The American Institute of CPAs is working with the College Board to develop an advanced placement course in accounting for high school students.

William Ezell, co-chairman of the AICPA’s Pathways Commission, told attendees at the AICPA Spring Meeting of Council in Scottsdale, Ariz., about the work the Institute’s commission on accounting higher education was doing on the AP course.

“We’ve been doing really well attracting students to this profession in the last few years,” he said Tuesday. “But it’s a cycle thing. It comes, it goes. We want to make sure we have the best and the brightest. We want to make sure that we’re prepared for the future, so we want to look hard at what we can do to attract students to this profession, wherever they come in contact with it.”

The AICPA has been having meetings with the College Board on developing an AP course, and the prospects look good, although somewhat uncertain.

“We’ve been working very hard on an advanced placement course in high school for accounting,” said Ezzell. “There is not one that exists that’s sanctioned by the College Board. The College Board is the organization that does the advanced placement courses. We have had extensive meetings with them. We’re moving this project along very well and it’s positive. I can’t stand here in front of you and say it’s going to happen, but I think we’re getting very close. We’ve been pushing very hard at their door to say we need an AP course for accounting.”

The AICPA met with the College Board last July, but was initially told the board is not adding AP courses right now. The AICPA said it had already developed a course that it could give the College Board. The board gave the Institute a list of items it would need before it could approve such a course, including an overview, a syllabus of the college courses it would replace and how it would fit into the overall high school curriculum. In January, the AICPA delivered on those requirements and others.

“They asked for 100 colleges and universities that would accept this course and give credit if offered, and we’ve given them over 110 thus far,” said Ezzell. “That number is climbing. They asked for 250 high schools that would offer this course, and we’ve given them 450 that have already agreed and we’re building that number as well. So we have delivered on everything the College Board has asked for. They’ve come back for a few more things and we’re delivering on that shortly.”

The AICPA is modeling the AP course and training program for teachers after an accounting pilot and bridge program that Professor Dan Deines at Kansas State University has used to train over 800 high school teachers in a similar course in the past six years.

“We have put the course up for the College Board to say, ‘If this isn’t it, it’s awfully close to what it should be,’” said Ezzell. “We already have the assessment tool and the training process, and we’re going to invite them in to observe our training this summer. We’ll be training in seven locations this summer, so we hope to hit another 350 high school teachers, give or take.”

Ezzell said he met with a group of high school teachers two weeks ago at a gathering of the National Association of Business Educators and found they were eager to teach such a course. “They are excited,” he said. “They want to teach something more relevant in their high school courses, something other than bookkeeping. This course, believe me, is something other than bookkeeping.”

The AICPA also hopes to enhance students’ perceptions of accounting. “How do we grab that student when they have their first exposure and really interest them in what this is about?” said Ezzell. “We’re already in a period of a declining number of high school graduates. It’s a birth rate issue. Back in 1998 to 1999, people were not having as many children. The competition is going to be even more severe for better students down the road, for the next few years at least.” He also sees a need in the diversity area for more accountants from different backgrounds.

“We’ve got to change the perception of accounting because it’s not attracting the best and brightest students,” said Ezzell. “I think we’ve got something here that’s going to grab students.”

He said the AICPA also hopes to establish a National Center for Teaching Excellence to provide better training for accounting instructors at the college level and is working with the American Accounting Association on this initiative.