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​Dr. Patrick T. Kelly, chair of the Department of Accountancy.

PwC Grant Adds Ethics Component to Accountancy Curriculum

Providence, R.I.--A $10,000 grant from the PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Charitable Foundation is making it possible for the Department of Accountancy at Providence College to introduce an ethics component to every accountancy class it offers.

“We’re very appreciative of PricewaterhouseCoopers for making this opportunity available to us,” said Dr. Patrick T. Kelly, associate professor of accountancy and department chair, who applied for the grant and is overseeing its implementation. “It’s an example of the profession supporting what educators do.”

PC and its accountancy department have a longstanding relationship with PwC, which employs more than 100 alumni, 11 as partners, and each year sponsors the xACT, or Extreme Accounting, competition, in which PC students take part. Kelly thanked John R. Formica ’81, a PwC partner, for his “wonderful” support of the department.   

The “Ethics Across the Accounting Curriculum” grant will better prepare students to make ethical decisions both as students and as professionals, Kelly said. The grant assisted faculty members in reviewing the undergraduate curriculum to find ways to introduce ethics in all 10 undergraduate accountancy courses.

The introduction of ethics fits the College’s mission to educate the whole student, Kelly said. It also satisfies the demands of employers.

“One of the attractive points of a PC education is that we are educating the whole person through a liberal arts education,” said Kelly. “The accounting profession is very challenging. Accountants have to deal with ethical issues frequently. Employees want to hire a student who has a strong curriculum with a liberal arts foundation. The opportunity to hire a student like that is a real advantage.”

Many of the faculty have a public interest orientation and already included ethics in their classes, but now it will be a standard, Kelly said.

“We find in our field it’s particularly important,” said Kelly.

In the work world, auditors often encounter ethical challenges, he noted. They audit the records of the same firms that are compensating them. They may feel pressure from companies to show performance results by a certain division.

Real-life situations examined

Dr. Christine E. Earley, professor of accountancy, said she had always taught ethics in her advanced auditing class for accountancy majors, discussing “real-life situations they might encounter as first-year auditors, not necessarily as CEOs of a company. We talk about it as a cautionary tale of auditor wrongdoing,” said Earley.

But that wasn’t sufficient, Earley said. The faculty felt that ethics should be a part of every accountancy course, that it “should be in the entire curriculum, so students understand that every decision an accountant makes can have an ethical implication.”

Two accountancy classes--Financial Accounting and Managerial Accounting--are required for every student majoring in business, giving them an introduction to ethics as well.

“In financial reporting, you’re calculating numbers that go into a financial statement,” said Earley. “There’s a lot of ethics involved in making the choices that would be in the best interest of the user of the financial statement.”

Students with other majors are now “thinking about how these types of ethical dilemmas do translate into what they’re going to do in a job someday,” Earley said.

Accountancy classes now include information on professional and ethical standards expected of accountants and auditors, dilemmas that accounting professionals face, preferred ways to resolve them, and a study of ethical leaders and those who have faced ethical challenges. Guest lecturers will reinforce professional conduct and ethical behavior.

Popularity of major grows

Accountancy as a major has been growing in popularity each year at PC, Kelly said. It can be “a great place to start” in business, he noted, and prepares students to take the certified public accounting exam. The CPA designation is one they can hold their entire lives, despite career changes, Kelly added.

“Many students who take accounting courses have very positive experiences and are attracted to the many different opportunities after graduation.  This popularity has been seen across the country and is expected to continue,” said Kelly.

Between 2000 and 2007, about 30 students a year majored in accountancy, Kelly said. In 2008, the number rose to 45 students. Now there are 62 seniors and 73 juniors studying accountancy. In the sophomore class, where students are making the final decisions on their majors, the number recently increased from 50 to more than 70.   

“PC has a reputation for promoting ethical education,” said Earley. “We consider the ethical ramifications of decision-making. I think that’s pretty rare in business schools, which often focus on profit at the expense of everything else. Our students know their focus should be on what is in the common good.”


--Vicki-Ann Downing



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