One of the great benefits of being an academic member of IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants) is access to a wide range of educational materials. In Innovation in Teaching IMA Management Accounting Competencies, I discuss my use of IMA materials to supplement and enrich an undergraduate cost accounting class, where the course content is largely standardized across institutions and well supported by textbooks and publishers’ materials. But these materials are invaluable in constructing and teaching an advanced course in management accounting, and, in fact, I consider them to be a key element of the course.
In many institutions of higher learning, cost accounting is the only course offered beyond the introductory survey of accounting (often referred to as “principles” courses). Historically, cost has been an intermediate-level, required course in an accounting program. Recently, however, following changes to the CPA (Certified Public Accountant) exam structure and content, some institutions are either making cost an elective or eliminating it from the program entirely. This is a dangerous trend for the profession and industry in general. As I ask my students: How are you going to audit what you don’t understand?
For most institutions, if they have an advanced course in management accounting, it’s usually as part of a graduate program in accounting and a review of the same material covered at the undergraduate level, perhaps with a more strategic focus or using case studies. Unfortunately, this also means that a considerable amount of management accounting material is never addressed; most cost accounting courses can only cover approximately half of the material in the text in a semester. While any advanced management accounting class could continue with the remaining chapters in the text, I’ve found this strategy isn’t sufficient to cover the topics in the IMA Management Accounting Competency Framework. Additionally, textbook chapters that do cover some of the more advanced topics don’t provide sufficient depth or detail (to be fair, it’s difficult to construct meaningful exercises for these topics, especially ones that can be automatically graded by an online homework system).
I’m fortunate to teach at a university that supports management accounting education. While Appalachian State University has a well-respected, strong program in the traditional fields of audit and tax, the department recognized that there were good students who weren’t interested in those fields. We also recognized that, in an era of decreasing enrollments in university accounting programs, emphasizing the many and diverse opportunities, careers, and industries in which accountants work helps with our recruiting and retention goals.
When we decided to add an advanced cost accounting course as an elective, I started with the chapters in the text I hadn’t covered in cost accounting. Over the course of the semester, I became increasingly dissatisfied with the extent to which important topics were covered (or even if they were covered). While searching for supplementary materials, I began using some IMA white papers and special reports to add context or examples of real-world applications. But the major development of the advanced course didn’t begin until the management accounting class in the master of accountancy program became an elective rather than a required course during a program redesign.
Although we want to encourage and support students with an interest in a career in management accounting, the realities of university budgets preclude offering courses with low enrollment. We solved that problem by creating a dual-listed advanced management accounting course open to both upper-level undergraduates and graduate students. This has worked especially well with our accelerated admission program to the master of accountancy program, as undergraduates admitted to this program may take the course as an undergraduate and elect to have it count for the graduate program. The course is offered once a year, in the spring semester, and the enrollment usually is split evenly between graduate and undergraduate students. The initial undergraduate class was offered in fall 2019; the first dual-listed course was first offered in spring 2021.
When COVID-19 hit in spring 2020 and we were all sent home, I was one of the faculty members selected for a new university program in online education design and delivery. I took advantage of that program, the enforced time at home, and the coincidental 2020 revision to the CMA® (Certified Management Accountant) exam to completely update and redesign both the undergraduate cost accounting class and the new advanced management accounting class. As I aligned the courses with the new CMA exam and the Competency Framework, it became increasingly apparent that I didn’t have the necessary materials to support the advanced class. I had recently adopted a new textbook that did an outstanding job with the cost topics and that covered about half of the advanced topics.
I also wanted to be able to address issues of professionalism and soft skills (including professional ethics) in the graduate class. As I searched for online resources that spring and summer, I kept coming back to IMA publications. As an IMA member, I was aware of (and personally used) IMA podcasts, webinars, and online courses. When I found an archived webinar on leadership skills that matched one of the professionalism modules I was building, I contacted Lisa Beaudoin, whom I knew from other IMA activities, and asked her whom I could talk to about getting permission to use this one link for my (non-IMA member) students. I was met with an overwhelmingly generous response from IMA, whose staff enthusiastically explored ways to partner in developing this course.
THE NUTS AND BOLTS OF THE COURSE
When designing an advanced course, it’s very helpful to start with IMA’s Management Accounting Competency Framework and the list of topics for the CMA exam (see Figure 1). Ideally, an advanced course should only revisit topics from cost accounting if a more “advanced” subtopic was deleted (for example, transfer costing, First In, First Out process costing, learning curve analysis, and activity-based management, specifically of customers and suppliers). Identify any topics that are covered elsewhere, such as accounting information systems or financial accounting classes, classes in the finance department, etc., and you’ll find that the topics you’re left with are distributed between quantitatively driven topics and more qualitatively driven topics and professional skills.
I’ve found that the list of topics doesn’t readily lend itself to the flow of progressive skills that we normally use to teach cost accounting. Instead, I use a module system that emphasizes common themes across the entire course, such as global business, sustainability, data analytics, ethics, risk, etc. I may vary the order and content of these modules every semester as I try to balance reading loads, due dates for large or difficult assignments, and the schedules of speakers invited to either the class or meetings of our IMA student chapter.
I use a modified seminar format for the class; many of the topics don’t lend themselves to homework assignments and quick calculations, so students are expected to come to class prepared to discuss our module topic. Interestingly, I have found that accounting students are very worried about this concept and my most typical “accountants” are initially very stressed without specific, predictable calculations and answers. But as the course moves on (and with the judicious timing of more qualitative topics), they begin to relax, to increase their ability to truly apply and synthesize topics, and to develop a professional curiosity. Class assessments are driven by discussions and IMA online materials (see the next section); each module has an online assessment based on retired CMA questions. A dual-listed course is usually required to have significantly more (or more difficult) assignments for the graduate students; I use a combination of more IMA online courses and either a research paper or a team presentation on a research topic. I’ve found the latter approach more useful, as it supports teamwork and presentation and writing skills, and allows for a manageable grading load at the end of the semester. The course has a single final exam in two parts: Part one consists of retired CMA questions on topics we’ve covered, and part two is a reflective essay on the common themes of the course.
INCORPORATING IMA MATERIALS
I group IMA materials into three categories: written materials, online materials, and other materials. Written materials are available for free download and use, but the online courses are only available to IMA members. Consequently, advanced management accounting students are required to purchase an IMA student membership. Currently, and taking advantage of the price IMA offers students at the beginning of every semester, that’s $25, a cost well below any additional text or workbook I could find. Many students in this class also already have memberships through our student chapter or the CMA Scholarship, so they don’t need to purchase additional access. (See Table 1 for an example of a module that incorporates textbook and publisher materials, IMA written materials, IMA online materials, an outside IMA speaker, and a GLEIM assessment.)
Table 1: Example of Module
|Topic||Due Dates||Student IMA Speakers for this Week|
|Class Date: February 7
|The Management Accountant and Financial Planning and Analysis||Chad DesMarteau, FP&A|
Text: Chapter 10, “Responsibility Accounting and Performance Assessment”
Adaptive Study Plan, Chapter 10 (CengageNow)GLEIM Assessment: Financial Statements Basics
|Feb 13, 11:55 p.m.|
|Assignments: Grad Students||
IMA Online Courses
|Feb 13, 11:55 p.m.|
Written materials. IMA produces a range of well-written materials that can be used to supplement or extend textbook discussions; these are the solutions for the critical topics not covered in the textbook. I use a combination of these materials for each module and try to balance the more extensive readings with shorter articles so I don’t overwhelm my students. I recommend reviewing your selections each time you offer the course; IMA is currently working to update and rewrite many of these materials, so availability may change. All these materials can be provided to the student via a link. I collect all readings together under each module on my class website. I strongly recommend that you test the links each semester just before the course begins, as changes to the IMA website and platform occasionally break old links. IMA’s written materials can be categorized as follows:
- Substantive readings. These are the larger readings that I use to cover topics that are missing from the textbook or to supplement very basic textbook discussions. Often around 30 to 40 pages, the readings are written at the professional level and are free from the statistical tests that often make academic writing difficult for students. Topics can be searched on the IMA website and may be C-suite reports, Statements on Management Accounting, or white papers.
- Supplemental readings. The majority of these are articles from Strategic Finance and provide up-to-the-minute information on current contexts, challenges, and emerging issues. Be aware that Strategic Finance readings can range from topical columns to longer feature articles, and remember to balance the amount of reading you’re assigning each week. Every semester I specifically look for new Strategic Finance articles to add to the modules, deleting some of the older ones, and I keep a file of interesting articles throughout the year. Occasionally, I will find an article in Management Accounting Quarterly (MAQ) that provides a more analytical approach to a topic. I find that MAQ isn’t too much of a challenge for students and gives them insights into emerging issues and theoretical debates.
- Case studies: While this isn’t a case study-driven course, I do try to incorporate two to three cases each semester. The IMA Educational Case Journal (IECJ®) is an invaluable resource. The cases are shorter and often have a strong qualitative, ethical, or strategic component, lending themselves well to classroom discussions as well as practice in the application of specific skills. Classic cases are being updated, and new cases covering emerging issues are constantly being added. There is a downloadable, searchable database available on the IMA website including former cases used in the annual IMA Student Case Competition.
Online materials. The online materials produced by IMA are varied and excellent. IMA has a rotating library of courses free to members, and there are additional courses that are specifically made free to student members. These selections can change, so please verify your selected assignments before the beginning of the semester. Online courses are also compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and have available transcripts for students with hearing difficulties.
- Online courses: Topics range from professional skills to advanced and emerging topics. Most courses are well designed and very well produced, with embedded knowledge check quizzes and a final assessment. A significant benefit to the instructor is that these courses are automatically graded. The student receives a continuing professional education (CPE) certificate of completion when they successfully pass the final assessment; I have them post that certificate to the website assignment link and grade these assignments as pass/fail. I use a wide range of online professional skills courses in modules on professionalism and ethics and assign others throughout the course for the graduate students. Several of the courses are also used to enrich and expand study of course topics, such as sustainability, strategy, profitability and pricing, robotic process automation (RPA), risk, and International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). IMA currently offers the entire RPA Series free to students and the online certificate program in data analytics and visualization fundamentals (again, please verify each semester as selections can change). I would recommend that you at least skim the online course to be sure it isn’t based on a reading you have already assigned; choose one or the other, but don’t assign both. (See Table 2 for examples used in my spring 2023 class.)
- Ethics courses: The IMA online catalog includes a series of ethics courses. Members have access to all ethics courses for free. I select a different course every year as part of our ethics module and take the course with the students as part of my behavioral CPE, which has led to some interesting discussions. These cases provide a combination of instruction, situational application, and assessment (the written version of the case can also be found in IECJ). I don’t use the facilitator-led format; by taking the course individually, students are each fully involved and obtain a certificate of completion.
- Webinars: I have found that most webinars aren’t well adapted to students (instead, they are geared to midlevel professionals with experience in implementing the topics). But IMA does have a searchable webinar archive, and I’ve found relevant topics under leadership or professional ethics and values. Student members will also receive notifications of all upcoming webinars. Participation in live webinars produce a CPE certificate that can be used to award credit; archived webinars don’t.
Table 2: Examples of Online Courses Used in Spring 2023
|Online Course||Class Module||Audience|
|Time Management||Professional Skills||Undergraduate/graduate|
|Leadership Foundations for Management Accountants||Professional Skills||Graduate|
|Strategic Analysis for Management Accountants and CFOs||Strategic Analysis and Management||Graduate|
|U.S. GAAP vs. IFRS: Liabilities and Related Special Topics
U.S. GAAP vs IFRS: Nonfinancial Assets
|Risk Assessment and Management||Undergraduate/graduate|
|Predicting the Future: Anything Can Be Modeled||Financial Planning and Analysis||Graduate|
|IMA Ethics Series: The Power of Trust||Ethical Professional Practice||Undergraduate/graduate|
|Driving Strategic Management with the Profitability Analytics Framework||Pricing and Profitability Analysis||Graduate
|IMA’s RPA Series||Transformational Technology||Undergraduate/graduate|
|IMA Data Analytics & Visualization Fundamentals Certificate®||Transformational Technology||Graduate (available as extra credit to undergraduate students)|
Other materials. There are other materials, produced by IMA and its partners, that I’ve also used as part of the course. GLEIM has been instrumental in building assessments for each module and for the topic assessment in the final exam. I use large pools of questions for each module topic and allow multiple retakes to assist students in preparing for certification exams. A few modules aren’t represented on the exam, and for those I assign review assessments on topics such as costing methodologies or financial statement basics.
The IMA podcast, Count Me In, is also a useful adjunct to teaching. When I use these materials, I search the archive for a set of podcasts on a common theme and assign a reflective essay integrating the individual podcasts or applying them to the current module. The podcasts are accessible on a variety of platforms, are ADA-compliant with transcripts available, don’t require a membership, and have relevant, interesting speakers; these are also a useful way to start students on the habit of following trends and topics in the profession.
If you have a student chapter, take advantage of this and coordinate speakers and modules (if you don’t have a student chapter, consider starting one). Your local chapter is also a good source for identifying speakers and opportunities for plant tours. IMA also produces a young professionals panel (live on Zoom) each semester, which is a great resource.
I hope that these ideas will enable you to develop or make a case for including an advanced management accounting course in your program. The availability of these resources makes the instructor’s job much easier; the automatic grading on the online courses alone makes possible so many more options in teaching professional skills. Make use of the resources available to you as an instructor. IMA has two business development managers dedicated to helping academic members and supporting educational resources: Tyler Skelton and Mary Patterson. They are extremely helpful and can provide resources, suggestions, contacts, and troubleshooting. Sign up for the Faculty Friday webinars and newsletters if you aren’t already receiving them. If you attend the annual IMA Accounting & Finance Conference, be sure to attend the academic luncheon. And, if you aren’t already a CMA, consider pursuing the certification with IMA’s free program for academics. I’m also always willing to chat about my experience in developing this course and incorporating IMA materials.