As accounting professors and college and university admissions personnel will surely attest, the number of college students electing accounting majors has experienced a sharp decline for the last 10 to 15 years. While this reduction in the numbers of accounting majors has been well documented, the establishment of an effective rationale to explain this phenomenon is needed to curtail negative perceptions of the profession and stem the exodus of accounting majors (and would-be accounting majors) to other academic departments.
For example, in 1985, 6.5% of entering freshmen selected accounting as their college major (Dey, Astin, & Korn, 1991). This number had dropped to 2.3% by the fall of 2000, a decline of almost 65% (Kellogg, 2001).
Some scholars have suggested other causes for the diminishing numbers of accounting majors. Albrecht & Sack (2000) cited several reasons for the decline in accounting majors, including: lower starting salaries than other business majors; more attractive career alternatives available to students than in the past; a lack of information and misinformation about what accounting is and what accountants do; and the increased opportunity and actual costs associated with 150-hour accounting programs.
While these factors may offer partial explanations for the decline in numbers of accounting majors, recent studies have focused on the relationship between students' perceptions of the accounting profession and their decisions to select college majors outside the profession.
A study conducted by Stice, Swain, and Worsham (1997) examined the impact of performance in the first accounting course on students' decisions to major in accounting. The researchers concluded that perceptions and attitudes toward accounting, rather than classroom performance, were the most important factors on the decision to major in accounting. As a result of the research by Stice, Swain and Worsham, additional studies have explored the attitudes of students toward accounting courses as a means of understanding the influence of these perceptions on the decision to continue with or abandon the accounting major.
Other studies have focused on the effects of highly publicized accounting scandals to determine whether these might contribute to the diminishing numbers of accounting majors nationwide.
Coleman, Kreuze and Langsam (2004), studied the influence of Enron and other accounting scandals on students' perceptions of the profession of accounting among 338 college students. The researchers found that students "continue to believe that the accounting profession is honorable, and most do not plan to change college majors as a result of these corporate income restatements and accounting irregularities" (p. 138).
Coleman et al. also concluded that the recent corporate income restatements and accounting irregularities of corporations such as Enron did not prompt respondents to either rethink their career choice or change their college major (p. 138). While Fifty-five percent of the respondents thought that accounting, as a career choice, had become less attractive because of these accounting irregularities, 89% indicated that they perceived the accounting profession as honorable, if somewhat tarnished by recent events in the corporate world.
Faculty Professionalism and Positive Perceptions of Accounting
Recent studies have also analyzed such variables as perceptions of instructor expertise and their effects on the manner in which students view the accounting profession in general, and the accounting curriculum in particular.
Mounce, Mauldin and Braun (2004) ...
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