"Our mission is to provide education not only to Hawaii but also to Asia Pacific, so we are following our mission."

Hamid Pourjalali
Director of the School of Accountancy at the University of Hawaii-Manoa

Mastering accounting

Hard-to-get visas and increased
corporate scrutiny have UH
gearing up to offer the state's only
online graduate degree of its kind

Things were a lot different when Iranian-born Hamid Pourjalali received a student visa to go to school in the United States 18 years ago. Enron Corp. was beginning to build itself into the world's largest energy trader. Arthur Andersen was one of the Big Five accounting firms. And 9/11 was just like any other day of the year. Fraud, malpractice and terrorists attacks have a way, though, of upsetting the United States' equilibrium.

More information

»  Internet: www.hawaii.edu/soa
» E-mail: hamid@hawaii.edu
» Telephone: 1-808-956-5578

Now, foreign students are finding it more difficult to enter the country while the recently enacted Sarbanes-Oxley Act has changed the face of accounting.

Enter Pourjalali, director of the School of Accountancy at the University of Hawaii-Manoa.

Now a U.S. citizen, the 45-year-old Pourjalali has been with the UH School of Accountancy for 8 1/2 years, including the last 3 1/2 as director. He has developed an Internet-based master's of accounting program to enable foreigners -- as well as mainlanders and neighbor island students -- to receive a master's of accounting degree without ever setting foot on the islands. The Internet program has been tested over the last year and is scheduled to kick off in the fall of 2005.

The program provides all the necessary classes to obtain a master's in accounting. And, if a student lacks undergraduate courses, the program offers the necessary prerequisites for the degree. Students are able to take their certified public accountant exam during and after the program. The School of Accountancy is the only school in the state to offer a master's degree in accounting accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.

"Our mission is to provide education not only to Hawaii but also to Asia Pacific, so we are following our mission," Pourjalali said. "We also know that the need for accounting education is very high in developing countries. And the final reason for doing this is to raise funds for the School of Accountancy and the College of Business."

Initially, Pourjalali was going to make it mandatory that foreign students come to the islands for a short period of time to meet their colleagues and faculty. But now he's thinking about removing that requirement.

The way the program works is that the UH School of Accountancy has developed 48 credited hours for Internet delivery. Although only 30 credit hours are needed to earn a master's of accounting, many students don't have the needed accounting graduate background and have to take 18 credit hours of prerequisites.

Pourjalali said the School of Accountancy has tested the program throughout this year with about 60 Oahu-based students taking a variety of courses. The students didn't physically attend class but were required to go to the university to take exams. That same stipulation also will hold true for foreign students who will be required to go to a nearby university to take an exam in person.

"Because of the integrity of the degree, we don't want someone to take someone else's exam," Pourjalali said.

The School of Accountancy also will offer 24 credit hours online for an executive accounting program starting in the spring of 2005. If a student chooses to take only 24 credit hours, the student can receive an executive accounting program certificate and be eligible to sit for the CPA exam.

Pourjalali actually had been hoping to launch the program this fall but didn't receive enough interest. He is hoping to begin the master's of accounting online program with 20 students next year and cap the participation at about 100 a year.

"We're still in the recruiting phase in China and we're just starting in India," said Pourjalali, who last month went to Taiwan for a week to gauge the interest. "We're also thinking about taking it to the mainland U.S."

Hamid Pourjalali, standing, director of the School of Accountancy at the University of Hawaii, looks at the Web site for the master's degree program with students, from left, Henry Ta, Cindy Chen, Kyle Oura and Shelah Aczon. Pourjalali, who is recruiting students now, plans to begin the Internet-based program in the fall of 2005.

Recent UH graduate Mark Tagawa, who took the prototype courses earlier this year, said the program was packaged in an ideal format for working professionals.

"Through the use of technology -- video files, online quizzes, message boards and e-mail communication -- the program allowed students to structure much of their study time to suit their own situations," he said.

But Lucy Chen, a student from Taiwan who welcomed the flexibility of an online program while taking it earlier this year, said the Internet courses did have some constraints.

"For example, I took an online speech class in the summer," she said. "Due to the online format, most assignments were done using electric forms, such as discussion board or e-mail."

UH Professor Amy Ebesu Hubbard, who taught a course for the online program, said some students flourished in the chat-room format while others said they felt frustrated by it and preferred the face-to-face communication.

"In the chat room, people who can read faster and type faster can have more talk time," she said. "In a face-to-face discussion, people who are more extroverted, can speak louder, and know how to gain the conversational floor can have more talk time. So students who had better skills in one of the two areas felt frustrated in one of the class formats. What is important here is that there is no absolute gold standard for learning."

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