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August 26, 2010

Commission looks to overhaul US education

A commission is looking at making the education paths leading to the US accounting qualification more flexible and effective.

The Pathways Commission was launched after a US Treasury committee asked the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) and the American Accounting Association to investigate future structures for accounting higher education.

It is hoped that the commission will come up with recommendations that will address:

  • A shortages of qualified teachers with accounting PhDs;
  • A need to regularly revise accounting curricula due to fast-paced business changes;
  • University budget constraints that threaten to make the cost of education prohibitive; and,
  • A need for specialised training.

Accounting education in the US is very different to many countries. All education happens at university, compared with the trainee programmes conducted by institutes and employers in countries such as the UK. This means the accountancy education provided by US universities must prepare students to sit the CPA exam and enter the profession.

AICPA president and chief executive Barry Melancon said he cannot imagine the US changing from the university-based system because it has generally been a success. The Pathways Commission will instead investigate expanding the paths a student can take within a university context.

Comprehensive approach

Bruce Behn, a professor of business at the University of Tennessee, is chairing the Pathways Commission. Behn told The Accountant the Pathways Commission will take a cradle to grave approach.

“Right now there are a lot of disconnects between what happens in high school bookkeeping classes, which flows into community colleges, which flows into university systems,” Behn said.

Behn said there has also been too much focus on the audit side of the profession. There are a lot of opportunities for accounting professionals to work in other capacities.

“When you talk about pathways today, it is concentrated at the undergraduate and graduate level, and focused on auditing and financial accounting. I don’t know what recommendations the commission will eventually come up with, but those pathways have got to be broadened,” Behn said.

This will be one of the first times everyone involved in the accounting education system – from primary education through to the accounting institutes – will be brought together in one place.

Issues that will be tackled could include:

  • What changes can be made in the school and college environment to make accounting more attractive to high-potential students;
  • What can be done to address the fact that at the university level, accounting has become something of a feeder to MBA programmes;
  • What competencies will be needed to train the next generation of accountants;
  • How to make more of a connection between what is happening in practice and what is happening in classrooms;
  • Why there is only one way of getting a PhD in the US and whether that should change; and,
  • How students can be better prepared to hit the ground running when they begin working.


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