By Deanna C. White
The American Accounting Association (AAA) and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), the founding sponsors of the Pathways Commission on Accounting Higher Education, released the Pathways Commission report - "Charting a National Strategy for the Next Generation of Accountants."
The Pathways Commission was created by the AAA and AICPA to study the future structure of higher education for the accounting profession (broadly defined), and to develop recommendations for educational pathways for students, academics, practitioners, and others in the practice and study of accounting.
The report summarizes two years of collective effort by over fifty individuals representing a diverse array of stakeholders in a broadly defined accounting profession - encompassing public and corporate accounting, education, and government.
The impetus for the study came from the US Department of the Treasury Advisory Committee on the Auditing Profession's (ACAP) report that recommended the AAA and AICPA study the possible future structure of higher education for the accounting profession.
According to Commission Chair Bruce Behn, Ergen Professor at the University of Tennessee, the commission solicited input from the broadest possible base of the accounting education supply chain, including high school educators; community college, undergraduate, and graduate school professors; firms who are looking to hire recent graduates; and those who accredit accounting programs, among others.
"This is the first time this extensive stakeholder group has tried to get their arms around some of these education issues," Behn said.
With a mission to consider accounting education and the accounting profession in the broadest sense, the commission generated seven detailed recommendations on the future of accounting education.
According to the executive summary of the report, "the recommendations demonstrate the need to address difficult and persistent issues and impediments so that the discipline and profession of accounting can better meet the challenges and opportunities of the future."
But for Behn, while all the recommendations are significant, the first recommendation, if adopted, will pave the way for the future of accounting education.
"The biggest issue for me is the first recommendation of the report," Behn said. "Accounting needs to make a commitment to becoming a learned profession. We need to integrate practice, with research with practice, and research with education or we risk simply becoming a vocation."
According to the executive summary of the report, the first recommendation is: "Build a learned profession by purposeful integration of accounting research, education, and practice for students, accounting practitioners, and educators."
To achieve that goal the reports recommends the accounting community:
- Integrate accounting faculty more fully into significant aspects of accounting education, programs, and research.
- Focus more academic research on relevant practice issues.
- Enhance the value of exchanges between practitioners and educators.
- Integrate accounting research into accounting courses and programs.
Behn said he believes the accounting profession could look to the medical profession as an example of how to successfully bridge the gap between practice and academia.
"When I'm presenting at a medical conference, I'm often in sessions where I'm sitting between a surgeon and an academic who are trying to solve the same problem," Behn said. "When people go to medical school they don't just learn how to operate, they also learn how to process statistics and do experiments and research. Whether they go into practice or academia, they all have the same training and they all understand the usefulness of the research."
To support developing priorities and decision making, the commission recognizes the need to collect data and build an infrastructure that will sustain innovation and from "episodic events" to more focused, long-term and sustainable outcomes.
As Behn summarized, "Accounting is critical to the whole capital market system, so this mission should be critical to us."