Wanted: More systems and analytics training for accounting students

March 12, 2021

By Courtney Vien, Journal of Accountancy

College and university accounting departments should update their curricula to meet the demands of practice, an AICPA-National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) gap analysis survey found.

Though around two-thirds of departments now teach data analytics (64%) and IT audit (63%), far fewer teach topics such as cybersecurity, IT governance, and Systems and Organization Control engagements. Of the departments that teach these topics, the survey found, many cover them in only a handful of class sessions or relegate them to Accounting Information Systems (AIS) courses.

The survey suggests that there are "significant gaps between what practice is demanding and what students are learning in accounting programs, especially when it comes to systems, data analytics, and digital acumen," said Carl Mayes, CPA, associate director–CPA Quality and Evolution, at the AICPA.

The findings, he said, dovetail with what the CPA Evolution team has learned that employers need from accounting graduates. "Our most recent AICPA Trends Report showed that from 2014 through 2018, what the firms told us is they're hiring 29% fewer accounting graduates," he said. "The firms are demanding skills in data analytics and cybersecurity and IT audit and these other areas. Many graduates coming out of accounting programs don't have those skills, so they have to look elsewhere for that talent."

The gap analysis, Mayes said, was intended to identify the extent of the mismatch between the skills accounting students graduate with and those that employers need. It was fielded in September and October 2020 as part of the CPA Evolution initiative, a joint effort by The AICPA and NASBA to adapt CPA licensure to meet the changing needs of the profession.

Three hundred and seventeen accounting department heads from across the United States responded to the survey, which asked participants whether and to what extent their departments taught eight technology-related competencies.

The respondents represented a good mix of small, medium-size, and large departments, Mayes said. Around half (53%) of them were from departments with 1–50 accounting students; 22% from departments with 51–100 students; and 25% from departments with more than 101 students. Small departments were less likely than medium-size or large ones to teach all the topics, with the exception of IT risks and controls (42% of small programs taught this compared with 39% of medium-size and 48% of large programs).

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