Rebranding Accounting and Engaging Students in the Classroom

By Peter C. DeSarno, CPA, MBA, MS, Bloomfield College – June 21, 2023
Rebranding Accounting and Engaging Students in the Classroom

Many CPAs have experienced first-hand in their own recruiting efforts the shortage of students entering the accounting profession. Many have provided their thoughts about how best to address this critical issue. In this article, I will share my perspective as an educator about what can be done on the front lines — in the classroom — in order to rebrand accounting and fully engage students.

Root Causes and Negative Stereotypes

There are a number of reasons typically cited as the root cause for this situation, including:

  • The time commitment involved in fulfilling the 150-hour credit requirement
  • The challenge of passing the CPA Exam
  • The reputation of the profession for working long hours

This is compounded by a number of negative stereotypes and myths such as:

  • Accounting is not interesting.
  • You need to be gifted in math to be an accountant.
  • Accountants spend all of their time working on spreadsheets and crunching numbers.

Needless to say, a rebranding of our profession’s image is needed.

The Educator’s Role

As an accounting professor, it’s my teaching philosophy to appeal to both the mind and the heart — it’s critical to not only teach but to inspire. In addition to imparting subject knowledge, there is also a responsibility in the classroom to provide students with perspective, motivation and confidence. A growth mindset and a can-do attitude is especially important when teaching accounting.

It’s critical to set the tone right from the start in the two introductory Principles of Accounting classes. In doing this, students will immediately become engaged and the process will begin of fanning the flame for their passion to pursue a degree in accounting and possibly become a CPA.

Another aspect of these introductory accounting classes is that you typically have other business majors who are required to take the class as part of their business core. To quickly engage these students as well, I begin my first-class session with a simple question: “Tell me your dream job.” This shows the students that I want to take the time to learn about them. I also want to know their aspirations so that I can pitch the examples that are used in future classes towards their interests. Finally, this exercise is conducted in order to show each student the value that learning accounting will have on their own careers, no matter what business discipline they are ultimately pursuing. After we go through this exercise, each student knows that understanding accounting is essential for their future success as it is the language of business.

As the semester continues, in addition to achieving the desired student learning outcomes for the class, it’s also important that students begin to see the world through “an accountant’s eyes.” Being aware of their activities and transactions they have throughout their day allows them to apply the concepts being learned in the classroom. In addition, sharing experiences that I have had over my 25-year professional career, which included working in public accounting and as a controller for public, private and nonprofit organizations, provides students with the real-life perspective that they crave and find engaging.

It is also critical to be cognizant that students come from different backgrounds, have varied life experiences and learn in different ways. It’s important to employ a variety of teaching methods and approach a topic from a number of perspectives. My students particularly enjoy it when I role play a real-life situation that I’ve had as an auditor or controller. Beyond simply memorizing the material from a book, the students can understand how the concept being taught can be applied. This is where the magic happens. This is where accounting is rebranded in the classroom, negative stereotypes are dispelled and this wonderful profession begins to come alive!

All of us — CPAs, firms, accountants in all industries, professional organizations, educators — have an important role in helping to attract a new generation of accountants and increase the pipeline of students entering the profession. Whether it’s being an advocate for the profession, a mentor or simply telling your story, these actions will impact students by helping them begin to understand the tremendous opportunities that this profession affords.

Peter C. DeSarno

Peter C. DeSarno

Peter C. DeSarno, CPA, MBA, MS, is assistant professor and coordinator of accounting at Bloomfield College. He is a member of the NJCPA.

This article appeared in the Summer 2023 issue of New Jersey CPA magazine. Read the full issue.