College accounting enrollment continues at historic pace

Record number of bachelor's students offsets drop in master's enrollees; hiring of new grads shrinks.

The number of students enrolled in bachelor's accounting degree programs grew to a record high of 216,482 in 2015—2016, according to statistical projections in a new AICPA report.

At the same time, enrollment in master's degree accounting programs slid. The new Trends report on accounting graduates showed that the number of master's degree enrollees fell 21% from 2014—2015 to 35,620.

Yvonne Hinson, CPA, CGMA, Ph.D., academic in residence and senior director for academic and student engagement for the AICPA, said in an interview that the report demonstrates a continued strong interest in accounting among students.

"Enrollment is still at an all-time high," she said. "And what we've really seen is a change in the mix between bachelor's and master's, but there are environmental factors that go into that."

With the recession increasingly distant, Hinson said the number of career changers may be shrinking. The master's in accounting degree may have been more coveted as a differentiator for job seekers during difficult economic times, Hinson said.

Hiring by public accounting firms in the 2016 calendar year dropped 19%, however, from the previous survey. The decrease in hiring of new graduates may be a return to normal after the historic highs reported in the previous two surveys.

Other highlights from the report include:

  • Ethnic diversity is rising among accounting students. Universities reported increases of 2 to 4 percentage points in bachelor's and master's accounting programs among Asian/Pacific Islander, black/African-American, and Hispanic/Latino enrollees.
  • Auditing, with 45% of new hires, remained the most popular assignment for new hires, followed by tax (36%). 

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