In Professor Christopher F. Noe’s accounting class at MIT, nearly a
third of his students are from out of town—or, well, down the street.
Indeed, roughly 45 Harvard students trekked down Mass. Ave. this
semester to take “Corporate Financial Accounting and Reporting” at MIT,
according to the Harvard Registrar’s Office.
But while this number has held steady over the past few years,
Harvard administrators and professors say that an accounting class at
the College is not being considered, despite the complaints of some
“It would be so much more convenient if Harvard offered an
accounting course,” said Nicole M. Evangelista ’06, an economics
concentrator who made the trip to Kendall Square twice a week this
Still, the director of undergraduate studies for the economics
department, Benjamin M. Friedman, said that an accounting course would
not fit into his department. “The simple answer is that accounting is
accounting, and that is not economics. And therefore our department
does not teach it,” he said.
Other Ivy League schools take a different approach. At Yale
and Columbia, accounting is offered to undergraduates through the
economics department. Princeton has a certificate program for
undergraduates in financial engineering that offers undergraduates
upper-level corporate finance courses—including such topics as
corporate restructuring and portfolio management—in addition to
The director of undergraduate studies for Yale’s economics
department, Professor Robert E. Evenson, said that demand for their
accounting course is high. “If accounting is well-taught,” he said,
“it’s as demanding as any other course.”
DOES IT ALL ADD UP?
Samita A. Mannapperuma ’06, a Harvard economics concentrator,
said that she decided to take accounting for its practical uses in
“Accounting is hands-down the most useful class for my job after graduation,” said Mannapperuma, who is also a Crimson editor.
Noe, who teaches the accounting course at MIT, echoed that sentiment.
“If you go into careers like investment banking, accounting is
something you will see on a day-to-day basis,” Noe said. “It is good to
have some training in it.”
Mannapperuma said that the opportunity to cross-register at MIT was a good change of pace from Harvard’s liberal arts offerings.
“The way classes are taught at MIT is very different,” she
said. “You can engage with the professor in a conversation and debate.
At Harvard, economics lectures are PowerPoint, and that’s about it.”
According to Noe, the introductory course at MIT—which is
taught through the Sloan School of Management—deals with the basics of
financial statements, financial accounting, and basic financial
statement analysis. None of those topics are covered in the two
finance-related courses offered through Harvard’s economics department,
“Capital Markets” and “Corporate Finance.”
Harvard’s Professor Emeritus of Business Administration
William J. Bruns Jr. said that the lack of an accounting course at the
College raises the question of whether the College does a “disservice
to undergraduate students” by not offering the course.
“To not have a course in financial accounting and financial
analysis is very seriously wrong for the department of economics
because so much of economic data comes through the accounting system,”
Friedman, the director of undergraduate studies for Harvard’s
economics department, said that undergraduates could get their
accounting fix at the University’s graduate schools.
“The business school offers a perfectly good accounting
course, and the people who teach that could potentially teach it for
undergraduates as well,” he says. “Or, there could be a group of people
offering accounting in a similar way as expository writing.”
Expository writing is currently a requirement for freshmen at the College.
But Williston Professor of Business Administration Paul M.
Healy, who teaches accounting at the Business School, said that
undergraduates would not fit easily into his class.
“The course here is designed for grad students with
experience,” Healy said. “The whole setup here in terms of sections
would make it very difficult to fit undergrads into the program.”
ON THE MARKET
Most students say they need accounting skills to compete for
jobs with graduates from other schools. But Director of Harvard’s
Office of Career Services Bill Wright-Swadel said that the lack of an
accounting course at the undergraduate level does not put Harvard
students at a disadvantage once they get on the job market.
“I don’t discourage an accounting course, but it needs to fit
in with a broader range of academic courses,” he said. “It can be a
great credential, but most employers are looking for skills in
quantitative analysis and problem-solving. Accounting doesn’t
demonstrate that any more effectively than becoming involved as a
treasurer of a student organization or a volunteer for a non-profit.”
Andrew B. Paik ’07, an economics concentrator who is enrolled
in MIT’s accounting class, said that he doesn’t think that Harvard
should offer its own version of the course.
“Harvard has always been about liberal arts and teaching
students how to think, and I think it does a good job doing that,” said
Paik. “If you offer an accounting class, people are going to want a
marketing class. It would be a push toward a business education at
Harvard, and I don’t see that happening.”
—Staff writer Kathleen Pond can be reached at email@example.com.