AICPA taking multipronged approach to lead candidates into the CPA pipeline

By Kim Nilsen

No single statistic can adequately tell the story of the accounting profession’s current health and long-term forecast. But among the many trend lines the AICPA has been monitoring and responding to in recent years is the gap between the number of recent college graduates with accounting degrees and the volume of new candidates sitting for the CPA exam.

Enrollment in accounting programs and hiring by public accounting firms of accounting graduates have reached record highs. But while the number of college graduates with both bachelor’s and master’s degrees is increasing, the number of new exam candidates and examination sections taken annually remains flat. 

“We’ve been looking into this issue in great detail and are considering a number of professionwide initiatives to complement our existing programs and ensure that qualified accounting graduates are earning their CPA license,” AICPA CEO and President Barry Melancon said in August, when the Institute released its 2015 Trends in the Supply of Accounting Graduates and Demand for Public Accounting Recruits report.

On Tuesday, the AICPA’s Joanne Fiore and accounting educator Sharon Lassar, CPA, Ph.D., outlined some of the ongoing work. “Our focus has always been, and continues to be, moving accounting students to the CPA exam and working to close the gap between the two,” Fiore, vice president–Professional Media, Pathways & Inclusion for the AICPA, said during a presentation at the AICPA fall Council meeting.

“The research underlines the need for an holistic approach to the pipeline,” said Lassar, director of the Daniels College of Business School of Accountancy at the University of Denver and a member and incoming chair of the AICPA Pre-certification Education Executive Committee (PcEEC).

Fiore said the Institute’s strategy employs continuous engagement with students, candidates, and CPAs and efforts to build a supportive pro-CPA environment throughout the pipeline. In a separate presentation on Tuesday, Rich Caturano, a past AICPA chairman, addressed the AICPA’s diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Here’s a look at some of the initiatives discussed Tuesday:

- The CPA Exam Candidate Success report, slated for release by the AICPA this fall, identifies and shares best practices that drive more students to licensure. The goal of the study and report is to spotlight best practices that can be used on college campuses. The researchers received input from faculty at more than 50 schools that included ideas for creating more positive “CPA cultures” on campuses. Previous AICPA-commissioned research showed that a pro-CPA culture was one of the top three influences on college students’ likelihood to pursue licensure.

- To put more people on campuses to promote CPA, the AICPA and state CPA societies are working on a pilot program on student recruitment, using co-branded materials and ultimately creating a shared student experience. Students would join the AICPA and their state society at the same time and have the support of both on their journey to licensure. The pilot program is expected to launch early next year in a handful of states.

- In an effort to further develop champions on campus, the AICPA is providing resources to its scholarship recipients to spend eight hours each semester holding events on campus to promote the CPA.

- To address demands for accounting faculty, a second iteration of the Accounting Doctoral Scholars Program is being considered. The program’s first iteration moved 108 CPAs from practice into the classroom.

- Ongoing research by the AICPA that will complement the Trends report is examining the hiring of accounting graduates in industry. This is of special interest because many accounting graduates who go straight into industry do not sit for the CPA exam.

- The PcEEC’s membership has been expanded, and subcommittees have been formed to thoroughly address multiple issues, such as the impact of accreditation, simultaneously. Other initiatives include building an academic champion program working with academics at select universities to help them promote the CPA.

- Scholarships: Last year, because of members’ donations to the AICPA Foundation, the dollar amounts of scholarships awarded increased by 46% to students who plan to become CPAs. “By offering scholarships to accounting students, we are showing our support and encouraging the next generation of CPAs,” Fiore said in an interview. “And we have asked them to give back to the profession by holding on-campus events and advocating for the profession.”

- Three unique tools are available to enhance diversity and inclusion efforts. The Accounting Inclusion Maturity Model gives firm and business leaders an opportunity to perform a comprehensive self-assessment of their progress in fostering diversity and inclusion. The Recruitment and Retention Toolkit highlights best practices for attracting, recruiting, and retaining a diverse workforce. And the monthly newsletter Inclusion Solutions curates top news on diversity and inclusion. The tools are available at

- To strengthen the CPA brand’s online presence at the high school level, the AICPA relaunched with 60 new resources for faculty to provide them tools to help guide students in their career choices. The site also includes a new game for students, Bank On It, with more than 1,500 questions and tournament functionality, so students can test their knowledge. On the site for college students, a new CPA Exam & Licensure Center tool informs students on the process and requirements of becoming a CPA. Because users increasingly visit those sites on mobile devices, both websites are now fully responsive, making them more accessible on smartphones and tablets.

- Recognizing the growing number of future CPAs that start out in community college, the AICPA is beefing up its community college programs by increasing scholarships and developing other resources to help bridge the gap for students transferring from two-year to four-year programs.  

Kim Nilsen ( is publisher of the JofA.

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