An examination of the moral reasoning of accounting students

Date of Completion

January 2004


Business Administration, Accounting




The purpose of this dissertation is to examine the moral reasoning of accounting students. Since the 1980s, there has been an ongoing interest in ethics coverage in accounting education programs. Both practitioners and educators have recognized the importance of having ethical students enter the profession. The recent challenges to the accounting profession, including the Enron bankruptcy and Arthur Andersen indictment and conviction, reinforce the requirement that accountants must adhere to the highest ethical standards. ^ This study contributes to the accounting literature by assessing accounting students' general and accounting context specific moral reasoning abilities at the start and the end of an accounting program at an Eastern state university. In addition to these two measures of moral reasoning ability, other factors related to student ethical development are also examined, including student personal values, student perceptions of the ethical climate at their university, ethics education, and political orientation. ^ The results indicate that there was not a significant difference in general or accounting context specific moral reasoning ability for graduating accounting students when compared to students at the beginning of the accounting program at this university. Contrary to expectations, the accounting context specific moral reasoning ability of graduating business students was higher at a marginal level of significance when compared to graduating accounting students. The results also indicate that accounting students' personal values and ethical climate perceptions may help explain their moral reasoning. ^ These findings have implications for educators regarding program and curriculum design, as well as improving the instructional program. This study also provides implications for practitioners relating to those entering the profession and suggestions regarding how educators and practitioners can support each other in ethically preparing accounting students for their demanding profession. ^