Printer Friendly

The emergence of accounting information systems programs: as more and more companies seek out accounting professionals with IT skills, some universities now are offering a major in accounting information systems, which mixes topics from each area to provide students with the requisite skills employers want.

As we begin the 21st century, business organizations are facing an explosion of global competition and innovation. Facilitating this explosion is the increasing ability of organizations to make good business decisions based on the large amounts of information their enterprise produces. Economists predict that by 2010 the majority of American workers will be knowledge workers--those who make their living working with information. (1) In this environment, it is necessary for a successful business to integrate information technology into its basic processes, and, to do that, it needs qualified, skilled information technology employees. In addition, these organizations need executive management and other functional workers who have IT skills. (2) In fact, a company needs all its workers--accountants and financial executives included--to have a high level of computer and technical skills. Organizations are now attempting to hire college graduates who have this level of technical skill, but universities are struggling to determine the appropriateness of their curricula to meet this growing need. (3)


Recognizing these worker trends and economic conditions, the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) report the need for computer and information technology concepts to be a part of the knowledge, skills, and abilities of accounting professionals. Both say accounting professionals should be able to apply productivity improvement software, such as spreadsheets and accounting-specific software, and be able to interpret, integrate, and implement information technology.

In its report, the AICPA cites five core competencies to guide its members: (1) communication and leadership, (2) strategic and critical thinking, (3) customer focus, (4) interpretation of converging information, and (5) technological skills. (4) IMA's 1999 Practice Analysis identified four work activities that are now expected to consume more of an internal accountant's time: (1) long-term strategic planning, (2) internal consulting, (3) computer systems and operations, and (4) process improvement. (5) It also identified the most important knowledge, skills, and abilities accountants had developed in the prior five years: computer skills, technology and networks, accounting software, teaching or mentoring, speaking and communications, and project management.

In the last 15 years, accounting information technology has transformed from an environment dominated by expensive mainframe computers that were programmed by specialized information system staff to user-friendly, integrated Internet-based systems. (6) The knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary for the entry-level accountant now include the application and integration of information technology into the accounting process, as well as financial and managerial accounting principles. Organizations rely on the new generation of accountants to be familiar with today's systems and to prepare for those of tomorrow. To accomplish this, they must have technical skills and conceptual knowledge of accounting information systems. (7)


In 1990, the Accounting Education Change Commission, a committee of business leaders appointed by the American Accounting Association (AAA), recommended to accounting educators that students learn and understand more about accounting systems. (8) The faculty of leading undergraduate accounting programs in the United States responded to the Commission's recommendations by initiating one or more of the following changes: (1) significantly increasing the amount of information systems coverage in graduate and undergraduate accounting classes; (2) creating undergraduate and graduate "accounting systems" courses that cover topics such as transaction cycles, information technology, databases, the systems development life cycle, internal controls, and fraud detection and deterrence; (9) (3) shifting graduate program coursework in the direction of accounting information systems (AIS); and (4) incorporating a significant amount of cross-disciplinary content that combines courses from both accounting and information systems departments. (10) It is this fourth call for change that has resulted in today's new undergraduate curricula, or major, in AIS. (11)

The AIS concentration, track, or major--whatever it is called--offers an opportunity for students to go beyond elementary exposure to accounting information systems. In an AIS program, students master today's technology tools and develop a conceptual basis for understanding and evaluating the information technology tools of tomorrow. For an AIS program (graduate or undergraduate) to be successful, it must have characteristics that blend accounting and information systems. (12) Students in such a program will graduate with stronger IT qualifications and will be in greater demand by the profession. (13)

Because undergraduate AIS programs are new and there are a variety of definitions of them, we are defining them as "an integration of cross-discipline content of both accounting and information systems courses." (See Figure 1 for examples of some goals and objectives of AIS programs.)
Figure 1: Sample Goals and Objectives of AIS Programs


"The Accounting Information Systems (AIS) major joins together the
skill sets of two areas experiencing rapid growth and change,
accounting and information technology. Electronic commerce, direct
business-to-business communication, paperless work processes, and
many other technology-intensive innovations have created new
challenges and opportunities for accountants who also have expertise
in information systems. Many traditional accounting functions are now
embodied in systems that require a different combination of technical
and financial knowledge. The AIS major is designed to provide this
combination of knowledge and skill sets to meet the new challenges
and opportunities of the information technology world."


"The information systems auditing and control (ISAC) specialization
blends accounting with management information systems and computer
science to provide graduates with the knowledge and skills required
to assess the control and audit requirements of complex computer-based
information systems. Graduates of this program can:

* analyze an organization's informational system,

* determine the controls and audit processes required to provide
assurance that the information produced is reliable, and that the

* system and data contained therein are secure."


"The Accounting Information Systems concentration is intended to
provide students with additional background, conceptual knowledge,
and hands-on experience to meet the need for accounting professionals
who are trained and comfortable with advanced information technology."


As further research, we conducted a study that analyzed undergraduate AIS programs. We asked (and, we hope, answer here) a number of questions, particularly:

1. Where are undergraduate AIS programs?

2. What does the typical undergraduate AIS curriculum (major, track, or concentration) look like?

3. What is the content of the undergraduate AIS curriculum?

4. Is the material taught from an accounting perspective?

The intent of our study was to analyze undergraduate AIS programs from the perspective of accounting students and faculty. We initially identified AIS programs through the accounting literature. (14) As of 1999, only 12 AACSB (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business) accredited universities offered an undergraduate program in accounting information systems or openly encouraged students to pursue a double major in accounting and information systems. (15) To locate more universities, we searched college listing sites and the general Internet. In addition, we made requests to several listservs. We then removed from our compilation those institutions whose undergraduate AIS programs were not accredited by the AACSB or were not listed in the accounting or information systems section of their university catalog or website. We selected undergraduate programs for inclusion in this study if the university catalog or website mentioned any form of specialty, major, track, concentration, or emphasis that followed the broad definition of AIS programs. This resulted in our adding six more AIS programs.

Next, we reviewed AIS curricula from university catalogs and determined that a double major that includes accounting and some other discipline, such as computer information systems (CIS) or management information systems (MIS), would not be included in this study. Our objective was to learn what an AIS program is or should be. A double major denotes that the student must complete two required curricula, one in accounting and one in an information systems area, so it does not meet our definition for an AIS program or the goals and objectives of an AIS program (see Figure 1). The faculty of an accounting program that encourages students to pursue a second major in information systems (IS) may not have instituted a curriculum review process to identify the needs of an AIS program or to blend the content of the two majors. Therefore, we eliminated those universities that require a double major to acquire information systems skills.

We contacted representatives from all AIS programs and requested detailed information about their program. This information included demographic data about the accounting program, the college, and the university. In addition, we asked for syllabi for each required course. All 13 universities that did not require a double major in accounting and CIS or MIS that replied to our requests are listed in Table 1.


Demographic Analysis of AIS Programs

Each program we studied is in a department of accounting, accounting and information systems, or accounting and finance, giving the impression that all of the AIS programs in this study are taught from an accounting perspective. To be certain, we reviewed course names and further analyzed the course content, finding that our impression was accurate.

All AIS programs but one are at public universities, and all are in a college or school of business or management, as shown in Table 1. University student populations vary greatly from a low of 8,000 at Bentley College and the University of West Florida to a high of 47,000 at Arizona State University. No matter what their size, state universities are responding to the profession's needs.

Excluding Central Michigan University and the University of Massachusetts, all of the universities that offer an undergraduate AIS program also offer a master of science in accountancy. The availability of graduate coursework in accounting may be due to the recent increase in college credit hours required to sit for the CPA exam, or the faculty of undergraduate AIS programs may be providing other accounting education opportunities. Also noteworthy: Only Arizona State University advertises a master of accounting information systems, and three of the universities in our study have doctoral programs in accounting or accounting information systems.

It appears that AIS programs are developed to meet local employers' needs. Not surprisingly, however, all but two of the programs are within a two-hour drive to large metropolitan areas, such as Boston, Detroit, and Washington D.C. The two universities that are more than two hours from a major metropolitan area are Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) and Murray State University. The Virginia Tech AIS program, established for more than two decades, produces a large number of graduates each year. The Murray State AIS program is just as established but graduates far fewer students.

Required Coursework for AIS Programs

All programs require a similar body of business knowledge that includes course content in basic accounting, economics, math and/or statistics, legal issues, oral and written communication, marketing, organizational management, financial management, operations management, and information technology issues and applications.

The number of required major courses (accounting, information systems, or hybrid) for each AIS program varies by university, ranging from a minimum of four at Oakland (12 credit hours) and five (15 credit hours) at the University of Massachusetts, to a maximum of 11 required courses (33 credit hours) at James Madison University (see Table 2). The median number of required courses is nine (27 credits hours). From those required credits, a number of programs dictate all required content. Others provide a smaller core of AIS content and permit elective choices from IS or accounting. Programs that include a large number of electives made it difficult for us to determine the core AIS competencies that the program faculty deem necessary for the completion of an AIS program. A selection of electives does provide flexibility for students to choose course content they are interested in learning, but the more elective courses in a program, the harder it was for us to analyze the depth and breadth of the program.

Undergraduate AIS Curriculum Content

To gain a complete picture of the content, we obtained a syllabus from each of the courses in all of the AIS programs we examined. We entered the content of each syllabus into a database that ultimately exceeded 900 records, each record representing an AIS content issue. While actual course content may have covered several issues, we used only topics listed in the course syllabi. We then did a content analysis combining similar topics, as presented in Table 3. Although some of the more detailed topics overlapped with broader ones, the table offers readers a comprehensive list of the topics covered in all courses of the AIS programs we studied, whether or not they are in the accounting, systems, or hybrid course categories. (16)

It was difficult for us to compare programs because we could not discern to what extent each program covered the topics in Table 3. For this reason, we chose to present the content that appeared most often. The presentation of "content" is important because course titles may be similar, but the subject matter may be different, or the course title is different but subject matter the same. Also, there is a technology shift taking place in many courses that heretofore may have previously been considered "pure accounting." For example, spreadsheet software has been introduced into problem-solving exercises in managerial and cost accounting, tax preparation software has been used in tax courses, and expert system software has been used in auditing classes. (17)

Because most AIS programs are relatively new or dynamic, we found that many were in the process of making major changes or minor modifications prior to, during, or immediately following the period we studied (2001-2002). This reflects the dynamic nature of today's business environment, especially those fields utilizing information technology. In addition, the dynamic nature of the AIS programs in this study complement the faculty who continually maintain and update their technology skills and knowledge of technology concepts, accounting theory and models, course content, and the most suitable program curriculum.

As the AIS major continues to integrate technology and systems issues into accounting processes, all AIS content will be assimilated into a pure AIS major as category boundaries deteriorate.


A limited number of U.S. colleges and universities offer undergraduate AIS programs. They provide AIS graduates to organizations in major metropolitan areas, such as Boston, Detroit, and Washington, D.C. The average undergraduate AIS curriculum contains nine required courses, with most taken from a combination of traditional accounting and information system programs. A few hybrid courses are also included in most AIS programs. Two common examples are accounting information systems and information systems control and auditing. All of the AIS programs in our study are at universities accredited by the AASCB and are housed within accounting units, such as accounting departments or schools of accounting. Each program requires a core of business content in addition to the AIS subject matter.

These programs are meeting the challenges of business trends and economic conditions. They are beginning to fill employers' needs: Accountants now better understand computer and information technology concepts and issues. With the proper curriculum content, AIS programs will continue to prepare students to interpret, integrate, and implement information technology, a necessary professional skill for 21st century accountants.
Table 1: Demographics of AIS Programs

 Public Information
 Student or Systems
Name of College Population Private Majors

Arizona State University * 47,000 public 310
Bentley College 8,000 private 200
Bowling Green State University 23,000 public 375
California State University, Chico 16,000 public 400
Central Michigan University 28,000 public 175
Eastern Michigan University 23,000 public 675
James Madison University 15,000 public 640
Murray State University 8,900 public 100
Oakland University 16,059 public 193
University of Massachusetts * 24,000 public 135
University of Nevada, Reno * 14,500 public 105
University of West Florida 8,000 public 250
Virginia Polytechnic Institute
 and State University * 25,600 public 800

 Accounting Systems
Name of College Majors Faculty

Arizona State University * 430 50
Bentley College 800 30
Bowling Green State University 260 24
California State University, Chico 125 7
Central Michigan University 135 24
Eastern Michigan University 900 11
James Madison University 390 16
Murray State University 275 11
Oakland University 104 10
University of Massachusetts * 135 16
University of Nevada, Reno * 60 16
University of West Florida 385 4
Virginia Polytechnic Institute
 and State University * 800 27

 Accounting Graduate
Name of College Faculty Programs

Arizona State University * 50 MAIS (#)/Ph.D.
Bentley College 27 MS
Bowling Green State University 30 MSA (+)
California State University, Chico 9 MSA
Central Michigan University 22 MBA
Eastern Michigan University 13 MSA
James Madison University 17 MSA
Murray State University 10 MSA
Oakland University 10 MSA
University of Massachusetts * 16 MBA/Ph.D.
University of Nevada, Reno * 16 MSA
University of West Florida 12 MSA
Virginia Polytechnic Institute
 and State University * 27 MSA/Ph.D.

* AIS program draws from information systems and accounting faculty.

(#) Master of Accounting Information Systems

(+) Master of Science in Accounting

Table 2: Required Courses for AIS Programs

External Process Analysis and Design, External Reporting
I and II, Internal Reporting, Tax Accounting, Auditing,
Programming Concepts for Accounting Majors, Visual
Programming, and Database Concepts (nine courses for
a total of 36 credits)

Financial Reporting and Analysis I, Accounting Information
Systems, Fundamentals of Auditing, Advanced
Accounting Information Systems, Information Technology
Auditing Principles and Practice, Algorithm & Data
Abstractions, Programming with Visual Basic, Analysis,
Modeling & Design, Data Management with SQL, and
three electives (nine courses for 21 credits--five three-credit
courses and four 11/2-credit courses--and three electives
for nine credits, combined for a total of 30 credits)

COBOL Programming, Advanced Programming, Intermediate
I, Accounting Information Systems, Auditing,
Information Systems Auditing and Control, Database
Management, Data Communications, and Systems Analysis
and Design (nine courses for a total of 27 credits)

Intermediate Accounting I and II, Cost Accounting,
Accounting Information Systems, Database Design,
Systems Analysis, Distributed Systems, ERP: Systems
Configuration and Use, and Planning Control and Performance
(nine courses for a total of 27 credits)

Intermediate Accounting I and II, COBOL Programming,
Managerial Cost Accounting, Accounting Systems and
Controls, Systems Analysis and Design, a second programming
language course, three accounting electives,
and an information systems elective (six required courses
for 18 credits, three accounting electives for nine credits,
and two information systems electives for six credits,
combined for a total of 33 credits)

Intermediate Accounting I and II, Cost Accounting, Income
Tax, Auditing, Accounting Information Systems, Accounting
Information Auditing, Accounting Information
Systems Implementation Projects, COBOL Programming,
Introduction to Database, and two information systems
electives (10 courses for 30 credits, two electives for six
additional credits, combined for a total of 36 credits)

Intermediate Accounting I and II, Cost Accounting,
Income Tax, Auditing, Accounting Information Systems,
a programming language, Database Design, Advanced
Accounting, Advanced Systems Technology, and
Advanced AIS (11 courses for a total of 33 credits)

Intermediate Accounting I and II, Cost Accounting, Income
Tax, Auditing, Accounting Theory, COBOL I, Database
Design, and two information systems electives (eight
courses and one lab for 25 credits--eight three-credit
courses and one one-credit lab--and two electives for six
credits, combined for a total of 31 credits)

Introduction to Financial Systems and Databases; Financial
Information Systems: Analysis; Financial Information
Systems: Design; Financial Information Systems: Audit
and Control; one accounting elective, one management
information systems elective, one finance elective, and
two electives from finance or production management
(four required courses for 12 credits, five electives for 15
credits, combined for a total of 27 credits)

Business Applications of Computers, Financial Reporting
I and II, Auditing, Advanced Legal Studies, and two
accounting electives (five required courses for 15 credits,
two electives for six credits, combined for a total of
21 credits)

Financial Reporting I and II, Management Accounting I,
Income Tax, Systems Control and Auditing, Microcomputers
in Business, Computer Information Systems
Development, Database Design, Information Systems
Analysis and Design, and one information systems elective
(nine courses for 27 credits, one elective for three
credits, combined for a total of 30 credits)

Intermediate Accounting I and II, Cost Accounting, Auditing,
Accounting Information Systems, Intermediate AIS,
AIS Special Topics, a programming language, and an
information systems elective (eight courses for 24 credits,
one elective for three credits, combined for a total of
27 credits)

Cost Accounting, Information Systems Development,
Accounting Information Systems Development, Information
Systems Audit and Control, Database Management,
Management Information Systems, Management of
Information Systems and Technologies, Applied Software
Development Project, Networks and Telecommunications,
and Object-Oriented Systems Development (10
courses for a total of 30 credits)

Table 3: Topics Covered in AIS Programs

accounting cycle
accounting information systems
algorithms and data structures
assurance and accounting services
audit concepts, planning and
auditing: sampling, testing of
auditing: computerized AIS/EDP
auditing procedures, standards,
 and ethics
C++ programming
capital budgeting

CASE tools

coding, testing, and system
communication skills
computer crime
computer security
cost accounting
data dictionary
data-flow diagrams
data modeling
data validation
data warehouses
database design and
database programming
decision making
distributed databases
electronic commerce
employee benefit plans
entity relationship diagrams

ERP systems

event-driven programming
event-driven accounting system
external audit
file organization and processing
financial statements and reporting

general ledger
computer hardware
information gathering techniques
input and output design
intangible assets
internal auditing and control
inventory management
Java programming
job order costing
lease accounting
legal liability
local area networks
logical and physical design
long-term debt
management information systems
Microsoft Access
Microsoft Excel and spreadsheets
Microsoft Windows
network management
network security
networking and data
object-oriented analysis and
object-oriented programming
Oracle software
partnership accounting
Peachtree software
pricing decisions
process modeling
processing controls and cycles
professional services and
program design and development
project management skills
purchasing cycles
relational data model
relevant costing
request for proposals
requirements analysis and
 gathering techniques
revenue cycle
risk and control issues
SAP R/3 models and systems
security and control for accounting


strategic cost management
structured programming
system design and
systems development life cycle
systems development controls
systems implementation
systems maintenance
tax codes, concepts, and research
telecommunication systems
total quality management
transaction analysis and controls
transaction systems and reporting
unified modeling language
Visual programming
web page development
wide area networks

(1) Christine Maitland, "Introduction," Thought and Action, Fall 1999, pp. 9-10.

(2) Ming-Te Lu, Chi-Wai Chung, and Pien Wang, "Knowledge and Skills of IS Graduates: A Hong Kong Perspective," Journal of Computer Information Systems, Winter 1998-1999, pp. 40-47; Myron Magnet, "The Productivity Payoff Arrives," Fortune, June 27, 1994, pp. 79-84; and J.E. Weber, V. J. McIntyre, and M. Schmidt, "Explaining IS Student and IS Industry Differences in Perceptions of Skill Importance," Journal of Computer Information Systems, Summer 2001, pp. 79-83.

(3) Brenda Massetti, Thomas Abraham, and Thomas Goeller, "Computer Technology in Undergraduate Business School Curricula," Journal of Computer Information Systems, Winter 1995-1996, pp. 44-49.

(4) The CPA Vision Project: 2011 and Beyond, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, New York, N.Y., 2002.

(5) Keith A. Russell, Gary H. Siegel, and C.S. Kulesza, "Counting More, Counting Less: Transformations in the Management Accounting Profession," Management Accounting, September 1999, p. 38.

(6) David R. Fordham, Stephanie M. Bryant, and Ralph L. Benke, "The Evolution of an Accounting Concentration: Concepts and an Example," Review of Accounting Information Systems, Summer 1997, pp. 1-9.

(7) Ibid.

(8) Accounting Education Change Commission, "Objectives of Education for Accountants: Position Statement Number One," Issues in Accounting Education, Fall 1990, pp. 307-312.

(9) Bill Cummings, Robert E. Bennett, and Carol J. Normand, "Meeting the Challenge: The University Accounting Program Corporate America Needs," Management Accounting Quarterly, Winter 2001, pp. 1-10.

(10) Zafar U. Khan, S. Thomas A. Cianciolo, and Eileen Peacock, "A Plan for Reengineering Management Accounting Education Based on the IMA's Practice Analysis," Management Accounting Quarterly, Winter 2000, pp. 1-8.

(11) Keith A. Russell and Steven Berlin, "A Position Statement for the New Millennium," Management Accounting Quarterly, Fall 1999, pp. 1-8.

(12) Fordham, Bryant, and Benke, pp. 1-9.

(13) Russell and Berlin, pp. 1-8.

(14) Stephanie M. Bryant, Judy K. Weishar, and David R. Fordham, "A Survey of Accounting Information Systems Programs in U.S. Colleges and Universities," Review of Accounting Information Systems, Summer 1999, pp. 1-11.

(15) Ibid.

(16) Charlotte S. Stephens and Margaret T. O'Hara, "Benchmarking the Required Information Systems Course in AACSB Accredited MBA Programs: An Analysis of Course Content and Processes," Journal of Computer Information Systems, Summer 2001, pp. 28-42.

(17) Thomas W. Dillon, Michael Garner, Jean-Pierre Kuilboer, and Joseph D. Quinn, "Accounting Student Acceptance of Tax Preparation Software," Journal of Accounting and Computers, Fall 1998, pp. 17-29.

This research was funded by a Faculty Enhancement Grant from the Institute of Management Accountants.

Thomas W. Dillon, Ph.D., is an associate professor of computer information systems in the College of Business at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va. He can be reached at (540) 568-3015 or

S. E. Kruck, Ph.D., CPA, is an associate professor of computer information systems in the College of Business at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va. She can be reached at (540) 568-3016 or
COPYRIGHT 2004 Institute of Management Accountants
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2004 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Dillon, Thomas W.; Kruck, S.E.
Publication:Management Accounting Quarterly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2004
Previous Article:Editor's letter.
Next Article:Calculating a firm's cost of capital: three different methods of determining the weighted average cost of capital for Microsoft and general electric...

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2020 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters