FOR SOME TIME, many employers
have been critical of new accounting
graduates, noting that they are not
workforce-ready—in large part because
schools have been using outdated curricula
and failing to adapt to the technological
shifts occurring in practice. Inspired
by that criticism, AACSB International
implemented new accounting accreditation
standards in 2018. The goal: to close
the gap between accounting education
and accounting practice.
To help schools achieve that objective
and keep pace with the demands of the
marketplace, AACSB’s new accounting
standards now include a provision that
an experienced accounting practitioner
will be added to all accounting accreditation
peer review teams (PRTs). The
2018 standards also streamline the accounting
accreditation process by eliminating
redundancy between business
and accounting reporting. To pursue
accounting accreditation, schools first
must achieve general business education
accreditation by meeting the 15
business standards—only then can they
continue to the additional six standards
written specifically for accounting
As of October 2019, AACSB had
856 schools accredited in business,
including 576 in the Americas, 133 in
Asia Pacific, and 147 in the Europe, Middle
East, and Africa (EMEA) region. Of
these, 188 held supplemental accounting
accreditation. As more schools pursue
accounting accreditation, we want to
make sure AACSB helps them properly
prepare their students for the workplace.
ACCOUNTANTS ON THE TEAM
We believe that when practitioners
join PRTs, they can provide two primary
benefits. First, they can review
the accounting curriculum in detail to
explore questions related to its currency,
relevance, and timeliness. What
coursework is required, and is it appropriate?
Does the accounting curriculum
adequately prepare students for the
workforce? Is cutting-edge technology
infused throughout the curriculum? Do
the faculty and students demonstrate
technology agility or a learning mindset
with respect to technology?
Second, by their presence, practitioners
will elevate the level of faculty
and student engagement with accounting
practice, and they will help students
understand what it means to be an
While adding practitioners to PRTs
will be extremely valuable, it also will be
challenging. Because there are currently
188 schools with accounting accreditation
who will need visits over a five-year
period, we wanted to develop a systematic
way to locate interested practitioners
and train them for success on a PRT. We
decided to partner with the American
Institute of Certified Public Accountants
(AICPA), which has long had an interest
in ensuring that accounting graduates
are workforce-ready. Members of the
organization not only contributed to the thought behind the 2018 standards, but
agreed to help identify practitioners who
would be good fits for PRTs.
Thus, the Accounting Accreditation Practitioner Engagement Program was born. Initially, it will be our joint goal to train 75 practitioners who will serve on PRTs for three to five years. Ideally, the program will be self-propagating through the word-of-mouth experiences of practitioners who participate in the training and subsequently serve on peer review team visits.
READY TO GO
AACSB has already piloted the new
standards—and the new teams—with
ten schools that were due to receive peer
review visits in the spring of 2019. But before sending out PRTs, we wanted to
make sure that everyone understood
the intent behind bringing a practitioner
to the PRT and could share ideas
about how the teams could effectively
incorporate practitioners into the visit.
Therefore, at the American Accounting
Association Annual Meeting in August
2018, we held group discussions with the
accounting chairs and/or department
heads at all ten of the schools and each
of the ten PRT chairs.
We followed this up in November
2018 with training sessions for the first
ten practitioners. Through the training,
we introduced them to AACSB’s
mission, philosophy, culture, and
commitment to high-quality outcomes
and continuous improvement. We provided
an overview of the 2013 business
accreditation standards and the details
of the 2018 accounting standards before
reviewing the process of a peer review
visit. We made sure we described their
specific role on the team, emphasizing
that their primary areas of focus should
be curriculum, technology, and engagement.
Finally, we walked them through a
real school report and the accompanying
report from the PRT.
After the PRTs made their visits to
the ten pilot schools, we debriefed all the
participants and conducted individual
interviews with the school accounting
hosts, the PRT chairs, and the practitioners.
The interviews revealed that,
overall, all parties felt the visits went
well and that the practitioners added
value. Nine of ten practitioners agreed to
participate in future visits—in fact, most
of them were quite enthusiastic and eager
to participate soon. Furthermore, the
AICPA has been pleased with the initial
process, and it also has received positive
input from the practitioners, the teams,
and the accounting programs.
These debriefing sessions enabled us to
compile a list of four best practices that
will help PRT chairs integrate practitioners
more smoothly into their teams:
1. Reach out early to the practitioners.
Make sure they understand
their role in the process and the
value they bring to the team. Introduce
other team members in a way that’s
more in-depth than a preliminary phone
call. Start by disseminating the practitioners’
bios so their interests and areas
of expertise are known by other team
members. Then consider arranging video
meetings via Skype or Zoom to build
relationships and develop team rapport.
2. Before the school visit, go over
the report template with practitioners
and make clear which
sections of the report they will be expected
to write and where else they will
be expected to make contributions.
3. Construct the schedule to ensure
practitioners are utilized appropriately.
Allow them time to meet
with students so they can ask questions
related to student satisfaction and
describe opportunities for engagement
with the profession. At the same time,
make sure practitioners understand how
tight the visit schedule is, and set expectations
for effective time management.
4. Make sure practitioners understand
the logistics of the visit—
for instance, who is booking
their flights and making hotel reservations—
as well as how to get reimbursed
for travel expenses.
We also developed a list of six best
practices for practitioners that we will
share with them before they embark on
their first PRT visits:
- Make sure you are well-versed in
AACSB processes and standards before
setting out on the visit.
- Understand state board licensing requirements
if the school has a mission to
prepare students for public accounting.
- If the visit is in a country outside
the U.S., seek guidance from the accounting
PRT chair about the environment
and nuances of that country.
- Read the school’s entire accounting
report carefully and thoughtfully; make
a list of questions you would like to ask
during the visit. If you would like to request
additional information in advance
of the visit, work through the PRT chair.
- Carefully review the accounting
curriculum and table A-6 of the school’s
report to see where and how technology
is being used in the curriculum. Be
prepared to explore additional issues related
to technology and the curriculum.
- Be able and willing to fully devote
yourself to the visit from Saturday
through Tuesday morning.
The 2018 accounting standards will not
become mandatory until the 2020–2021
academic year, which means there is
one more year during which schools can
choose to pursue accreditation under
the 2013 standards. Interestingly, of
the 35 schools with accounting visits
scheduled during 2019–2020, only six
have opted to go up under the older standards.
This means that, by the end of the
2019–2020 academic year, 39 schools
will have tested the new standards.
AACSB plans to issue a white paper next
summer that will provide a full set of
best practices for all schools starting
the accounting accreditation process
in the fall of 2020.
These are exciting times for accounting
education. We believe that the gap
between what students are learning in
their degree programs and what they
need to know to be workforce-ready just
got a lot smaller. And that’s a win-win for
students and the accounting profession
as a whole.
Stephanie M. Bryant is chief accreditation
officer and Maria Baltar is assistant
vice president of accreditation at
AACSB’s main office in Tampa, Florida.
This article originally appeared in BizEd's November/December 2019 issue. Please send questions, comments, or letters to the editor to [email protected].