Big Five firm Ernst & Young has developed a program that gives tax educators at colleges and universities across the country the chance to hone their knowledge about relevant tax issues over the Internet, thus keeping them up-to-date for their classroom teaching.

Ernst & Young benefits from the program by enhancing its relationship with the faculty from important schools at which the firm recruits for its accounting and tax practices, thus helping to bridge the gap between academia and business.

Titled, the "Ernst & Young Professional Development Program for Tax Educators," the program has been in place for some time, but this is the first year that it is being offered as an "e-learning" program. This new format incorporates both Web-based instruction and virtual presentations. Together, these two components provide an educational resource for tax professors, one that compliments their existing curriculum, while allowing for a flexible learning schedule.

"Now that we have the program on the Internet, we can offer it several times a year," said Lisa Young, CPA, Ernst and Young’s Americas Director of Recruiting. The program is offered four times a year, while the live program was offered just once a year.

Deborah Callihan, CPA, at Blacksburg, Va.-based Virginia Tech, has taken the program in previous years when it was entirely live. "This was my first experience with a totally formal online class, and it was pretty effective," she said.

Callihan, a professor in the College of Business, teaches tax courses in the Department of Accounting and Information Systems. "I’ve used material from the program in my courses in past years," she said, "particularly the real life stories. You get a bit less of these in the online classes, but the interactive presentation helps."

Through the program, professors and other educators have access to part of Ernst & Young’s extensive library of tax Web-based learning courses, including Accounting Methods & Periods, International Tax, State & Local Tax, Partnerships, Subchapter C and Consolidated Returns.

Each quarter, Ernst & Young hosts virtual presentation sessions exclusively for the tax academic community, in conjunction with the Web-based learning courses in a particular tax technical area. These sessions, called "National Tax Perspectives," provide information on breaking tax developments and allow for interaction with nationally recognized Ernst & Young subject matter specialists. The sessions also provide Ernst & Young with feedback from the academic community and demonstrate the firm’s commitment to the continuing education of tax faculty.

Young said that there are several benefits to the program for the firm. "The payoff for Ernst is that by helping educators keep current about what’s happening in the tax world, they bring that into their classroom. They put out a better product for us, and the students we hire from them have more than book knowledge - they have been imparted with real life knowledge from their teachers."

The instructors are Ernst employees who are subject matter specialists in a particular area. The Internet courses are self-paced over the Internet. The student can take the Web-based course at his or her own pace, and then takes part in an interactive, live Web cast. "This format is unique to Ernst & Young," said Young. "Faculty benefit from this because it gives them a chance to update their knowledge on relevant tax issues, as well as giving them CPE credit to maintain their CPA status."

Training magazine feted E&Y’s education efforts by awarding it the 2002 Training Top 100 Award. The firm was ranked No. 7 out of the 800 companies that were considered for the award and was cited as best in class among professional services organizations. The magazine’s annual award honors training programs from organizations in a variety of industries, including manufacturing, insurance, banking, professional services, business services, educational services, public administration and government.

Young also cited the anonymous feedback from students and professors as additional evidence of the program’s effectiveness.

Some 80 percent of the feedback responses it received found the Virtual Presentations to be effective and would recommend them. Students mentioned the interactive nature of the presentations, with questions posed by presenters and responses by the participants, as creating an interesting learning environment.

One professor response said that the course was "very intimate and interactive despite being technology driven." Another appreciated the fact that the knowledge taught was comprehensive, and "the courses took in more depth than what I get into in class."

A professor who taught an online course last summer found E&Y’s approach useful to improve the focus of his course. "Seeing how E&Y provides professional development to its staff provided helpful insights into how I can organize my course," he stated.

Young said she is gratified that professor-participants view the program as "helping to bridge the gap between academia and the business world." Moreover, she said, "the fact that we were able to successfully transition from live presentations to Web-based virtual presentations may help give some credibility to the medium."

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