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What do Brigham Young University, Michigan State University, Rutgers University, and Pennsylvania State University have in common? Each school has a top accounting and/or finance program, and each has earned an endorsement from the IMA® Higher Education Endorsement Program. This endorsement provides additional external verification of the quality of these programs.
But the endorsement program isn’t limited to elite schools. From its inception, it was designed for both larger and smaller schools as a way to promote a consistent standard of excellence for accounting education with particular focus on the knowledge and skills needed for finance and accounting professionals.
Many accounting programs historically have been focused on preparing students for entry into public accounting even though most graduates move into careers in corporate accounting. This has contributed to a disconnect between the curricula in many accounting programs and the skills graduates need to succeed in their careers. An endorsement from IMA is intended to signify that the school’s program addresses these skills, which represents added value to any school with a strong accounting or finance program. Schools that have earned the endorsement have demonstrated that their programs help prepare students to earn the CMA® (Certified Management Accountant) designation.
IMA began the Higher Education Endorsement program in 2013 by reaching out to several schools for a pilot effort. Penn State University and Washington State University Vancouver were two of the first schools to be endorsed, which helped reinforce the goal of the program to include any qualifying school regardless of size. During 2013-2014, an additional 16 schools applied for endorsement, followed by 20 more in the 2015-2016 academic year. These applications included undergraduate programs in accounting and finance as well as master’s programs and have come from schools in the Americas, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.
SUBMITTING AN APPLICATION
The process to receive IMA’s endorsement for an accounting or finance program involves two levels of evaluation. The first is a self-evaluation, which forms the bulk of the work required to complete the application and gather the necessary supporting materials. The second is external evaluation of the completed application packet by IMA.
A complete application packet includes the application form, a summary of faculty resources devoted to the program, the school’s plagiarism policy, and a description of the processes in place to determine the program’s effectiveness in meeting the needs of employers.
Schools also must demonstrate that their courses cover material tested on the CMA exam. Information must be submitted for each relevant course, including a course description, its credit weighting, syllabi, samples of assessment tools that demonstrate coverage of content areas at required levels, and an indication of whether the course is a core course or an elective.
Several of these items, including credit weighting, level, and whether the course is required or an elective, are consolidated in a table included as part of the application form. In the table, schools must indicate the level at which CMA topics are covered. These levels closely parallel Bloom’s Taxonomy, and they are the same levels described in the content specification outlines for the CMA exam. Level A includes the first two levels: knowledge and comprehension of the topic. Level B builds on Level A by adding application and analysis. And Level C adds synthesis and evaluation. Testing levels for the CMA exam are Level C. In order for an accounting program to be endorsed, it must meet at least 75% of the learning aims of the CMA program at Level C.
With all these requirements, the application process can seem daunting. Table 1 (below) provides a checklist of the materials needed and an outline of the process.
Table 1: ENDORSEMENT APPLICATION SUBMISSION CHECKLIST
A complete application packet includes:
- Completed application form (all questions answered)
- Statement of objectives of each program for which endorsement is sought as well as an indication of the extent to which you feel your university is committed to these objectives
- Summary of faculty resources devoted to the program
- School’s plagiarism policy
- Description of processes in place, if any, to determine effectiveness of the program in meeting needs of employers
- Supporting materials for each course listed as covering CMA syllabi materials, including:
Detailed course description
Its credit weighting
Samples of assessment tools that demonstrate coverage of content areas at Level C
Phase 1: Internal Evaluation
- Gather information about courses that include content contained in the CMA Body of Knowledge. These courses likely include a number of accounting courses as well as disciplines such as finance, legal environment, and business strategy.
- Based on the course information in each syllabus, assess the level at which the course covers the CMA topic areas. If coverage is at Level C, include samples of assessment tools (exam questions, class projects, etc.) in the application packet.
- Confirm that substantially all (at least 75%) of the learning aims of the CMA program are met at Level C.
- Be sure your school has an IMA Campus Advocate.
Phase 2: External Evaluation
- Upon receipt of your school’s application packet, it will first be checked for completeness. It will then be forwarded to three or four reviewers drawn from IMA’s Committee on Academic Relations (CAR).
- Each reviewer will conduct a separate detailed review of information included in your packet. They may also refer to your school’s website for additional information. Based on the review, a scoring rubric is completed and a recommendation given.
- Reviewer recommendations are compiled. If the program isn’t endorsed, the school will receive feedback on the issues identified as well as suggestions for updating the curriculum to meet endorsement requirements.
And here are some tips for preparing the packet that might help focus your efforts and lead to a successful review:
* Be realistic in assessing the level (A, B, or C) of coverage for the topics. It’s unlikely that each of the 39 topics is covered at Level C, particularly for an undergraduate program. Provide justification for why the coverage of your courses is at the highest level.
* Be sure the information included in your application packet is consistent with the information on your school’s website. If your curriculum, requirements, or other elements of your program have undergone revisions, be sure the website reflects current requirements.
* Provide enough information for the reviewer to make an informed determination about your program, but resist submitting too many documents. For example, you don’t need to submit every exam for every course covering the CMA content areas.
* Be sure that submitted syllabi/assignment sheets include the topics covered. If a syllabus lists chapter numbers only, the reviewer must then try to locate the table of contents for the text.
* As with any written materials, present the information with the reader in mind. Reviewers aren’t familiar with your program, your curriculum, or your faculty. Conciseness is appreciated, of course, but your application packet should include adequate information for the reviewer to be able to make an informed recommendation about your program.
* Most of the documents submitted with your application will be electronic. If you scan paper documents, be sure your scan quality is satisfactory.
* Some topics will likely be included in more than one course. For example, budgeting concepts might be covered in an introductory managerial accounting course and in upper-level cost accounting. If this is the case, only include syllabi and sample assessments for the course with the highest coverage level.
Once the application packet is received by IMA, it’s first reviewed for completeness and then distributed to a team of three or four reviewers from IMA’s Committee on Academic Relations (CAR). This is a standing committee of IMA’s Global Board of Directors, and its primary focus is the endorsement program. The 10 CAR members are mostly academics. The committee also includes a Board representative as well as IMA’s director of student and academic relations, who also serves as the committee’s staff liaison.
Each CAR reviewer conducts a separate, detailed review of the application. Part of the evaluation addresses the school’s assessment of CMA content coverage. Most applications tend to indicate that every topic is covered at Level C. Since this is unlikely, the reviewers consider other information as well to determine whether the information provided represents a cognitive development level of A, B, or C. This includes evaluating syllabi as well as the sample assessments that the school includes with the application.
Reviewers also often refer to the applicant’s website for additional information about the program. Information about the curriculum, typically developed for students, can provide additional insights. It’s important that the information submitted in the application packet is consistent with information posted on the website.
As they evaluate the application packet, reviewers complete a scoring rubric that leads to a recommendation for full endorsement, provisional endorsement, or no endorsement. Full endorsement is recommended when the program meets all the requirements. Provisional endorsement is given to programs deemed to have minor to moderate shortcomings in meeting the criteria for endorsement. The intent is to provide direction that will move these programs to full endorsement status.
Reviews typically are completed within six to eight weeks from the time of submission. The results from each reviewer are combined and then shared with the applicant. If endorsed, the school receives an e-mail notification followed by a package in the mail that includes a wooden plaque for display and information about how to promote the endorsement. If not endorsed, the school receives feedback on the issues identified and how it can work to update its curriculum to meet the necessary requirements.
A VALUE-ADDED PROCESS
The process of gathering the information and preparing the application offers opportunities for rich discussions about the goals of the program and for individual courses. Because the content spans disciplines, these discussions also can include finance faculty as well as colleagues who teach strategy, business ethics, and risk management. Schools have indicated that completing this process helped their accounting faculty gain a greater appreciation for the synergies and integration between the core curriculum and accounting courses. Eastern Kentucky University (EKU), for example, used the application process as a catalyst for conversations within the accounting department and with faculty in other disciplines as well.
For many years, EKU’s accounting program has provided quality accounting education. It enjoys a strong reputation with firms and businesses in its service region. Yet, like most accounting programs, it was historically focused on preparing students for entry into public accounting even though most of its graduates are in management accounting positions. As I mentioned earlier, this disconnect isn’t unique to EKU and has long been recognized in the accounting education literature.
Wanting to address the issue, EKU accounting faculty began to create a management accounting curriculum option for accounting majors in 2012. After conducting background research and receiving feedback from IMA’s Blue Grass Area Chapter as well as other management accountants in its service region—who all enthusiastically supported the new program—the new curriculum was implemented. Table 2 shows EKU’s accounting major requirements, which now give students a choice between public accounting and management accounting. Numerous manufacturing facilities in the area, combined with strong student interest, makes this option a very good fit for EKU’s accounting program.
Table 2: ACCOUNTING MAJOR REQUIREMENTS FOR EASTERN KENTUCKY UNIVERSITY
- Introduction to Financial Accounting
- Introduction to Managerial Accounting
- Legal and Ethical Environments of Business
- Business Statistics I
Business Core Managerial Reports
- Managerial Information Systems
- Business Finance I
- Principles of Management
- Operations Management
- Principles of Marketing
- Business Strategy
Accounting Major Core
- Intermediate Accounting I and II
- Tax I
- Cost Accounting
- Introduction to Accounting Systems
OPTIONS (one will be selected):
- 9 hours from upper-level accounting electives
- Introduction to Quality
- Methods of Lean Operations
- Advanced Management Accounting Seminar
3 hours from selected upper-level accounting, finance, information systems, applied engineering management, or management electives
With the program fully implemented, the next logical step was to apply for IMA’s Higher Education Endorsement for an external validation that the program provides quality preparation for its graduates as they transition into careers in management accounting and finance. The application is currently in process. The endorsement will apply to the accounting program, including both the management accounting and public accounting options. EKU is also exploring the possibility of an endorsement of the finance program given the number of accounting courses and finance courses included in the curricula for both majors.
Completing the application packet provides an opportunity not only for the self-assessment of the program as a whole, but for conversations about learning goals among the accounting faculty and between faculty in accounting, finance, and other areas. Further, the endorsement along with having an IMA Campus Advocate will help raise students’ awareness of management accounting career opportunities. In the past, it was common for accounting students to admit they weren’t even aware of the CMA designation or of career options in management accounting. (More information about the IMA Campus Advocate Program is available at http://bit.ly/29vi0MK).
The additional validation that IMA endorsement will provide for EKU’s management accounting content in the accounting program will complement AACSB (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business) accreditation for EKU’s School of Business. Endorsement by IMA can bring this program, or any program seeking endorsement, greater recognition by its constituents, including potential students, current students, graduates, employers, the university, and the general public.
EARNING THE ENDORSEMENT
Most applicants to IMA’s Higher Education Endorsement Program have received an endorsement. Of the 38 applications received since the program’s inception, 33 have been endorsed. The five who weren’t were given feedback about areas to improve and were encouraged to resubmit when the issues identified had been addressed. See Table 3 for a list of the schools/programs that have earned IMA’s endorsement.
The Higher Education Endorsement Program was created to address the disconnect between traditional accounting programs with their focus on public accounting and the reality that more than 80% of accounting students have careers in management accounting. In demonstrating that your accounting program has earned the endorsement, your school sends a clear message that you have a program in place to prepare your graduates for challenging careers in accounting and finance.