The La Salle School of Business Accounting Analytics Lab gives students a new landscape for hands-on learning.
The accounting profession is changing, and La Salle’s preparation of the next generation of accountants is ready to change with it.
That was the thinking behind the formation of the School of Business’ Accounting Analytics Lab, which launched during the fall 2023 semester. It is the logical next step in La Salle’s evolving emphasis on analytics and big data, a way to take the School of Business’ integration of those skills to the next level.
“The accounting profession has gone through significant changes, and we look forward to what our students need to get their next job,” said Yusuf Joseph Ugras, Ph.D., associate professor of accounting and former interim dean of the School of Business. “We received input from companies and our advisory council on this lab to provide our accounting students with the proper preparation for their entry to the profession.”
Comfort in handling large datasets is an increasingly valuable skill for students pursuing careers in accounting. La Salle’s accounting curriculum has adapted to that reality. It’s being taught as a piece of existing classes more and more. Two years ago, the Accounting Program started a stand-alone elective focused on data analytics that proved so popular as to make Ugras and Kristin Wentzel, Ph.D., the chair of the accounting department, wonder what the next step could be.
The lab brings two new, project-based courses, for graduate and undergraduate students, and opens up new avenues for independent research. The ability to get hands-on, experiential learning and to replicate the team-based approach common in public accounting is another layer of preparation for the job market. For a department that placed 98% of its 2023 graduates in jobs, it is a way to stay in step with industry demands.
The Analytics Lab allows the instruction to go from the theoretical to the practical. Instead of a teacher demonstrating how to work with data, the lab will let teams of students do the work themselves. They can model different possibilities, divide up projects into different tasks, and learn by doing.
It bolsters not just familiarity with the programs they will work with in the industry, like Power BI, Python, and Alteryx, but it also allows them to experiment with writing software to automate tasks and to learn how to arrive at and present conclusions.
The lab serves to supercharge what is already underway on the instruction side.
“The idea of the lab is for it to be more integrated for students to be able to work together,” Wentzel said. “It’s also to give them that hands-on experience as opposed to just the theoretical, so when they go out on co-ops or in their first jobs, that they have some real experience working with data and analyzing it.”
The pace of innovation is not slowing. The wider adoption of artificial intelligence has lifted some of the burden of drudgery on accountants. Instead of sampling data or only looking at small snippets of information, computer programs can look for anomalies in a much bigger swathe of information. While the computers crunch the numbers, accountants have to be systems thinkers, knowing how to analyze data, synthesize conclusions, and present the data to a lay audience.
“The profession is telling us that analytics integration to accounting is here to stay,” Ugras said. “This will be a cornerstone of the curriculum.”