Analysis and comparison of the moral development of students required to graduate with an ethics course

Mary Feeney Bonawitz, Florida International University

Abstract

Accounting students become practitioners facing ethical decision-making challenges that can be subject to various interpretations; hence, the profession is concerned with the appropriateness of their decisions. Moral development of these students has implications for a profession under legal challenges, negative publicity, and government scrutiny. Accounting students' moral development has been studied by examining their responses to moral questions in Rest's Defining Issues Test (DIT), their professional attitudes on Hall's Professionalism Scale Dimensions, and their ethical orientation-based professional commitment and ethical sensitivity. This study extended research in accounting ethics and moral development by examining students in a college where an ethics course is a requirement for graduation. ^ Knowledge of differences in the moral development of accounting students may alert practitioners and educators to potential problems resulting from a lack of ethical understanding as measured by moral development levels. If student moral development levels differ by major, and accounting majors have lower levels than other students, the conclusion may be that this difference is a causative factor for the alleged acts of malfeasance in the profession that may result in malpractice suits. ^ The current study compared 205 accounting, business, and nonbusiness students from a private university. In addition to academic major and completion of an ethics course, the other independent variable was academic level. Gender and age were tested as control variables and Rest's DIT score was the dependent variable. The primary analysis was a 2 x 3 x 3 ANOVA with post hoc tests for results with significant p-value of less than 0.05. ^ The results of this study reveal that students who take an ethics course appear to have a higher level of moral development (p = 0.013), as measured by the (DIT), than students at the same academic level who have not taken an ethics course. In addition, a statistically significant difference (p = 0.034) exists between freshmen who took an ethics class and juniors who did not take an ethics class. For every analysis except one, the lower class year with an ethics class had a higher level of moral development than the higher class year without an ethics class. These results appear to show that ethics education in particular has a greater effect on the level of moral development than education in general. Findings based on the gender specific analyses appear to show that males and females respond differently to the effects of taking an ethics class. The male students do not appear to increase their moral development level after taking an ethics course (p = 0.693) but male levels of moral development differ significantly (p = 0.003) by major. Female levels of moral development appear to increase after taking an ethics course (p = 0.002). However, they do not differ according to major (p = 0.097). ^ These findings indicate that accounting students should be required to have a class in ethics as part of their college curriculum. Students with an ethics class have a significantly higher level of moral development. The challenges facing the profession at the current time indicate that public confidence in the reports of client corporations has eroded and one way to restore this confidence could be to require ethics training of future accountants. ^

Subject Area

Business Administration, Accounting

Recommended Citation

Mary Feeney Bonawitz, "Analysis and comparison of the moral development of students required to graduate with an ethics course" (January 1, 2002). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. Paper AAI3049799.
http://digitalcommons.fiu.edu/dissertations/AAI3049799

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