AICPA shares plan to strengthen accounting pipeline
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AICPA shares plan to strengthen accounting pipeline

Feb 27, 2023 · 4 min read

Public and private sectors continue to struggle with attracting and retaining talent—and the accounting profession is not immune.

During the 2019-2020 school year, the number of accounting graduates decreased by 3% for bachelor’s degrees and 8% for master’s degrees, according to the AICPA 2021 Trends report. Meanwhile, 43% of new firm hires have a non-accounting degree, signaling a growing demand for employees with diverse training and skillsets.

External factors contributing to these trends include an overall decline in college enrollment, rising education costs, accelerated retirement among Baby Boomers, and shifting expectations regarding work culture and starting salaries.

Time and time again, the accounting profession has adapted to economic, cultural, and regulatory changes. No single solution will solve the profession’s talent issue. Any actions must maintain the rigor needed to protect the public while providing flexibility for candidates of all backgrounds.

Implementing long-term solutions to attracting and retaining talent will require the entire profession to work together. As firm leaders, community advocates, and mentors, members play a vital role in strengthening the pipeline.

A broad profession-wide, multi-stakeholder effort to address hurdles at every stage—from K-12 to employment—is underway, and the AICPA & CIMA are playing a major role in supporting these initiatives. As a subset of this broader work, the AICPA developed a Pipeline Acceleration Plan to drive additional solutions in 2023.

The AICPA’s plan will evolve as we continue to collect data and engage with stakeholders across the profession, including state CPA societies, firms, academia, and the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA). Together, we can foster a sense of belonging within the profession while meeting the demands of an increasingly complex marketplace.

AICPA’s Pipeline Acceleration Plan

AICPA-NASBA Experience, Learn & Earn Program (ELE)
This new initiative blends work, experience, and online courses to help CPA candidates navigate the final stretch of credit hours. The AICPA and NASBA program will provide students an opportunity to work at a firm and gain a mix of work experience, study time, and affordable college credit hours. Students will be eligible after completing a bachelor’s degree and core accounting courses. The customizable program is not an internship or an apprenticeship. Instead, participants are first-year staff with a reduced workload and time to complete the credit hours they need to reach the 150-hour requirement.

Goals of the program include increasing accessibility to and affordability of entry into the profession for a diverse pool of candidates. The program will benefit both candidates and firms by recruiting more students into the pipeline and helping them reach their CPA licenses. CPA firms of any size and practice type could choose to recruit entry-level hires into the program.

The program will launch as a pilot in fall 2023 with up to 1,000 students and a single university partner to allow for a rapid start and testing. Proposals from universities interested in the next phase will be requested this summer.

Highlighting success stories
An awareness campaign will focus on how the additional 30 credit hours required for licensure can best be used to increase career readiness. Firms of all sizes told the AICPA in a recent survey what the key first-year skills and competencies are. Their responses are helping define the ELE coursework while also informing this awareness campaign. Working within guidelines set out in the Uniform Accountancy Act and with an eye toward the revised CPA Exam in 2024, candidates are developing competencies needed to succeed in an ever more complex business environment. This campaign will spotlight success stories and firm data to help guide students and bust some myths about how students use the 30 credit hours of coursework.

Addressing the 18-month exam window
Qualified candidates may be unable to complete all four parts of the exam within 18 months for numerous reasons. Working with NASBA, the AICPA is exploring what changes are needed to keep students progressing swiftly to licensure while ensuring the window isn't shutting out qualified candidates. NASBA is exposing a proposal that will be a guide for state boards to extend the exam window to 24 months. The proposal also provides greater clarity on a state board’s authority to allow additional time to candidates.

Tackling inconsistencies in state licensure pathways
When inconsistencies in state regulations result in candidate confusion and frustration, we all lose. Minimizing unneeded differences in requirements will smooth out bumps in the journey to licensure. Earlier this year, the AICPA completed a review of each state’s licensing requirements that revealed several differences, such as requiring recommendation letters or experience portfolios. Collaboratively, stakeholders will assess these differences, and jointly develop an action plan for 2024 state legislative sessions (and beyond) to tackle regulatory changes, legal changes, or both.

Revving up high school and college efforts
The AICPA is developing an outreach strategy to raise interest in the accounting profession while streamlining the educational process. This includes developing an awareness campaign that leverages the Center for Audit Quality’s (CAQ) research and Accounting+ program.

These communication efforts will be paired with other activities at the high school and college level, including improving the delivery of introductory accounting courses, providing resources for educators, and focusing on minority serving institutions.

Win STEM recognition for accounting
Interest in professional careers starts with exposure and awareness. The AICPA and state CPA societies are working diligently to win recognition of accounting as a STEM field under the technology banner. Legislation introduced in 2021 that must be reintroduced this year would allow STEM K-12 grant funding to be used for accounting awareness and education, with a focus on increasing access to underrepresented groups.

At the higher education level, we are working with stakeholders to urge colleges and universities to expand their accounting curricula to include additional technology-focused courses to meet the profession’s current and future needs.

Concentration of AICPA Foundation funding
The AICPA Foundation has agreed to shift its focus to students who plan to pursue CPA licensure or those who are currently CPA candidates. The Foundation, which is projected to award more than $2 million in scholarships and grants in 2023, will assist individuals with financial needs through a variety of scholarship programs. An estimated 61% of grants and scholarships are expected to go to diverse populations.

Engage the system of stakeholders in solutions
The CPA pipeline decline is the result of many factors, ranging from lower college enrollment and higher costs to the expense of exam preparation to the disconnect of starting salaries from new market realities. The AICPA is calling on all stakeholders to assess and address the environmental forces deterring individuals from pursuing a CPA career. This includes meetings between AICPA leaders and regulators this spring, and a continued dialog with firms about the need for evolving their business models and heightening their attractiveness to young talent.

Implementing this plan will help address some of the pain points students experience and will give them added flexibility. But it’s not a cure-all. We look forward to continuing our conversations with stakeholders across the profession to ensure the next generation of CPAs is prepared for tomorrow’s challenges.

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