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What Does the Future of Accounting Education Hold?

During the three decades of my academic career, many industries have been transformed by the phenomenal changes in technology and globalization. But in my industry– higher education – there have been mainly beneficial effects of technology and globalization, with no major disruption to the basics of academic life. The way I spent my first days as a rookie Assistant Professor at the University of Southern California is remarkably similar to the life I am leading now as a chaired full professor at the University of Arkansas’ Walton College of Business.

Yet today, as I look ahead 30 years into the future, there are some tough problems facing higher education and we are on everybody’s list of industries expected to undergo some major changes during the next decade. I recently sat down with the AICPA to discuss some of those changes in a video segment on AICPA TV. Additional possible changes include:
  • New curriculum models that reflect the big data, global environment.
  • New forms of education delivery, such as massively open online courses that reach tens of thousands of students at once and have 24-7 help available.
  • New forms of assessment with less emphasis on time spent in coursework and more emphasis on what was mastered.

All are on the horizon. These changes will present tough challenges, but they also hold some exciting possibilities. For example, what if much of the classroom time now devoted to teaching the basic rules of accounting were freed up by online learning so we could gain more time to work face-to-face with students on the analytical and judgment skills they need for their careers?

The American Accounting Association and the AICPA recently sponsored a timely project on the future of accounting education – The Pathways Commission. The Commission’s recommendations were released in the summer of 2012 and today task forces of educators and practitioners are continuing work to implement the recommendations. As we prepare to face some major changes, we should remember the words of Alan Kay, the famous computer scientist who was one of the pioneers for both graphical user interfaces and object-oriented programming: THE BEST WAY TO PREDICT THE FUTURE IS TO INVENT IT.

Karen V. Pincus, PhD, CPA, Doyle Z. and Maynette Derr Williams Professor of Accounting, Sam M. Walton College of Business, University of Arkansas. Karen is a former member of the AICPA Board of Directors and 2012-13 President of the American Accounting Association.

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