Pathways Commission releases final report; three-year implementation begins


Culminating two years of study and insights from teams representing diverse viewpoints in practice and academia, the Pathways Commission released its final report Tuesday on the future of higher education in accounting.

The report, titled “Charting a National Strategy for the Next Generation of Accountants,” is available on the commission’s website,

The Pathways Commission is a joint undertaking of the American Accounting Association and the AICPA. The two organizations were charged in 2008 by the U.S. Treasury Advisory Committee on the Auditing Profession with studying a possible future structure of higher education (see “New Pathways to Accounting Excellence,” JofA, Oct. 2010).

The report makes seven broad recommendations, each with specific objectives and action items. It also identifies impediments to accomplishing those goals.

The recommendations are:

  1. Build a learned profession for the future by purposeful integration of accounting research, education, and practice for students, accounting practitioners, and educators.
  2. Develop mechanisms to meet future demand for faculty by unlocking doctoral education via flexible pedagogies in existing programs and by exploring alternative pathways to terminal degrees that align with institutional missions and accounting education and research goals.
  3. Reform accounting education so that teaching is respected and rewarded as a critical component in achieving each institution’s mission.
  4. Develop curriculum models, engaging learning resources, and mechanisms for easily sharing them, as well as enhancing faculty development opportunities in support of sustaining a robust curriculum.
  5. Improve the ability to attract high-potential, diverse entrants into the profession.
  6. Create mechanisms for collecting, analyzing, and disseminating information about the current and future markets for accounting professionals and accounting faculty.
  7. Convert thought to action by establishing an implementation process to address these and future recommendations by creating structures and mechanisms to transition accounting change efforts from episodic events to a more continuous, sustainable process.

But what most sets the Pathways Report apart from similar previous initiatives, organizers say, is an ongoing implementation phase. For the next three years, the effort will be headed by William F. Ezzell and Mark Higgins. Ezzell, one of the six Pathways commissioners, is also a past chairman of the AICPA Board of Directors and recently retired partner at Deloitte LLP. Higgins led one of the commission’s three “supply chain” working groups and is dean of the College of Business Administration at the University of Rhode Island.

“We will be out doing whatever we can to encourage, cajole . . . and anything else we can to interest people in both the profession and education to experiment and try some of these recommendations,” Ezzell said.

Ezzell said he and the other commission members have already gained many insights into problems and potential solutions.

“This was an extremely educational process for me, a very open procedure where we sounded out a lot of different views,” he said. “There will be some things in the report that people will immediately embrace and some that may be controversial.”

One action item under the fifth recommendation concerning attracting promising new students that Ezzell discussed in a presentation to the AICPA Council meeting in June (see video) is to make introductory courses in accounting more interesting and relevant.
“Whether the first course is in high school or even in college, we’ve historically been too focused on bookkeeping and debits and credits and failed to give students an adequate understanding of what accounting is all about, why it has value,” Ezzell said in an interview.

Another, under the first recommendation, is enhancing the role in universities of professionally qualified faculty members, those who may lack a doctoral degree in accounting but who bring valuable experience from the workplace into the classroom. The report says that “cultural barriers” in universities can discourage working professionals from entering teaching.

“Too often, we did find and believe that we’re not making best use of professionally qualified faculty,” Ezzell said. “They are excellent resources, but what’s not being done is to involve them at least a little bit in curriculum setting and in research”

The commission’s chairman, Bruce Behn, the Ergen Professor of Business and recently named head of the Department of Accounting and Information Management at the University of Tennessee–Knoxville, said the commission’s work has been challenging but rewarding. The commission comprised 50 people who met—sometimes almost daily by online conference, Behn said—and corresponded to discuss issues and receive public comment. They also held a public meeting last year (see “Pathways Commission Forges Ahead,” JofA, May 2011).

“To put together a report that everybody can be proud of is a pretty amazing experience,” he said.

Even so, the report only marks the start of the crucial implementation to come, Behn said.

“With practitioners and academics, sitting side by side to solve the same problems, the better we can bring those two together, it’s really going to benefit the profession,” he said.

Paul Bonner ( ) is a JofA senior editor.

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