Over the last few years, there has been a validated discrepancy between the number of students majoring in accounting compared to the number of candidates sitting for the CPA Exam. There are many theories as to why this might be happening, but clearly, there is great opportunity for industry leaders, academics, and influencers to find ways to encourage accounting students to become the next leaders in the accounting profession.
The question then becomes, how can the accounting profession, specifically colleges and universities, encourage and foster opportunities for accounting students to easily transition to become Certified Public Accountants?
In 2015, at the invitation of the AICPA, Dr. Greg Gaynor, CPA, from the University of Baltimore, and Sidney Askew, MBA, CPA, from the Borough of Manhattan Community College, piloted the CPA Candidate Success Research Project “…with the ultimate goal of identifying the ways academic institutions have successfully encouraged or influenced students to sit for and successfully pass the CPA Exam” and to address the declining CPA Pipeline issue. Gaynor and Askew focused their research on accounting programs that had proportionately large numbers of students sitting for and passing the CPA Exam. Their goals were to provide information that could be, “…shared with, and/or leveraged by, other accounting programs to ultimately increase the overall number of accounting students sitting for, and passing, the CPA Exam.”
Roger CPA Review wanted to dig a little deeper into the CPA Candidate Success Research Project, so we interviewed both Steve Matzke, Director of Faculty & University Initiatives at the AICPA and Joann David, Senior Manager of Academic Initiatives — Public Accounting at the AICPA to get their thoughts on the CPA Candidate Success Research Project findings.
Was there anything that stood out about the accounting programs researched that facilitated the larger number of students sitting for and passing the CPA Exam? Were these top-tier colleges? Did they have any sort of advantage over other accounting programs that didn’t have the same sit and pass rates?
Joann David - Our research confirmed some of the findings that were drawn out in other research projects we’ve launched which looked at major influencers encouraging students to sit for the CPA Exam and to pursue CPA as a career.
Some of the influences we noted were having a family or friend who was a CPA, CPA culture on campus, involvement in student accounting clubs and organizations, on-campus firm and business and industry recruitment, and easy access to CPA Exam prep materials, which includes CPA Prep provider content interwoven into the accounting curriculum. Some state Boards of Accountancy even accept as part of the CPA licensure education requirements credits offered on campus for CPA Exam Prep course work. We found that when a student has access to and is able to prep for the CPA Exam during their academic career, they feel more primed to sit for the CPA Exam.
"We found that when a student has access to and is able to prep for the CPA Exam during their academic career, they feel more primed to sit for the CPA Exam." - Joann David (Tweet This!)
In the Discussion of Key Themes section of the CPA Candidate Success Research Project Executive Report, the accounting programs, or schools with higher numbers of students sitting for the CPA Exam, cite that a key to success is the ability to recruit and retain great students. What about regional schools or schools that aren't being recruited by the top firms? Are they at a disadvantage? Is there something that those schools can do to encourage CPA Pipeline growth?
Steve Matzke: Greg Gaynor addressed this in the research by saying that the reality is there are things outside of the scope of research that are affecting the CPA Pipeline issue overall. Issues like the prestige of the school, budget allocations, and the ability to attract recruiters to campuses all go beyond the scope of this research project.
JD: The researchers also candidly stated that the schools that have higher engagement and performance numbers on the CPA Exam are typically already attracting overly ambitious students and are also taking a more holistic approach to the CPA license. They are noticing that their students tend to excel in academics, so sometimes it comes down to what type of student is joining the program, which sometimes leads to improved academic performance. Other schools might not be providing the same holistic approach on campus or providing resources and guidance to actively encourage students to pursue the CPA license. The research also found that other ways to encourage students to major in accounting and to continue down the CPA path is through accounting clubs, job shadowing, accounting internships, and innovative teaching curriculum, and a wide variety of other factors.
Why is it important for accounting departments to employ faculty who are CPAs, CPA advocates, or CPA liaisons?
SM: - Research shows that accounting students will seek out academics who are key influencers and have practical accounting experience and/or the CPA license. These individuals can provide practical guidance to the CPA path. In the absence of these types of individuals, a key figure who is a champion for CPA culture on campus is equally effective in encouraging students to stick with accounting and obtain their CPA license.
"Research shows that accounting students will seek out academics who are key influencers and have practical accounting experience and/or the CPA license." - Steve Matzke (Tweet This!)
JD: A CPA or CPA advocate is effective when they understand the financial landscape and can articulate practical experience; it is a big win for any accounting program. When students in a classroom setting can visualize how a job is conducted and how to challenge and find resolutions in the business world, it makes the field more relevant and relatable, and therefore more appealing.
In your opinion, outside the scope of this research, what other factors are affecting the CPA profession’s ability to attract and retain talent?
SM: One of the things we’re realizing about Gen Z is their strong entrepreneurial mindset. We believe today’s CPA has to plug into this type of mindset, so we’re looking at new ways to message this generation. We’re always looking at what’s going on in the marketplace in terms of the human capital pipeline and how this relates to what’s going to help drive success to the CPA pipeline.
How is the Academic Champion Program that launched last year performing? Do you have any initial numbers of its success?
SM: It’s currently running as a pilot program. This initiative goes back to supporting CPA culture on campus and providing resources we can give to accounting faculty to grow and strengthen the CPA Pipeline. Based on meeting objectives and obtaining favorable measures of success, the program will be expanded.
Can you tell me a little more about the AICPA’s National Commission on Diversity and Inclusion and the diversity pipeline initiative to increase representation of underrepresented minorities in the accounting profession? What are some examples of things they're doing?
JD: The AICPA’s National Commission on Diversity and Inclusion, led by Director Kim Drumgo, launched over four years ago and the aim was two-fold: 1). Look at retention of underrepresented populations within the profession and 2). Strengthen the pipeline of underrepresented students into the CPA profession. To serve the student population, the AICPA continues to provide scholarships for students pursuing degrees in accounting at the undergraduate, graduate and doctoral levels.
One of the student pipeline initiatives is our Accounting Scholars Leadership Workshop that have been conducted annually for over a decade. The workshop brings together underrepresented students to learn about accounting as a potential career. It’s a three-day program infused with panel discussions, interactive programs and professional skill lessons, such as confidence building, development of leadership skills, identification of personal strengths, and examining the variety of academic and career trajectories a student can take. During the workshops, we also bring in professionals from all walks of life to present to students and speak about their experiences as CPAs. We encourage your readers to visit the Diversity and Inclusion’s Team collaboration with Junior Achievements’ My Way career site. (Link to their portal is: https://www.jamyway.org/accounting/).
Thank you to both Steve and Joann for this insightful interview.
For more information about how the AICPA is addressing accounting education and emerging issues in the profession, please follow the video link below: