We’ve been talking a lot about the future of learning, new competency models, changes in education, etc. Mostly related to our work on the CPA Center of Excellence®, but also because of other trends and initiatives both within the CPA profession and outside of it. And of course, as the association that represents the profession in Indiana, we have a keen interest in not only professional education but student education as well.

marianSo when we heard about an innovative business course at Marian University in Indianapolis, it captured our attention. It’s called Business 109, which is plain and simple enough. But the course is anything but plain and simple. It’s a semester-long “business plan competition” based on concepts we’ve been promoting as the future of CPA education through the CPA Center of Excellence®  … collaboration, experiential learning and the core competencies.

Business 109 is the brainchild of Marian Business School Dean Russ Kershaw, Ph.D. It’s now in its third year, and it’s believed to be unique among business courses nationwide. It’s mostly for first-year students, but some second-year students take it as well. Students work in teams, and the course culminates in a judged competition where each team presents their plan for a start-up business. The winning team receives funding from “sharks” and launches a real on-campus business.

This semester’s course began January 12 and I attended the orientation. It’s a 9 credit course that meets five days a week. Three professors jointly teach the class, including INCPAS member Kevin Huston who covers accounting, Jim Polito who covers economics, and Mike Crawford who covers business planning. Kershaw has actively taught the course in the past, but this semester will serve as an advisor. The judged competition will occur on May 1.

We plan to follow the progress of the course throughout the semester and have a feature article in our magazine about it as well as a video for our YouTube channel. We may even learn some things ourselves that we could apply to the CPA Center of Excellence® as it continues to evolve.

In Kershaw’s orientation, he stressed that “business is a contact sport” and “after receiving your diploma, the big game starts.” Coincidentally, there are eight student athletes among the 30 or so in the class. The course is designed to better prepare students for that life after college. The three goals outlined were:

  1. Gain exposure to the integrative nature of business
  2. Provide experience
  3. Help develop key skills

As for the “key” skills, it’s not the technical sort that will be focused on, although they’ll be needed too. Instead, Kershaw stressed that employers are looking for those career skills that are vitally important such as leadership, problem solving, communications, the ability to work within a team framework, analytical skills, and a strong work ethic. Those sound strikingly similar to the CPA profession’s core competencies.

Kershaw added that most traditional approaches to teaching do not accomplish the development of these types of skills, but that this course does. Students will have the opportunity to gain significant business experience and integrate all aspects of business in an environment that necessitates interaction and teamwork. The course requires a high level of enthusiasm and encourages the “WE” factor … the willingness to engage.

If not, students can be “fired” from their team. Now that sounds like the real world!