest markets for AP courses, getting our high school accounting educators trained and ready to teach our state's high achievers should be a priority.

Joanne S. Barry. Publisher. The CPA Journal, Executive Director, NYSSCPA, jbarry@nysscpa.org.

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