New Pathways to Accounting Excellence

New commission's chair reflects on tasks ahead.

October 2010
by Paul Bonner/Journal of Accountancy

This month, the Pathways Commission, a new commission on accounting higher education, will hold its first formal meeting to begin charting “a national higher education strategy for the next generation of accountants.” This commission is a joint effort of the American Accounting Association (AAA) and the AICPA.

The commission is an outgrowth of the U.S. Treasury Advisory Committee on the Auditing Profession (ACAP).

In August 2010, the commission was constituted with six members and will be chaired by Bruce Behn, the Ergen Professor of Business and professor of accounting at the University of Tennessee–Knoxville. Behn has served in leadership positions in the AICPA, AAA and Federation of Schools of Accountancy. The Pathways Commission is structured using a “supply chain” approach by including leaders from all segments of the supply and demand side of accounting education and practice. It also seeks broad input, including from comments and discussion that may be posted on its website at pathwayscommission.org.

Recently, the JofA asked Behn to relate his thoughts and impressions about the commission and some of the issues and opportunities it plans to address.

JofA: The Pathways Commission is asked to study a “possible future structure for education in the accounting profession.” What is its structure now?

Behn: There is really not one structure because of many factors. For example, states have their own regulators; colleges and universities have different missions and different graduation requirements; and students from these schools go into lots of different kinds of accounting roles. So there is a lot of variability in how students define themselves as accounting professionals.

JofA: So one good first step would be just to get a little uniformity?

Behn: Not uniformity, but a better understanding, development and communication of different potential pathways to the accounting profession. By analogy, in the medical profession, there have to be different pathways for an individual to become a neurosurgeon, as opposed to a primary care physician. In the same way, there could be different pathways to becoming a public company auditor versus a controller, versus somebody who works in government.

JofA: And you formed what you call your three “supply chain” groups. What is their purpose?

Behn: There are many organizations and individuals that have touch points along the accounting education pathway, but seldom do all these parties get together to tackle the tough issues that affect all parties up and down the supply and demand side of accounting. The supply chain approach is our way to facilitate this interaction. What was important is engaging the broadest group of stakeholders in the accounting supply chain to tackle issues that cut across functional boundaries. One supply chain addresses K–14 education; one considers college/university pathways; and one focuses on regulation, employers and other stakeholders. The K–14 supply chain is important because we need to ensure there are enough high-caliber students coming into the accounting profession at even younger stages, whether it’s grade school or high school. In the second supply chain there are undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate representatives and organizations engaged in the college and university communities. I would characterize the third supply chain as representing employers, regulators and other stakeholders. We tried to be as inclusive as possible in these supply chains, and I would probably have preferred to have 30 or 100 individuals in each supply chain if we could have managed that, but because of logistics and costs, you have to have some kind of number for which you can manage the work flow [each is 11 members, with two commissioner liaisons]. To be inclusive for organizations and individuals to allow everyone to add their voices to the process, we have created an interactive website where all interested parties can post materials, questions and opinions and discuss Pathways Commission activities, documents and reports.

This article has been excerpted from the Journal of Accountancy. View the full article here.