For years, Dr. Elizabeth Almer, a professor of accounting at Portland State University, noticed a disheartening trend. Accounting majors who successfully completed the program’s lower division principles courses struggled in their first intermediate financial accounting course. And many ended up changing their major.
“We’re losing them,” she thought.
Unlike Oregon’s other two large public universities, PSU is largely composed of non-traditional students who often juggle attending school and working significant hours. The student body is a majority BIPOC/Latinx, or the first in their family to attend college, and many are either immigrants or first-generation Americans – all of which can make it more difficult to retain and graduate students in the predominantly white field of accounting. Dr. Almer, whose parents were immigrants, knew firsthand how life-changing a degree in accounting could be. She wanted her students to experience that same success and, hopefully, bring more diversity into the profession.
After analyzing eight years of university data, Dr. Almer and her colleagues confirmed their suspicion that the inflection point was related to the time gap between the lower division principles and intermediate financial accounting course.
Traditionally, accounting students on a four-year track start their intermediate classes within six months of completing the lower-level classes. For non-traditional students like most at PSU, that gap is generally much longer, in some cases five years or more. The longer the gap, the harder it is to remember accounting fundamentals, and the further behind the student is in comparison to their peers.
The lag puts these students at a significant disadvantage. Those who don’t achieve success in that first intermediate course generally don’t feel competent to stay in accounting for their chosen career path, Dr. Almer explains. “If a student successfully makes it through that first intermediate course, it dramatically improves the rate of graduating with an accounting degree,” she adds. “The key was to get all students through that course successfully.”
The big question was, how?