The Typical Accounting Curriculum
Academic institutions strive to produce students who will become state certified and possess professional aptitude, enabling them to become productive and contributing members of the accounting profession. To this end, programs are intended to support the development of well-rounded students, providing them with access to top-quality core materials, as well as cocurricular and extracurricular activities to secure and enhance their knowledge base. Providing opportunities that allow for real-world experiences and internships are invaluable, including participation in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, a community-based program that provides students with tax return preparation experience for qualifying groups, including the elderly.
Each academic institution should also maintain strong relationships with businesses and alumni that can provide hands-on experience to the professional accounting majors. These opportunities include profit and not-for-profit businesses, as well as public accounting firms. In addition to supporting previously known internships, a mechanism should be in place to honor internships that students are able to secure on their own.
Internships can vary slightly, but the process is designed to ensure a student has a positive professional experience. Duties must include activities and functions that increase in complexity and level of responsibility. Although many firms choose not to pay student interns, allowing for paid as well as unpaid internships is of benefit to the profession.
Students should be exposed to an interdisciplinary focus, as well as a curricular program that enables them to acquire adequate core course work to develop their disciplinary knowledge and exercise their intellectual capacity while valuing diverse ideas and thinking. Furthermore, structuring of course requirements to ensure both the development and utilization of analytical and critical thinking skills is instrumental. In addition, to ensure the content remains current, ongoing assessment activities should be designed to demonstrate continued commitment to instructional and content excellence.
In preliminary discussions with local, large, and small regional public accounting firms, as well as the Big Four, the author found that they are primarily looking for students schooled to satisfactorily pass the CPA exam and professionals well equipped to uphold their mission, vision, and values. In addition to academic rigor, a key element of the mission of business schools is to instill ethical decision-making abilities.
A typical 150–semester hours/five-year program, earning a bachelor of science degree, consists of 46 credit hours of course work dedicated to the accounting program. It is a sequential program that is often set up and completed as shown in the Exhibit.
Typical Five-Year Accounting Program
Considering the rigor and complexity of accounting programs, what changes or adjustments can be introduced to better serve professional accounting students and the profession? The following considers two alternatives: a bridge and a boot camp. The bridge would be conducted just prior to semester five or during the first five weeks of the semester corresponding with Intermediate Accounting I. The boot camp, which would be a much larger commitment, would be three separate five-week courses strategically spread across the five-year program. The point of either option would be to better prepare students to be more academically successful and be better prepared to sit for the CPA exam.
Alternative I: The Bridge Program
The bridge is a five-week, one-credit course that revisits key components originally covered in financial accounting. Ideally, this course would be offered just prior to Intermediate Accounting I or in conjunction with the beginning of the semester in which the student is taking Intermediate Accounting I. It would cover the following key concepts:
- Accounting cycle
- Trial balance
- Adjustments, including accruals and deferrals
- Adjusted trial balance
- Statement focus (income statement, statement of changes in stockholders’ equity, balance sheet, and statement of cash flows)
The commitment with this option would be minimal but would allow for Intermediate Accounting I and II to cover more material and at a greater depth. Typically, the first four to five weeks of Intermediate Accounting I are a review of the concepts referenced above.
Alternative II: The Boot Camp
The boot camp approach would support curriculum enhancement by adding three separate one-credit, five-week courses.
This three-phrase program would be structured as follows:
- Phase 1: a five-week course offered prior to the semester in which the student is enrolled in Financial Accounting. Concepts covered would include book-keeping, payroll, bank reconciliations, the accounting equation (A = L + E), an introduction to general journals, and an introduction to statements (i.e., income statement, statement of changes in stockholders’ equity, balance sheet, statement of cash flows).
- Phase 2: a five-week course offered just prior to or concurrent with Intermediate Accounting I, covering the accounting cycle, trial balance, adjustments (including accruals & deferrals), adjusted trial balance, and ratios, as well as a focus on statements.
- Phase 3: a five-week course offered simultaneously with Advanced Accounting and Auditing, featuring a review of the above concepts, a focus on ethics (including data reconciliation and interpretation and advanced decision making), and exposure to the CPA exam itself in the form of general exam information and abridged mock questions.
One advantage of adopting the boot camp approach is that the curriculum would be imbued with an increased focus on ethics, ethical decision making, and an enhanced ethical presence.
Producing More CPAs
Either of these systematic enhancements would serve to strengthen a program and produce stronger professionals. This should also result in the graduation of more accounting majors who are prepared to pass the CPA exam. The profession is in need of more certified public accountants, and both of these alternatives represent viable options to better prepare the student body to enter a rewarding career path.