What is the value proposition for a broadly defined accounting profession?
The profession of accounting was seen as the watchdog of corporate responsibility for many years. We were known and relied upon for acting not on behalf of our clients but also for third party users of financial information. This pivotal role of the accountant has been abused over the recent years by auditors in such cases as Enron. Thus, the profession, in the eyes of the public, has lost integrity. We need to reclaim that trust and continue to be the watchdogs of financial information.
Who/what are our current/future markets for accounting information and professionals?
The traditional markets for accounting information will continue to exist. All businesses have a need for proper recording of accounting information and the presentation of financial information in a consistent format. The new markets will grow out of the application of the International Financial Reporting Standards to the United States, continued globalization of markets, and the expansion of the online world. Last, the growth in forensic accounting should continue as users of financial information expect more reliable information.
What are the skills that future accounting professionals will require?
The basic skills of a successful accountant have not changed much since the inception of the profession. All accountants should excel at:
Over the years, additional skills have been included as the profession has evolved, they including:
The most important skill is a strong ethical basis. This must be taught in the curriculum but more importantly must be inherent in the person.
How do we attract adequate numbers of high potential, diverse students/talent into the accounting profession and retain these students throughout their educational and professional pathways?
The potential for quality students must start with a strong, hard look at the K-12 education system. The profession must work within that system to improve student skills prior to their arrival in college. Students must graduate high school with strong quantitative and communication skills along with a background in history, science, and geography. In today’s global market, failure to understand the dynamics of a culture and its history could cause misunderstandings to accountant and his/her employers. High school graduates entering college with these skills can concentrate on the second level of skills needed to succeed in the profession.
In many high schools, accounting is seen as a technical skill and not an academic profession. Therefore, many good students are told not to take accounting but to concentrate on the general education courses and liberal arts programs. We need to change that mentality within the K-12 teachers and counselors.
The profession needs to provide information to students about the profession as early as high school. Students who excel in math should be made aware of the opportunities in the accounting profession and what courses are recommended throughout their high school years. Information on the profession should not only focus on career pathways but also social responsibility within the profession.
The issue of diversity is important as the global nature of business increases. Unfortunately, many of these students fail to have access to funds for a college education. These high potential minority students need not only funding for the costs of tuition and related college expenses and also for living expenses. We need to find ways to provide this funding for all four years of college. The profession’s investment in these students will provide a new market for the next generation of accountants.
What should be the accounting educational pathways?
The first step in the development of the educational pathways is to create more communication between the accounting faculty and the profession. Not with just a select few that are constantly asked to participate but a broader audience. On the profession’s side, this would include accounting firms (small, medium, and large), corporate accountants, tax accountants, and governmental accountants allowing all employers equal representation. The faculty side should reflect college and university faculty from across the country.
The profession of accounting should be divided into several pathways. The first track would be for individuals interested in studying basic accounting skills for employment as what is termed a “bookkeeper”. Those individuals would not need to have the highest skill levels of the profession. The second track is for those students interested in a college degree in accounting but not planning to earn the CPA license. These students would be interested in working in corporations and would concentrate on managerial accounting applications such as internal accounting information, cost accounting systems, managerial accounting information, management skills, and reporting functions so they would not be giving an opinion on financial information. The last track would be for those students interested in attaining the CPA licenses. This track would require more rigorous coursework for the students leading them to successfully pass the examination.
How do we eliminate structural impediments or better align existing systems to enhance effective accounting education?
The major impediment to enhancing effective accounting education is funding. Many students majoring in accounting attend state funded institutions which are limited on the number of courses that students may take throughout their tenure for a degree. These legislative impediments force many students to end their degrees lacking coursework that could make them more successful in their field. The accounting professors are thereby forced to limit the courses that students are required to take or recommended to take to graduate. Many courses that would be of value to students in the accounting field are not offered at all.