According to a broad-scale American Accounting Association-sponsored research project from 2000, an enormous gap exists between what is being taught in the accounting classroom and what is being practiced in corporate America -- or in the evolving global marketplace. As a result, traditional undergraduate and graduate accounting programs face unprecedented competition -- internally, as students consider other options, and externally, as market-driven vendors offer their own courses.
In the definitive publication, Accounting Education: Charting the Course through a Perilous Future -- a joint project of the American Accounting Association, American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, Institute of Management Accountants and the "Big Five" accounting firms -- authors W. Steve Albrecht and Robert J. Sack write that accounting education being delivered today is the same as it was 20 or 30 years ago.
The premise: the practice of accounting has changed dramatically, while accounting education hasn't kept pace. The gap between accounting practice and education is presumed to be widening, and there is a perceived unresponsiveness to that gap by accounting educators. However, innovations are emerging in the teaching of accounting in the fast-paced global environment marked by the revolution in technology and Internet services.
Traditionally, accountants prepared financial information for internal and external decision-making, audited the fairness of that information and made sure that companies complied with tax and regulatory standards. Numbers were expensive to come by and were revered as a commodity in and of themselves. Therefore, the careful and accurate collection, recording and dissemination of those numbers made up most of the accountant's job.
Now, numbers are cheap, they're everywhere -- and they're difficult if not impossible to manage. As a result, while technology has provided meaningful tools for tracking, sorting and disseminating information, it has created unprecedented complexity, as well as a concern for the value and integrity of that information.
A New Mindset
Now, instead of looking strictly to the past, accounting has become more forward-looking. With the tedium of mere documentation relieved by the aid of number-crunching software and databases, the savvy business person has time to approach the profession at a more sophisticated and thought-provoking level, one that requires imagination and creativity.