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Education

The Practitioner-Professor Link

When practitioners partner with professors, everyone goes to the head of the class.

By Bonita K. Peterson Kramer, Christie W. Johnson, Gil W. Crain and Scott J. Miller
June 2005
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
PERIODIC FEEDBACK FROM PRACTITIONERS to faculty about the strengths and weaknesses of their graduates and their program can help to positively influence the accounting profession.

CPAs ALSO CAN INSPIRE STUDENTS’ education by providing internship opportunities for accounting students, or serving as a guest speaker in class.

MEMBERSHIP ON A UNIVERSITY’S ACCOUNTING advisory council permits a CPA to interact with faculty on a regular basis and directly affect the accounting curriculum.

SERVING AS A “PROFESSOR FOR A DAY” is another way a CPA can promote the profession to accounting students and answer any questions they have.

CPAs CAN SUPPORT STUDENTS’ PROFESSIONAL development by providing advice on proper business attire and tips for preparing resumes, and conducting mock interviews.

CPAs CAN SHARE EXPERIENCES with a professor to cowrite an instructional case study for a journal, which can reach countless students in classrooms across the world.

ORGANIZING OR CONTRIBUTING to an accounting education fund at the university can help fund a variety of educational purposes, such as student scholarships and travel expenses to professional meetings.

PARTICIPATION BY PRACTITIONERS in the education of today’s accounting students is a win-win-win situation for students, CPAs and faculty.

BONITA K. PETERSON KRAMER, CPA, PhD, CMA, CIA, is a professor of accounting at the Montana State University College of Business in Bozeman, and she can be reached at bonitap@montana.edu . CHRISTIE W. JOHNSON, CPA, and GIL W. CRAIN, PhD, are associate professors of accounting there. SCOTT J. MILLER, CPA, is a partner at KPMG in Anchorage, Alaska. His e-mail address is sjmiller@kpmg.com .

ntry-level CPAs are expected to practically walk on water. In addition to the technical ability to do the job, they need communication and people skills, computer savvy, a strong sense of ethics—and even a nose that can detect fraud. To guide them, they need a way to bridge the worlds of academia and practice and gain a much broader range of competencies than ever before.

CPAs can help produce the best entry-level staffers of the future by meeting with the accounting faculty and providing feedback on the curriculum.

High-quality entry-level accountants cannot be produced from a handful of courses alone. At Montana State University (MSU), Bozeman, a continuing partnership between practitioners and professors is an effective way to help future accounting professionals down from the ivory tower into the real world. For more than two decades the accounting faculty has actively engaged practitioners in the educational process. We have developed an integrated, team-based program that revolves around practitioner input and frequent student and faculty interaction with practitioners who are willing to share their valuable expertise and insight. Drawing from our own experiences, we suggest how practitioners can become more involved in accounting education.

More Masters
The number of graduates earning master’s degrees in accounting increased by 59% while the number earning bachelor’s degrees has held fairly steady.

Source: The Supply of Accounting Graduates and the Demand for Public Accounting Recruits—2004 (for Academic Year 2002–2003) by Beatrice Sanders, AICPA, www.aicpa.org/members/div/career/edu/sagdpar.htm .

INFLUENCE THE CURRICULUM
One way for CPAs to help produce the best entry-level staffers of the future is to meet with the accounting faculty and provide feedback on the curriculum. When CPAs are on campus to interview our students, we meet with them over a meal to exchange ideas and discuss professional issues. We seek and receive candid feedback about our program and our graduates’ performance. We ask for feedback on our individual course content and suggestions for new courses. Most recently this led to our adding a tax course that emphasizes service learning and an introductory course in fraud examination. Because many practitioners have stressed the value of graduates’ passing the CPA exam prior to employment, we also encourage our students to sit for the exam immediately upon graduation (see “ Student Voices ”).

Student Voices

“By completing the CPA exam prior to starting my career, I was able to focus on my new career and enjoy my new lifestyle. It becomes increasingly difficult to pass the CPA exam due to escalating workloads. I know of several colleagues who either jeopardized promotions or were denied one because they hadn’t passed the exam. I also believe there was significant value for my employer. Since I had completed the exam, I did not have to take CPA exam review courses, for which my employer would have had to pay. I did not have to study for the exam or attend classes, which increased the flexibility of my schedule to the employer.”

—Mark Sherman, 1997 MSU graduate and accounting manager,
revenue and risk, Plum Creek Timber Co.,
Columbia Falls, Mont.

“Passing the CPA exam before beginning my accounting career proved to be very rewarding. Not only did it earn me respect from future employers and coworkers, but it also helped avoid the daunting task of trying to study while putting in 40+ hours of work each week. It was definitely to my advantage to put the time and effort into passing while still in the education environment.”

—Carrie Morasko, 2001 MSU graduate,
Great-West Life Healthcare Financial Reporting,
Greenwood Village, Colo.

We stay in contact with alumni and practicing CPAs through teaching CPE courses and serving on state CPA society or other professional organization committees. Through these relationships we’ve been able to add new and more varied internship opportunities for our students. Most of our internships are out of state, requiring the student to be away from campus for a semester, but many students have an offer of permanent employment in hand when they return.

INTO THE CLASSROOM
We established an advisory council with practitioners in the fall of 2004 so CPAs can provide more formal feedback to faculty. The council consists of a group of CPAs who have a sincere interest in MSU’s accounting program (see “ MSU Accounting Advisory Council Activities ”). It includes 20 men and women in various stages of their careers, representing national, regional and local public accounting firms, private industry and governmental accounting.

Serving as a classroom guest speaker is another great way CPAs can share their expertise, or reach an even wider audience of students by volunteering to participate in any campus speaker program. MSU’s David B. Orser Executive Speaker program brings in business professionals with a record of achievement to spend two days making presentations to the public, the campus and individual classes. D. Gerald Searfoss, PhD, professor and Deloitte partner (retired) who is active in many prominent professional organizations, and Jim Alderson, an alumnus who was the whistleblower in the biggest health care fraud case in history (Columbia/HCA and Quorum Health), were two recent accounting professionals who came to our campus for this series.

While you are on campus, take the time to meet with the accounting faculty to discuss current events or curricular issues. MSU recently was visited by a Deloitte partner from Oregon who provided CPE on derivatives for our faculty and an Ernst & Young partner from Texas who spoke about due diligence services. Arrange with the faculty to have the use of a conference room or a spare office and be a “professor for a day,” holding office hours to meet informally with students and faculty. During a recent semester, accounting professionals from Kroger Co., Eide Bailly and PricewaterhouseCoopers came to our campus, gave classroom presentations and held office hours for students to discuss career opportunities and answer questions.

If it’s not practical for you to spend time on campus, you still can contribute by encouraging faculty to hand out your business cards and inviting students to contact you with questions. Or you can contribute your real-world expertise by offering to write an instructional case or a practitioner journal article with a professor. Choose a faculty coauthor who’s an experienced writer and you may only need to contribute your ideas and provide input on emerging drafts.

GUIDE THEM INTO THE WORKPLACE
Many students have no experience interviewing for a professional position. CPAs can help them by sharing information on appropriate career attire and business etiquette, providing tips on preparing resumes and conducting mock interviews.

It helps if you’re candid with faculty about what you expect of job applicants in terms of grades, experience and extracurricular activities. Share your organization’s screening materials, such as internal evaluation forms for candidates or employees, to help faculty advise students about the interviewing process or help students network with your own former colleagues who have made transitions into different career paths.

An ideal way to promote awareness and build rapport with faculty is to invite them to your office to meet your staff and learn about your practice specialties. In return they can teach you about themselves, their backgrounds and research interests.

Schedule student field trips to your office to provide them with a peek into the professional world of accounting—and don’t restrict your invitations to local universities. We are located in a small Montana town; in addition to visiting local firms, we also take students by chartered bus to a larger city and spend the day visiting a Big Four firm in our state, other regional and statewide CPA firms, and the internal audit division of a large regional bank. The local chapter of CPAs hosts a luncheon with a prominent guest speaker, providing more opportunities for our students to interact with accounting professionals.

AICPA RESOURCES
Web sites
For guidelines on designing, implementing and administering meaningful internship programs, go to www.aicpa.org/members/div/career/edu/internships.htm .

For practical guidance on how to be an effective guest speaker in the classroom, see www.aicpa.org/pubs/jofa/oct2001/metre.htm .

CONTRIBUTE TIME AND MONEY
Support student efforts by participating in their events, such as volunteering to make a presentation at an accounting club meeting or attending student service activities. Members of the MSU chapter of Beta Alpha Psi, the national accounting fraternity, perform a great deal of community service for charities such as the local food bank, Habitat for Humanity and Special Olympics. Practitioner participation is always welcome, and offers the chance to get to know the students.

The issue of funding deserves mention in these times of university budget cuts. Consider organizing or contributing to a fund that provides for student scholarships, conference travel expenses for faculty or student attendance at professional meetings. Some MSU alumni designate their contributions for accounting faculty development purposes, rather than for discretionary use by the college. Investigate your firm’s matching-gifts program; one of our recruiting firms matches our alumni donations dollar for dollar. If you do contribute to a scholarship fund, be sure to attend the awards ceremony and meet the appreciative student.

CPAs can help produce the best entry-level staffers of the future by meeting with the accounting faculty and providing feedback on the curriculum.

REAP THE REWARDS
The practitioners who’ve been involved in our program have helped us, our university and our students in several ways and have gotten rewards of their own in return. Our students have a variety of internship opportunities and enjoy nearly a 100% placement rate. Practitioners say they appreciate the work ethic and technical competency of our graduates—their new colleagues—many of whom have already passed the CPA exam. Faculty stay in contact with our graduates, who inform them of current developments in the profession, provide financial support and often return to recruit from the same program that served them well.

Today’s accounting students will be tomorrow’s CPAs and an important part of the profession’s future. Practitioner participation helps build and maintain high standards in accounting education. We’re convinced you will find partnering with professors as rewarding and fulfilling as we do.

MSU Accounting Advisory Council Activities
Present the viewpoints of the business community and inform the faculty about innovations and trends likely to influence accounting education.

Establish and expand an accounting alumni network, assist in keeping an up-to-date database of alumni addresses, employment and job titles and create a regular newsletter about the program.

Participate with the accounting faculty in fundraising efforts.

Assist in recruiting high-quality students into the accounting program and provide encouragement to students already in the discipline.

Help with summer or semester-long faculty and student internship programs, and research projects or work experiences in business or governmental agencies.

Participate in the recruitment process for outstanding faculty members for the program.

Work with the accounting faculty in obtaining and maintaining separate accreditation of the accounting program, according to guidelines developed by the American Association of Collegiate Schools of Business.

Attract prominent accounting professionals to campus as guest lecturers.

Identify possible research topics for faculty research and make contacts that can aid researchers’ efforts.

Review and provide advice about the accounting curriculum, programs and courses.

Promote the image of the accounting program and the university.

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