Insights on improving management accounting education

Educators shared strategies at a recent AICPA CGMA teaching symposium to attract students to the profession and to prepare them for a career in management accounting.
By Romana Autrey, CPA, Ph.D.; Jennifer Cainas, CPA, Ph.D.; Nicholas Fessler, CPA, Ph.D.; Serena Loftus, Ph.D.; and Sarah Shonka McCoy

The 2023 AICPA CGMA Virtual Teaching Symposium highlighted the importance of students' sense of belonging and a future-focused curriculum in management accounting classes. Educators shared their insights on many important topics at the symposium, which met virtually Jan. 3–4 and was followed Jan. 5–7 by the in-person 2023 American Accounting Association Management Accounting Section Midyear Meeting, with additional in-person sessions held at the section meeting.

The symposium "shows AICPA & CIMA's commitment to the pipeline by working with the educator community to prepare future CPAs and CGMAs for the profession," said Tom Hood, CPA/CITP, CGMA, executive vice president–Business Growth & Engagement for AICPA & CIMA, together as the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants.

Welcoming students in the classroom and the profession

Instructors can tap into humans' inherent need to belong, Lisa Nunn, Ph.D., sociology professor and director of the Center for Educational Excellence at the University of San Diego, said during her plenary session. Nunn emphasized that students need faculty to explicitly welcome them into their classrooms and learning communities using inclusive teaching strategies. For instance, she encouraged faculty to be intentionally explicit about the classroom norms that students may experience in their learning environment. She expressed the need for faculty to actively encourage students to interact with them outside the classroom. She stressed that students need to perceive faculty as available, and she offered several easy-to-implement classroom methods to achieve this, such as inviting students to office hours, making expectations explicit, and promoting study strategies to support student success.

Other speakers emphasized the importance of proactively welcoming students into the accounting profession. Accounting faculty have opportunities to highlight the importance of accounting and the professional opportunities available for accountants — in their classrooms, the university community, and the business community, said Margarita Lenk, Ph.D., associate professor emeritus of accounting and computer information systems at Colorado State University. She stressed the need to inform students and parents about the opportunities available in the accounting profession.

Jennifer Cainas, CPA, Ph.D., associate dean for financial management at the University of South Florida, shared tips for introducing the accounting profession in introductory accounting classes, using relatable videos featuring early-career accountants that the Center for Audit Quality is developing. Anne Farrell, Ph.D., PriceWaterhouseCoopers Professor of Accountancy at Miami University in Ohio, discussed reinvigorating the accounting curriculum by flipping the typical sequence of introductory accounting courses, with students first studying management accounting before progressing to financial accounting. Shane Dikolli, Ph.D., Bank of America Associate Professor of Business Administration at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business, supported Farrell by suggesting students could focus on accounting for decision-making before studying accounting for specific transactions.

Faculty innovating in this area shared several curricular initiatives developed to explicitly connect accounting students with practice. Cristina Bailey, Ph.D., assistant professor of accounting at the University of New Mexico, shared insights about how the MAFIA (management accounting, fraud, and internal audit) student organization at the University of New Mexico provides students with opportunities to network with professionals. Bailey's research shows that participation in these activities increases students' feelings of belonging and professional commitment.

Other faculty emphasized the importance of encouraging students to pursue professional accounting credentials. Wendy Tietz, CPA, Ph.D., professor of accounting at Kent State University in Ohio, shared how she incorporates the CGMA Finance Leadership Program into her graduate management accounting classes, which prepares students for their future careers.

Nurturing future-ready students

The practice of management accounting is changing, Hood said, as accounting roles are increasingly merged with finance roles. His insights from executives and practitioners emphasized the need for accounting graduates to be flexible and adaptable in a fast-changing profession. He particularly stressed the need for students to begin developing a growth mindset to ensure their success in an evolving profession. Technical expertise and critical-thinking skills make accounting students attractive to a variety of future employers.

Students trained in management accounting are well suited for new jobs examining nonfinancial information, Farrell said. As the importance of sustainability and environmental accounting grows, management accountants will be increasingly in demand. Dikolli added that management accountants' skills in performance assessment equip them to work in a variety of domains and across borders. Finally, Farrell emphasized the critical importance of management accounting for entrepreneurial economies.

Communication skills are of increasing importance, Hood said, as accountants increasingly emphasize strategic functions over transactional analysis. Romana Autrey, CPA, Ph.D., associate professor of accounting at Willamette University in Oregon, shared insights about how improving students' written communication skills can help them thrive in professional environments. To aide in practical implementation of this, Autrey provided instructors with guidance on how to develop efficient and effective writing assignments. During the last session of the symposium, Farrell provided examples of how low-stakes assignments can provide students with fruitful opportunities to improve their writing skills.

Insights from conference participants

Conference participants also added memorable insights about teaching and practice. For example, Monte Swain, Ph.D., Deloitte Professor at Brigham Young University's School of Accountancy in Utah, said he had never shaken the hand of an accounting professional who described themselves as a "management accountant." Instead, such professionals often identify themselves within the finance function of organizations and hold titles such as "financial analyst." This comment complemented evidence provided by Hood about the broad applicability of management accounting topics to a variety of business domains. 

Other conference participants shared insights about how to create an inclusive classroom. For example, Christine Denison, Ph.D., associate professor of accounting at Iowa State University, encouraged faculty to use inclusive techniques for managing class discussions, while Carol Cain, Ph.D., associate professor of accounting at Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina, emphasized the importance of student groups for providing students with career-development opportunities. Other faculty, such as Margaret Shackell, Ph.D., associate professor of accounting and business law at Ithaca College in New York, emphasized the need to promote the profession to high school students, so that they can make informed career decisions.


Management accounting can be thought of as "accounting for managers," Dikolli said. Emphasizing critical-thinking skills, which can be taught in management accounting classes, will enable accounting students to thrive as strategic decision-makers in organizations, Hood said.

The symposium offered accounting educators an optimistic vision for the future of management accounting and its value to accounting and business students. The symposium also provided educators with valuable insights about how to foster a sense of professional belonging and provide an enriching college experience to accounting students. Robust engagement from conference participants elevated the presenters' insights. Please plan to join us in early January 2024 for next year's symposium.

Romana Autrey, CPA, Ph.D., is an associate professor of accounting at Willamette University in Oregon; Jennifer Cainas, CPA, Ph.D., is an associate dean for financial management at the University of South Florida; Nicholas Fessler, CPA, Ph.D., is an associate professor of accounting at Western Kentucky University; Serena Loftus, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of accounting at Kent State University in Ohio; and Sarah Shonka McCoy, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of accounting at the University of New Mexico. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien at

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