I was delighted to accept Bill Pasewark's invitation to act as guest editor for the “Special M.B.A. Section” because I am so very passionate about M.B.A. teaching.
In Fall 1994, I met my first M.B.A. class at The University of Texas at Austin as a newly minted Assistant Professor. The students were about my age and all had more business experience than I did. Needless to say I was in over my head and very intimidated. Thankfully, I had two amazingly generous mentors in Bob May and Eric Hirst, who also taught the M.B.A. core financial class that semester. They were very willing to let the new kid (me!) tag along. I adopted their approach—we used a different set of real-world financial statements in every class session—and I have not changed my M.O. in the ensuing years. It has proven to be a winning approach and I owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude.
What I learned from that first semester is that M.B.A. students are a breed unto themselves; they learn differently, they have different expectations, and they have different patterns of in-class behavior. And so a special section is fitting.
What Do M.B.A. Students Need and How Do the Materials in the Special Section Meet that Need?
First, M.B.A. students are eager learners. It takes very little to excite M.B.A. students about accounting in particular. What they need to understand is that “accounting is the language of business.” Engage them in conversations using financial reports, footnotes, budgets, and current business press articles, and they are hooked. That natural interest and excitement leads to higher motivation to learn and greater retention of the material. The materials in this special section create conversational opportunities—from budgets in “Sunshine Daycare” to legal precedent in “Roger's Dilemma,” the cases are rich in contextual, real-world detail.
Second, M.B.A. students are more mature than the average undergraduate and better able to engage in higher order thinking skills (analyzing, evaluating, creating). I am constantly amazed at their ability to deconstruct complex problems, identify the key issue, and arrive at a comprehensive solution. The materials in this special section involve multi-dimensional problems, conducive to myriad analytical approaches.
Third, M.B.A. students understand first hand that they need “soft” skills to be effective leaders. After five or so years out of school, the average M.B.A. student understands that having a good idea is one thing, being able to communicate the idea and persuade others of its merit is another thing entirely. The special section materials are discussion based and, as such, require students to practice their communication skills.
In conclusion, the multi-topic approach of each of the cases in this special section is well suited to M.B.A. students. We have taken care to select manuscripts that will meet M.B.A. students where they are cognitively. Each of the four articles presents an accounting challenge within a broader business context. Each requires students to analyze and evaluate and synthesize. Each requires either written or oral communication of complex ideas.
To echo Jack Wilkerson's comments in the special issue on the “First Course in Accounting” (Issues in Accounting Education, Vol. 26, No. 4), I believe M.B.A. accounting courses are the most important courses in an M.B.A. curriculum. Done properly, accounting classes will not only inculcate the language of business, they should also help students develop a framework for business decision making. I believe that the articles included in this special section will help instructors to do exactly that.