Don’t lose sight of education’s true value

July 16, 2012

By Brendan Fitzgerald, CPA
2012-2013 Chair of the Executive Board

Is 120 hours of continuing education the natural progression from a score of 75? The joke back when I sat for the CPA exam was if you scored higher than 75 on any of the four sections, you studied too much. As CPAs we think we are high achievers, but we also like to know the rules so we can make sure to meet them.

Do we view the 120 hours of continuing professional education over a three year period to renew our licenses as a minimum or a maximum number? The answer is obvious: It’s both. It represents the finish line, the end of the race. We sprint to get there and, rather than run through the tape, we launch ourselves from a few feet in front of the finish line. How often do we hear our colleagues bemoan the fact that they are “short”? How often do they wish for the education gods to bless them with a five-hour course because that’s what they need to get to 120? The thought of 123 hours is horrifying. Years ago, a minimum number of education hours in a year was required with carryover of excess hours to the subsequent reporting period permitted. This eased the fear of accumulating too many hours a bit, but tended to average itself out over time.

A continuing education requirement is the hallmark of any profession. The purpose should be to gain knowledge and develop skills to enhance our professional excellence and career advancement. Instead, we sometimes treat education as a commodity. Whether it is cost or convenience, we are sometimes making choices without technical competence as the primary motivation. That being said, our palate for education is becoming more sophisticated, and needs must be met. Course offerings aren’t enough if they do not meet our expectations. We have seen a fast-moving trend toward the conference approach to education, shorter sessions from which to choose, with the traditional eight-hour course falling out of favor. As OSCPA President and CEO Clarke Price referenced at last month’s Members Summit and Annual Meeting in Columbus, the medical profession has adopted a continuing education model that provides justin-time education in increments of 10 minutes or less. In this Googledriven, information-on-demand age, we cannot afford to dismiss concepts for which demand can be met without compromising quality. The challenge is to make sure that just-in-time delivered content is up-to-date and that there is an equilibrium between value and price.

But, focusing solely on value versus price neglects the true purpose of all education, which is intellectual training. Continuing education, therefore, is a philosophical consideration rather than merely economical. In its purest sense the pursuit of knowledge is noble. The lifelong learning process will lead to an overall increase in the quality of work, leading to the positive economic benefit for our labor we seek. The more work experience and education we get, the more competent we become. The more competent we become individually, the higher we lift the profession and each other.

The word education is derived from the Latin word “educere,” which means to lead forth. Education is a journey. Even during the later years of his life, the masterful Michelangelo used to write the Latin phrase “ancora imparo” in the margin of his sketches, which translates to “still I am learning.” If Michelangelo believed he was still learning his craft after painting the Sistine Chapel or sculpting the Pieta, which took four years and two years to complete, respectively, I wonder what they would look like if he stopped working after 120 hours.

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