A Conversation With... Valerie Wendt: Trends in accounting education

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AccountingWEB asked Valerie Wendt, product manager for Bisk Education, Inc., to discuss trends in accounting education. Bisk offers online CPE courses through CPEasy and CPA review courses that have helped more than 140,000 candidates pass the CPA Exam since 1971.

Q: When the CPA Exam changed from a paper-and-pencil format to a computer-based test in 2004, the number of exam takers declined significantly. Are the numbers back up to pre-2004 levels? Does Bisk play a role at all in encouraging people to take the exam? What's the biggest hang-up in taking the exam?

A: According to the AICPA, the number of exam takers is on the incline and quickly approaching pre-CBT exam levels. As a CPA Review provider, we strive to encourage all exam candidates to take the exam sooner rather than later. Most exam candidates are leading extremely busy lives, which leads to procrastination. Since most exam sitters are made up of recent college graduates who have taken full-time positions with firms, their available time to prepare for the exam is limited. Time gets away from them; they are trying very hard to make a good impression with their new firm and learning how to balance work life and personal life. It takes a great deal of commitment to decide to sit for the exam and to get it done quickly.

Q: What's the key to passing the exam?

A: The key to passing the exam is allowing for adequate preparation time and setting aside that time to prepare for the exam. Preparing for the exam cannot be squeezed into an already full life if you are not willing to make some compromises. Additionally, having good review materials is a given. Bisk's CPA Review materials are extremely comprehensive and provide content that addresses every topic found on the exam's content specification outline. Our online review provides the benefits of a structured classroom with the convenience of studying when it is convenient for the candidate. Each online class provides structured weekly assignments, quizzes and faculty adviser instruction through live chat sessions, threaded message board discussions and e-mail.

Q: How is accounting education changing to remain relevant? Is there a gap between what accounting educators teach and what accountants actually do? How does Bisk fill that gap?

A: With so much happening in the accounting industry in recent years, accounting education has had to make sure their courses take into account recent changes. I feel there is a slight gap between what is taught and what the real world is like, especially when it comes to preparing for the CPA Exam. The CPA Exam has a time lag when it comes to testing new rules or standards. Most new items are not eligible to be tested on the CPA Exam in the first six months of enactment or passage. CPA Review exam preparation materials teach to the exam and what is testable, while candidates working in the real world actually may be working under the new rules, rules that may not be tested on the CPA Exam. The CPA Exam's goal is to test entry-level skills of a CPA. As such, Bisk's CPA Review program is designed to help CPA Exam candidates gain an understanding of those concepts.

Q: What types of continuing education options are in demand right now from CPA professionals? Are there specific areas of need?

A: Continuing education course options have come quite far in recent years. CPAs now have more choices than ever before when choosing how to complete their CPE and what CPE courses they take. According to our own customers, being able to complete CPE via the Web seems to be the most popular and is by far the most convenient. Online CPE allows a CPA professional to complete their CPE anytime, anywhere they have Internet access. Bisk's online CPE programs provide the CPA with instant grading of their CPE final exam and instant certification, which allows them to quickly access their CPE records, even if they wait until the last minute to finish up their continuing education courses. We are also finding that CPAs are looking for continuing education course work that lines up with their area of practice, meaning many are looking for topic-specific courses that provide pertinent valuable information, not just CPE credit. Recent tax legislation, international accounting standards, forensic accounting, fraud, and niche markets are always popular topics.

Q: What do you see as the most significant current trends in accounting education?

A: It is critical that accounting education, not just the traditional accounting education, but CPA exam preparation and continuing education keep up with the ever-present changes taking place in the accounting industry.

Q: Bisk offers webcasts, online learning, textbooks, CD-ROMs, audio courses, videos etc. Which learning methods are most popular? Where do you see this going in the future? Will more options become available?

A: Our online format is by far the most popular format for continuing education course work. Running a close second are our webcast events. These events allow CPAs to get up-to-date on hot topics affecting the industry, all while sitting at their desks. Each one-hour webcast event provides live interaction with an expert in the field through a Q&A session at the close of the event. Additionally, for those states that have limited the amount of CPE that can be done through a self-study method, these events provide "live" CPE credit.

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