A comparison of accounting programs at selected Virginia community colleges and proprietary schools with job requirements

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Historically accounting has consisted basically of two levels. Upper level professional accountants received baccalaureate degrees while lower-leveled bookkeepers or clerks usually received on-the-job training. Recently a middle-level paraprofessional position has emerged staffed, in large part, by graduates from community colleges and proprietary schools.

The purpose of this study was to determine how relevant the accounting programs offered in Virginia community colleges and proprietary schools are in terms of preparing students for accounting activities performed on the job by graduates of these programs. Specifically the study sought to identify what accounting tasks are taught at these schools and their relationship to tasks performed by graduates of these programs. In addition the tasks employers expected these graduates to know how to perform were determined. Further, graduate and employer perceptions of the adequacy of training at these schools were examined.

Three questionnaires were developed and used to gather data. The first questionnaire, sent to accounting faculty at four community colleges and three proprietary schools in Virginia, consisted of 57 accounting tasks sub-divided into four areas: general accounting, cost, auditing and tax. Faculty were asked to indicate to what intensity they teach each task. The second questionnaire was sent to accounting graduates of these schools for a three-year period. Those graduates employed in accounting jobs were asked to indicate which of the 57 tasks they perform and the relative importance of each task. A third questionnaire asked employers of those graduates to indicate which of the accounting tasks they expect community college or proprietary school graduates to know how to perform and the relative importance of each task.

From the data received from all three groups, frequencies and mean intensities/importance were calculated and compared to each other. The following conclusions were made:

  1. Community colleges offered more depth and breadth in their curricula than did proprietary schools.

  2. Community college graduates were employed in total and in accounting positions more frequently than were proprietary school graduates.

  3. Community college graduates were hired by a variety of employer types while proprietary school graduates were concentrated in small business firms. This is a sharp departure from earlier studies which found these graduates concentrated in manufacturing firms.

  4. Graduates of community colleges were satisfied more with the adequacy of their training than were graduates of proprietary schools.

  5. Graduates of both school types performed a variety of accounting tasks, but those tasks defined as general or auditing were performed more frequently.

  6. Employers expected graduates to know how to perform a variety of tasks, but expected knowledge of general and auditing tasks more often than tax or cost tasks.

  7. Employers were well pleased with the performance of graduates from both school types.

  8. Faculty at both school types properly emphasized the tasks needed most on the job by graduates.

In general it was concluded that the course offerings at both school types are relevant and there are ample employment opportunities for these graduates.