Practitioners on the Team

AACSB’s new accounting standards bring practitioners into the accreditation process to ensure that education aligns with practice.
Practitioners on the Team

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of new accounting graduates, noting that they are not workforce-ready—in large part because schools have been using outdated curricula and failing to adapt to the technological shifts occurring in practice.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 degree programs.

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 accounting professional.

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.

HELPFUL INSIGHTS

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.

WHAT’S NEXT

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 bized.editors@aacsb.edu.

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