Leadership / Management | Training & CPE

The future of accounting education in 7 easy steps


What does the future of accounting education look like?

If the Pathways Commission has its way, it'll read like the 140-page report the panel released on July 31.

The commission, known formally as the Pathways Commission on Accounting Higher Education, was created by the American Accounting Association and the American Institute of CPAs to recommend ways in which the profession can "engage and retain the strongest possible community of students, academics, practitioners, and other knowledgeable leaders in the practice and study of accounting."

The result is "Charting a National Strategy for the Next Generation of Accountants," a report that contains seven recommendations for modernizing the state of accounting education.

Their point is clear: The world is changing, and it's time for accounting academia to change with it. The AAA, the AICPA, and the Pathways Commission spent a year and a half getting input from every corner of the profession to figure out exactly how accounting education should change.

Here are their recommendations, taken verbatim from the report. (Fair warning: It's a little heavy on the academia- and corporate-speak.)

No. 1: Build a learned profession for the future by purposeful integration of accounting research, education, and practice for students, accounting practitioners, and educators.

"All too frequently," the report states, "students are exposed to technical material in a vocation-focused way that is disembodied from the complex, real-world settings to which the students are bound and from the insights that research can bring to practice."

No. 2: Develop mechanisms to meet future demand for faculty by unlocking doctoral education via ?exible pedagogies in existing programs and by exploring alternative pathways to terminal degrees that align with institutional missions and accounting education and research goals.

"The critical shortage of tenure-track faculty in accounting is well documented, especially in the audit, systems, and tax specialties," the report states. "This shortage is having signi?cant immediate and long-term impacts on both the quality and viability of accounting education and accounting research."

No. 3: Reform accounting education so that teaching is respected and rewarded as a critical component in achieving each institution’s mission.

"Formal and informal reward structures have evolved, too often, to advantage the work and accomplishments of research over those of teaching," the commission concludes. The time has come, the report says, to "increase reward, recognition, and support for high-quality teaching."

No. 4: Develop curriculum models, engaging learning resources, and mechanisms for easily sharing them as well as enhancing faculty development opportunities in support of sustaining a robust curriculum.

"The practice of accounting is changing rapidly," the report states. "Its geographic reach is global, and technology plays an increasingly prominent role. A new generation of students have arrived who are more at home with technology and less patient with traditional teaching methods."

No. 5: Improve the ability to attract high-potential, diverse entrants into the profession. 

"Many students beginning in accounting gain the impression that it is a narrow vocational ?eld, and professional practice is almost exclusively about auditing or taxation," the report states. "The result is too many high-quality students who might otherwise be interested in pursuing accounting are not attracted to it. Promoting the utility of accounting to the broader society and, moreover, ensuring diversity among those who enter the profession is critical."

No. 6: Create mechanisms for collecting, analyzing, and disseminating information about the current and future markets for accounting professionals and accounting faculty.

"Available information about currently employed accounting professionals and future demand for them can be dif?cult to obtain," the report states. "Recent advances in the coverage and accessibility of national data on employment and the ability to link these data to higher-education databases are starting to alleviate this condition."

No. 7: Establish an implementation process to address these and future recommendations by creating structures and mechanisms to transition accounting change efforts from episodic events to a more continuous, sustainable process.

"While previous studies have resulted in some successful new directions and promising innovations, most past efforts at renewal have lacked an explicit implementation strategy and structure to move their recommendations forward," the report states. "To address this need, the Commission’s last recommendation is to establish an implementation process that will bring together a broad group of stakeholders in a manner that encourages further consideration and implementation of the recommendations and suggested action items put forth in this report."

A couple of other recommendations, if I may be so bold.

First, a note about what students are learning. Change is the only constant these days. The most important skill we can teach today's students is how to be flexible enough to learn new skills.

That ties in directly with Tom Hood's brilliant formula: L > C. That is, your rate of learning must be greater than the pace of change.

That's the future of education in a nutshell: Teach students how to learn, and how to continue to learn.

No skill will be more important going forward.

What did the commission miss? What are your thoughts on how we should improve accounting education?


Bill Sheridan