Santa Clara University

Staying on Top of the Subject

‘Conversational’ Accounting Text Now in Fifth Edition

The road to an accounting degree runs through the Intermediate Accounting class. It’s generally the first upper-division course a student takes in the major and covers financial reporting for publicly held companies. Recruiters from accounting firms often look at the student’s grades in Intermediate Accounting when making hiring decisions.

All of this makes the textbook particularly critical. For more than a decade, tens of thousands of accounting majors a year have been learning the material in considerable part through a widely praised textbook co-authored by Jim Sepe, Chair of the Accounting Department at the Leavey School of Business.

“We’ve tried to adopt a conversational writing style, as opposed to preaching at the students,” Sepe says. “I think because it’s easier to read than some texts, students tend to use it more.”

SCU Accounting Professor Jim Sepe

Intermediate Accounting — which Sepe wrote with J. David Spiceland of the University of Memphis, Mark W. Nelson of Cornell University, and Lawrence A. Tomassini of The Ohio State University — published its fifth edition in June 2008. Since publication of the first edition in 1997, sales have steadily grown to the point where it is now used at more than 500 schools and is the second best-selling Intermediate Accounting text. It has been adapted for use in Canada and translated into Spanish and Chinese.

Sepe, who writes nearly half the chapters in the book, says that accounting, like most fields, is constantly changing and that the book needs to be updated nearly every three years to stay current.

A major change on the horizon, which will be reflected in future editions, is the pending conversion by the United States from U.S. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles to International Financial Reporting Standards. The international standards are based more on adherence to general principles, rather than following detailed rules, so will require substantive changes in the way the subject is taught.

Textbooks, Sepe says, are no longer the stand-alone books they were 20 years ago. They’re supplemented by online tools, power point presentations and other materials that the authors have to put together. “There are tremendous resources available to students now that weren’t there before,” he says. “They can even download accounting materials on to an iPod.”

Teaching the class at Santa Clara helps Sepe stay in touch with the material and the way students relate to it. Feedback from students is particularly valuable in framing exercises and problems. He gives potential new exercises and problems on his midterms and says, “Sometimes the students will come up and say a problem isn’t clear or needs to be restated. We’ve added and changed things because of that.”

Sepe and his colleagues are already at work on the sixth edition of the book, and he says the whole future of the texbook industry itself is changing.

“You can buy an e-book version of our text now that gives you access to it online for two semesters,” he says. “At some point in the future, maybe ten to fifteen years from now, there will probably be no printed textbooks.”

THE CRITICAL TEXT: Jim Sepe is co-author of an Intermediate Accounting text that is used at more than 500 colleges and universities and is now in its fifth edition.

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