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Beta Alpha Psi: An Important Addition To Your Accounting Vocabulary

by Crystal Andersen; Elizabeth Forsythe; Angela Knudson; and Scott A. Yetmar, PhD, CPA, CMA, FLMI

Introduction

You may spend valuable time reading this article, completing accounting homework, or watching the latest episode of ER. It is also what many of you spend in meaningful activities outside of the classroom (e.g. community service, student government, or various student organizations). Since the probability that you are an accounting student is fairly high, we pose the following question: Are you involved in a professional organization?

Professional organizations can be clubs or fraternities that give students opportunities to improve leadership and communication skills. More importantly, they have the purpose of helping students learn about future careers, make contacts in the business world, and prepare for the transition from student to business professional.

Accounting students, as well as finance and information systems students (as of August, 1999), are fortunate to have a professional organization, Beta Alpha Psi (BAP), that provides these and many more opportunities for growth and development during college as an active member and, after graduation, an alumni member. As stated by its purpose, Beta Alpha Psi is a "national scholastic and professional business financial information fraternity...[that strives to] encourage and recognize scholastic and professional excellence in the fields of accounting, finance, and information systems; promote the study and practice of accounting, finance, and information systems; provide opportunities for self-development and association among members and professionals; and foster lifelong growth, service, and ethical conduct."

In all honesty, at first glance that purpose can seem to be rather dry and vague. This article will paint a better picture of Beta Alpha Psi's purpose and what the organization has to offer.

History

Beta Alpha Psi was formed at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on February 12, 1919. To put this date into context, it is important to understand that, before 1896, the CPA credential did not even exist. On April 17, 1896, the New York legislature established the Certified Public Accountant designation. By 1921, just after the formation of Beta Alpha Psi, all the existing states had adopted CPA regulations.

Three events led to the formation of Beta Alpha Psi at the University of Illinois. In 1913, the formation of Beta Gamma Sigma, a general honor society in business, may have stimulated people's interests in professional organizations. Next, the formation of a chapter of Alpha Kappa Psi, a professional business fraternity, introduced students to the benefits of professional fraternities. Finally, the return to campus of Hiram Scovill, class of 1908, as an accounting professor would prove to be an important key. He would later play an instrumental role as one of the founders of Beta Alpha Psi.

The first step to creating the fraternity was to form an accounting club, which was accomplished in 1917. Scovill and his junior colleague, A.C. Littleton, were key players in this effort. Beta Alpha Psi emerged two years later, comprised of six students from Professor Scovill's CPA Problems course. At the time, medical and legal fraternities were already common. Such bodies were thought of as symbols of professionalism for which accounting strove.

Beta Alpha Psi was founded on the three basic principles of scholarship, practicability, and sociability. The primary objective was simply to stimulate cooperation and interest in accounting. One of its main purposes was, and still is, to encourage and foster service as the basis of the accounting profession and to secure the highest ethical ideals in the practice of accountancy. No specific grade requirements were included in the constitution due to low accounting enrollments, which made the scholarship exclusion unrealistic.

In the original constitution for the University of Illinois chapter, the initiation fee was $10 and dues were $2 per semester. A fine of 25 cents was charged to any member that was absent at a function without being first excused. Membership requirements, as stated in Section One, Article IV of the constitution, were: Any male person, duly registered in third year accounting and contemplating a continuance in accounting work, and who has become a Junior as shown by the college records, shall be eligible to membership in this fraternity.

On February 12, 1919 eleven students were initiated as active members and Professor Scovill as an honorary member. Nine of the original members became CPAs. By 1939, only one of the original eleven, the first president Russell Morrision, was a practicing CPA. Morrision was actively involved in the American Accounting Association. In 1964, he was selected to serve with 8 leading accounting professors on the "Committee to Prepare a Statement of Basic Accounting Theory." This work quickly became recognized as a major contribution to American accounting thought.

During February 1921, Beta Alpha Psi officially became a national organization with the adoption of a national constitution. Four weeks after the founding date, Scovill wrote accounting professors at ten leading universities concerning the new fraternity. In the letter, he urged them not to form comparable organizations at their respective schools, as it would only force unnecessary competition between the fraternities. In less than nine years, Beta Alpha Psi grew from 11 members to more than 900. On November 8, 1950, at the University of Miami of Ohio, the first female member of Beta Alpha Psi, Jeannie Skelton, was inducted. Currently, there are more than 220 chapters with over 200,000 current and alumni members.

The colors of Beta Alpha Psi are black and crimson. A rising sun signifies the profession as one rising ever higher among economic activities. Crossed keys symbolize knowledge of accounting as a means of opening doors in the financial world. The letters Beta, Alpha, and Psi denote Scholarship, Social Responsibility, and Practicality, respectively.

Local Chapter

Starting A Chapter.

In order to establish a chapter of Beta Alpha Psi at your college or university, certain requirements must be met. First, your institution must be at least in the third year of the accreditation process, if not already accredited, by the AACSB-The International Association for Management Education. Second, there must have been an active professional student organization formulated for at least two years prior to petitioning for a chapter of Beta Alpha Psi. Third, the Board of Directors of Beta Alpha Psi must receive a completed petition and a $2,000 petition fee by May 1st or December 1st. The petition includes a detailed description of the current professional student organization's (accounting, finance, and/or accounting club) activities and a plan for the next year's activities. Names of students (at least twenty interested and eligible) and at least one full-time faculty member, who is already a member or is applying for faculty membership in Beta Alpha Psi, must be submitted as well. Lastly, letters from the dean of the school and the head of the accounting department are required, indicating support of the department for a Beta Alpha Psi chapter. In addition, when a new chapter is installed, an installation fee of $2,000 is required. Official chapters in good standing require an annual charter maintenance fee of $200.

The Board looks for enthusiasm from the future members and a willingness to continue involvement in the chapter when reviewing petitions. Thus, the petitioning society is expected to take part in both regional and national activities, as well as the planned chapter activities for the year submitted in the petition, and report on them to the National Office. This period of petitioning and evaluation takes at least two and one-half years before a charter for a chapter of Beta Alpha Psi is extended. Universities that begin the process of becoming a BAP chapter will be paired with an established chapter nearby to facilitate a mentoring relationship for the students and faculty advisor.

Becoming A Pledge.

To be eligible for election to National Pledge status, a student must have declared a concentration in accounting, finance, or information systems (or have stated an intention to declare); have completed at least one year of collegiate courses; and have attained a cumulative grade point average of at least 3.0 (where A is equal to 4.0) or the equivalent. Individuals may continue as National Pledges so long as they remain active in their chapter and maintain a declared area of concentration in accounting, finance, or information systems.

Becoming A Member.

In order to qualify for membership in Beta Alpha Psi, a student must be pursuing an undergraduate degree with a concentration in accounting, finance, or information systems. Degree-seeking graduate students shall be eligible for membership when they have been accepted and enrolled into a masters degree level program in accounting, finance, or information systems. Undergraduates must also have completed at least one upper level course beyond the business core and two years of collegiate courses. There is a grade requirement of 3.0 average (where A is equal to 4.0) in upper level courses in their declared area of concentration beyond the business core. In addition, one of the following must be met for consideration for membership: at least a 3.0 cumulative grade average, rank within the top 35% of their university class, or at least a 3.25 cumulative grade average in the last 30 hours of coursework. A two-thirds affirmative vote of the members present is required for election to membership. A one-time national initiation fee of $45 is required by each initiate. Full-time members of the accounting, finance, and information systems faculty at institutions in which a chapter is located are eligible for membership. In addition, honorary members may be initiated. A two-thirds affirmative vote of the members present is required for election as a member.

Activities.

A chapter of Beta Alpha Psi functions like many other student organizations. Members have the opportunity to gain leadership experience as an officer, each of which has specific duties and responsibilities. Generally, there are meetings, but the frequency may differ from chapter to chapter as will the number of officers (each chapter must have at least a president, vice-president, secretary, and treasurer). Each chapter must have at least one faculty advisor that supervises the chapter's activities. Only student and faculty members of local chapters are entitled to vote at chapter meetings. Each chapter enacts a unique constitution for its own government, provided it does not violate or contradict the National Constitution and Bylaws (e.g. each chapter may set its own grade point requirement, which cannot be less than 3.0 on a 4.0 scale).

The student officers of each chapter guide the chapter's operations and activities. Specific activities of the chapters will vary, but the purposes behind them will tend to foster common goals. The National Council has established an incentive program for chapters to compete for recognition as a superior chapter through planning, organization, and member involvement in chapter activities. The fiscal reporting year is May 1 to April 30.

Creating opportunities for Beta Alpha Psi members to network with and learn from business professionals consumes a large portion of the chapter activities. Social activities may also be organized for the members to network within the chapter and gain from diverse experiences such as interviewing, creating resumes, learning proper business etiquette, and field trips. Another important part of involvement in the chapter is community service, which the National Council feels is very important to stress to future professionals.

Changes

Dr. T. Sterling Wetzel has seen a lot of changes in Beta Alpha Psi over the last twenty-five years. A graduate school initiate in 1975 at Northern Illinois University, Dr. Wetzel does not remember a very active chapter. Since that time, he has played an active role in Beta Alpha Psi. After Northern Illinois, Wetzel eventually moved on to become an accounting professor at Oklahoma State University. From 1988-92, he served as Oklahoma State University's Beta Alpha Psi chapter advisor. Currently, Dr. Wetzel is in his final year of a three-year term as Beta Alpha Psi's Director for National and International Programs.

In his current position, which places him on the BAP National Council, Dr. Wetzel has an endless list of duties and responsibilities. He is one of the main organizers for the Manuscript Contest. He makes the final selection of the topics for the undergraduate and graduate contests, and judges the graduate entries with two other national directors. Dr. Wetzel oversees the National Student Seminars where students debate accounting-related cases, attends installations of new chapters, and has a role in national meetings. One of his most interesting duties is dealing with the Summer Abroad In London (SAIL) program. This program sends roughly fifty American students to London for the month of June. Students take business classes from Oklahoma State University faculty in the mornings and then have the afternoons and weekend free to see as much of London, the UK, and Europe as possible. Dr. Wetzel coordinates many of the functions for this program.

Over the course of his BAP involvement, Dr. Wetzel has seen the organization go through many changes. The increase in chapter, community, and business activities has strengthened Beta Alpha Psi. Perhaps the most drastic change that Wetzel has seen in Beta Alpha Psi is the transformation of social activities. According to him, until the late 1980s, many chapters' social functions and recruiting events revolved around drinking alcohol. Over the last ten years, alcohol has slowly been removed from functions, which Wetzel thinks has made the organization more respected. At the same time, Wetzel sees another side to it: "I would say that it has reduced our members on the whole. In each individual chapter, I believe that faculty and member participation has decreased; however, the QUALITY of events and participation seems higher." He does not see much competition for Beta Alpha Psi other than the tax accounting fraternity, Tau Alpha Xi (TAX).

Wetzel has seen the benefits of the Beta Alpha Psi experience first-hand. As a National Director, he has the chance to meet people outside of his profession, travel, and work with students across the country. From the students' perspective, Dr. Wetzel believes that they get much more out of the experience than they realize. "I think many students use it as a resume builder or try to get the 7,500 points [for Superior Chapter and scholarship money]. That is great because it pushes involvement, but there is much more to it. Beta Alpha Psi members learn about networking, which may help them get jobs. In addition, I think they learn the importance of getting involved in activities outside of their work and are likely to get involved in civic organizations like Kiwanis and Lions Club."

A major change took place during the annual national conference in August 1999. To align the organization with emerging trends in business education and corporate hiring strategies, chapters are now authorized to initiate students who concentrate in finance or information systems. There are two main reasons this change occurred. First, cross discipline study and a merging of information systems and accounting are accelerating: finance majors are now commonly required to take advanced accounting courses, and information systems studies are increasingly merging into one department of accounting and information systems. Second, Beta Alpha Psi president, Bernard J. Milano noted, "Professional service firms have expanded their degree criteria to include finance and information systems majors for the many new assurance services they now offer, as well as their consulting practices. Corporations, increasingly interested in breadth, are also hiring from other disciplines while encouraging more cross-discipline within a major."

Another new feature is the creation of a national student resume database that can be accessed by corporate supporters directly on their desktops.

Scholarships

Besides the networking and civic involvement opportunities that come along with Beta Alpha Psi membership, it can also mean money for you! The following are scholarships available only to Beta Alpha Psi members.

Manuscript Awards.

All undergraduate and graduate Beta Alpha Psi members are eligible to submit manuscripts on designated business topics. Co-authored manuscripts are not eligible. Entries must be postmarked on or before February 1. The undergraduate entries are judged by the six regional directors and the graduate manuscripts by three other national directors. In 1998, there were nearly 140 entries. Last year's undergraduate topic was "The Impact Technology is Having on the Accounting Profession" and the graduate topic was "An Analysis of the Value of Reporting Comprehensive Income." This year's undergraduate topic is "The Use of Financial and Nonfinancial Data in Performance Measurement" and the graduate topic is "How Should Changes in Fair Value be Reported in the Financial Statements." If you can write one of the best three manuscripts in your category, scholarship money awaits you. In addition, each author of a first place manuscript will receive a plaque, an expense-paid trip to the annual meeting in August, and the manuscript will be published in The Journal of Accounting Education.

Superior Chapter Awards.

In 1979, BAP chapters across the country were having difficulty motivating members to become involved in chapter activities. As a solution, the National Council, working with KPMG, developed the Superior Chapter Program. Beta Alpha Psi chapters earning 7,500 points are considered superior. Points are awarded based on a number of chapter activities held, percentage of members involved in activities, and several other factors. All chapters submit their points electronically through Beta Alpha Psi's website. The Director for Chapter Activities then reviews whether the chapters are superior. All superior chapters receive two $500 scholarships from KPMG to give to two of their members the following year. Dr. Wetzel was a graduate school initiate in 1975: "We had one chapter activity that I can remember...I think that having the chapters compete for superior status and the scholarship money has really driven activity levels upwards." The number of superior chapters increased from 26 in 1979 to 92 in 1998 (out of 217 eligible chapters). Since the program's inception, KPMG has contributed over $1.2 million in scholarship money.

Association Of Chartered Accountants In The United States Manuscript Award.

The purpose of this competition is for members to become more familiar with current international accounting and business issues. The manuscript's author chooses the specific topic. Entries must be postmarked on or before April 1.

Correspondence

For further information on Beta Alpha Psi, you can contact your local chapter or the National Office of Beta Alpha Psi:

Beta Alpha Psi

The Nancy Harke National Office (212) 596-6090 (phone)

1211 Avenue of the Americas (212) 596-6288 (fax)

Sixth Floor bap@bap.org (e-mail)

New York, NY 10036-8755 www.bap.org (website)

Elizabeth Walsh Executive Director

Jodi Mutnansky National Coordinator

Zoe Cheung Reporting Coordinator

Conclusion

Beta Alpha Psi can be very rewarding if you choose to participate. Self-development and increasing one's sense of ethical and social responsibility are part of Beta Alpha Psi's primary objective. You will make invaluable contacts within your future profession and learn important information about the many facets of your profession. Lastly, being a part of an organization with high standards brings everyone together, striving for the same things. Your fellow Beta Alpha Psi members may become life-long friends. Remember, you get out of it what you put into it...enjoy yourself!

(1) Sheldahl, Terry K. Beta Alpha Psi, from Omega to Zeta Omega, 1986.

Crystal Andersen, Elizabeth Forsythe, and Angela Knudson are all senior accounting majors at Drake University, Gamma Mu Chapter. Scott A. Yetmar is an assistant professor of accounting at Drake University.

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