Online CPE—Getting Easier All the Time.

Web-based study finally is living up to its potential.

THE NUMBER OF VENDORS offering online courses to CPAs has grown considerably since 1998 when the JofA first reported on the subject.

THE NUMBER OF ONLINE COURSES reported in a survey of CPE providers grew sixtyfold to more than 3,000.

EMPLOYEES AND CPAs WHO STUDY online spend less time and money on travel.

COMPANIES ARE SPENDING MORE on online learning because of the overall cost savings it makes possible.

ALL VENDORS OFFER FEATURES that make the online CPE experience richer and more rewarding than ever before. They include free previews of courses and now—all online—registration, payment, course materials, testing, grading, record of CPE courses taken and certificates of completion.

CPE PROGRAMS MUST ADHERE to AICPA/NASBA standards governing the quality of professional education.

PRACTITIONERS CONSIDERING TAKING ONLINE CPE should determine first whether their respective state boards have approved the intended provider’s courses.

ROBERT A. SEAY, CPA, DBA, is professor of accounting at Murray State University, Murray, Kentucky. His e-mail address is . HOLLY R. RUDOLPH, CPA, DBA, is associate professor of accounting at Murray State. Her e-mail address is . MARGARET N. BOLDT is assistant professor of accounting at Murray State. Her e-mail address is .

id you have to rush to meet your last CPE reporting deadline? Do you repeatedly face such pressure because traveling to “classroom” sessions and working on paper-based correspondence courses isn’t the best use of your time? Does your firm want to make its training program more flexible cost-effective? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, online CPE may be just what you need.

Many U.S. corporations are enthusiastic about the convenience and economy of online learning and have greatly increased their spending for it. The resulting boost in CPE providers’ revenue, in turn, has enabled them to expand their course offerings and develop enhanced features, such as immediate test results, that make online instruction more attractive to busy practitioners.

This article evaluates the current status of online CPE for CPAs and discusses the changes that have occurred since our 1998 JofA article on the subject (see “ Plug-In to CPE,” Nov.98, page 59 ). In May of this year, as then, we searched the Internet and surveyed the online CPE vendors we found. Our findings and conclusions are based on their responses.

We spoke with 14 vendors now offering online courses to CPAs—double the number we contacted for our 1998 survey. The number of Web-based courses they offer has soared to more than 3,000 from only a few dozen. Much of this growth was in tax-related subjects: These vendors offer 902 online taxation courses vs. the 19 we reported in 1998. See exhibit 1 , which charts significant gains in accounting, auditing, computing and other professional development courses over the five-year period.

Saving Money by Studying Online
By conducting more of its employee education online, Deloitte Consulting cut its travel costs, which were a substantial part of its training budget.
Year Training cost per employee Cost reduction







Source: “Enterprise E-Learning,” Learning Circuits, American Society for Training and Development, , 2003.

Moreover, both enrolling online for courses and getting test results are easier than ever before. All surveyed providers offer these features—a vast improvement over 1998 when 71% offered online registration and payment and only 57% provided immediate online notification of test scores.

And vendors have significantly expanded the array of other services they offer. One provider offers access to all the courses and features of its product via a free trial subscription. All but one offer either complimentary online courses or previews, course materials and certificates of completion. A preview typically explains how to navigate the online course, summarizes the topics it covers, lists the course’s learning objectives, describes the glossary of terms used in the course and explains how to take the course exam after studying the instruction material. Twelve providers also maintain an online record of the courses each individual has completed. Previously, just two vendors offered free online courses, one issued electronic course-completion certificates and one an online record of continuing education.

Efficiency remains one of the major advantages of online CPE: There are no travel costs, and time spent unproductively is minimal. Plus, fees for online courses are significantly lower than those for more traditional forms of in-person and self-study continuing education.

So today, CPAs who choose from the wide variety of online CPE vendors and courses can save time and money without compromising on quality. With a personal computer, a printer and Web access, practitioners anywhere in the world can complete a worthwhile course online 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and immediately receive a certificate of completion.

Find Out How You’re Doing

The AICPA Competency Assessment Tool (CAT) can help CPAs, students and financial professionals get a good sense of how well they’ve mastered the core competencies needed in the marketplace ( ). CAT is easy to use and available to AICPA members at no charge.

CAT contains several competency models, each tailored to assess the professional skills of individuals working in, or curious about, the following areas:

Fraud prevention, detection and investigation.
Business and industry/new finance.
Personal financial planning.
Elder care.

By producing a personalized analysis of an individual’s strengths and weaknesses, CAT confirms his or her strengths, identifies where further development is needed and provides insights for a career change or advancement.

Exhibit 2 gives address and contact information for each vendor, shows cost per CPE hour and briefly explains what features the product or service provides. We do not endorse any specific vendor or course. (The vendors themselves supplied the exhibit’s data, which are subject to change.)

The following capsule summaries of each vendor’s course offerings complement the information in exhibits 1 and 2.

AICPA Online CPE ( ). The AICPA’s online learning tools are available exclusively through the CPA2Biz Web site. AICPA InfoBytes, the site’s flagship product, was launched in 2000 and includes hundreds of courses on a broad range of topics at an average cost as low as 53 cents (21 cents for AICPA members) per credit hour. Selected as one of Accounting Today ’s top 100 products for 2003, AICPA InfoBytes offers a free trial subscription to the entire product. Members pay $149 for a new subscription and $119 for the annual renewal. Also available online are two new CPE subscription programs, AICPA Financial Pro and AICPA Practice Pro, which feature streaming video and easy-to-follow course outlines. Rounding out the AICPA offerings is the Learn2 Library of courses that provides instruction on using Microsoft desktop applications such as Excel and PowerPoint.
Practical Tips for Choosing Online CPE Providers

Practitioners considering satisfying some or all of their professional education requirements online should

Check, before enrolling in a CPE course, with their state board of accountancy to confirm it will grant credit for completing that vendor’s courses.

Get a good sense of whether a vendor’s courses meet their needs, by signing up for the complimentary courses and “previews” most vendors offer.

Carefully compare the various services and products each vendor offers. It’ll increase the odds of finding the provider most capable of meeting their specific needs.

Avoid automatically selecting the least expensive offerings. If courses lack time-saving or efficiency-producing features, the experience could wind up costing CPAs more than it would have if they had purchased a higher-quality product.

ASCE ( ). A relatively new vendor, ASCE offers 95 courses, of which 50 are in taxation. At an average cost of only $3.95 per credit hour, ASCE’s courses are among the least expensive available.

CCH Learning Center ( ). Sixty-five of CCH’s 76 courses cover taxation and are integrated with its Internet-based Tax Research Network, which contains additional information on topics studied. The remaining courses cover financial and estate planning and accounting/ auditing. All courses include practice tools, such as worksheets and sample letters to clients, to help practitioners implement what they’ve learned. Offerings are moderately priced at $15 per credit hour. Individual practitioners also can sign up for a $295 one-year subscription to CCH Learning Center and gain access to all courses, including those released during the subscription period.

CE OneSource ( ). Known in 1998 as CPE Internet, CE OneSource has increased its course offerings to 80 from 17. Of these, 30 are on taxation, computing or accounting/auditing. Although CE OneSource’s average per-hour cost is, at $25, the highest among the surveyed vendors, it offers an unlimited annual CPE package for $195.

CPEasy ( ). One of the vendors mentioned in the 1998 article, CPEasy, increased the number of its courses to 126 from 17 and now issues online certificates of completion. Course topics are evenly distributed among accounting, auditing, tax and computing, enabling CPAs to satisfy all their CPE requirements at one location. Although the cost per credit hour ranges from $8.25 to $15, CPAs can buy a year’s supply at reduced prices in blocks of 20, 40 or 80 hours. Block purchases can be used either by individuals or by a group. CPEasy is affiliated with Bisk Education, a provider of CPA exam preparation courses.

eMIND ( ). Formerly known as Yipinet, eMind is the largest vendor represented here with 955 available online courses—800 on computing, 110 on taxation and 45 on accounting/auditing. On average, eMind’s products and services cost $20 per credit hour.

Exhibit 1: Growth of Online CPE
  1998 2003
Number of vendors 7 14
Total number of courses 54 3,235
Accounting and auditing 18 632
Taxation 19 902
Computing 9 1,036
Other 8 665
Percentage of vendors offering:    
Complimentary course(s) 29% 93%
Online registration 71% 100%
Online payment 71% 100%
Online course materials 86% 93%
Online testing 100% 100%
Online grading 57% 100%
Online record of CPE 14% 86%
Online certificates 14% 93%

Journal CPE Online ( ). Journal CPE Online differs from other CPE vendors in that customers can receive continuing education credits only by completing online quizzes based on quarterly issues of The Governmental Accountant’s Journal . (The vendor provided no cost information in the online survey.)

JN Productions ( ). JN Productions is an attractive option for CPAs who need to satisfy continuing education requirements in computer-related subjects. The company offers a total of 136 courses including 82 on computing and 22 on continuing education topics outside of accounting, auditing and tax. At an average cost of $4.50 per hour, its products are inexpensive.

MicroMash ( ). MicroMash did not appear in the 1998 article. It offers 142 courses at an average cost of $15 per credit hour and recently released an 8-hour course on SAS no. 99, Consideration of Fraud in a Financial Statement Audit.

National Tax Institute ( ). In addition to NTI’s catalog of 90 courses, including accounting and tax, the company offers the ethics course required in 12 states. The cost ranges from $5 to $10 per hour, depending on the number of hours purchased.

PassOnline ( ). PassOnline has 175 courses on a wide variety of topics; 38 of them cover taxes. The company also offers the same state-required ethics course as the National Tax Institute. Its courses are moderately priced at an average of $12.47 per credit hour.

PPC University ( ). PPC University offers 189 courses—on everything except computing—at an average cost of $16.95 per hour. Seven of these courses are on risk-based auditing and can be purchased individually for $118.65. Or, as part of a $109 annual subscription, practitioners can have access to them and all other courses for one year.

SmartPros Ltd. ( ). A CPE provider for 22 years, SmartPros offers CPE for corporate financial managers and public accountants. The 300 courses available through its various products cover a wide variety of topics. These products include FMNOnline, AICPA Practice Pro, AICPA Financial Pro, SmartPros Advantage and CPA Report—Government & Not-for-Profit Online. AICPA members receive a discounted rate of $199 for one year of unlimited CPE through AICPA Practice Pro or AICPA Financial Pro. SmartPros courses range in price from $2 to $10 per hour depending on the product ordered.

WiseGuides ( ). WiseGuides offers 110 courses including 70 on taxation and 20 on accounting/auditing. Prices range between $4.99 and $12.50 per CPE hour, depending on the number purchased. WiseGuides also provides online professional certification review materials.

CPAs from all areas of the profession agree that a commitment to professional growth adds value to the CPA credential (see “ CPA Vision 2011 and Beyond: Focus on the Horizon,” JofA , Dec.98, page 15 ). To this end, the AICPA and all 50 state boards have some form of mandatory CPE requirement. In recent years, online CPE offerings have become a convenient and cost-effective way to meet such requirements and to stay abreast of developments in our rapidly changing profession.

While the number of online CPE providers, the range of course offerings and the level of customer service have increased dramatically over the last five years, providers also have improved the quality of their offerings. Both participants and providers of CPE programs must adhere to the AICPA/NASBA Statement on Standards for Continuing Professional Education Programs ( ), a joint effort by the AICPA and NASBA to ensure high-quality CPE standards for both participants and providers. Practitioners considering taking online CPE should determine first whether their respective state boards have approved the intended provider’s courses.

With growing numbers of practitioners choosing to satisfy their CPE requirements online, it may be time you did the same. There are thousands of courses to choose from, so open your Web browser, look them over and begin earning those credits the modern, convenient way.


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