Editor's note: Following NASBA's reaffirmation of its support for the 150-hour education requirement for CPA licensure, the JofA interviewed NASBA President and CEO Ken Bishop for NASBA's view of the issue.
Across the board, stakeholders charged with promoting and protecting the accounting profession are searching for solutions to a talent acquisition issue that isn't unique to the profession.
What is unique to the profession, however, is a licensing model that empowers CPAs to work in nearly every state — in person or virtually — without having to obtain additional credentials in other states.
The requirement for 150 credit hours for CPA licensure prescribed by the Uniform Accountancy Act (UAA) forms the foundation of the licensing model. The Board of Directors of the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA), the national body for state boards of accountancy, recently reaffirmed its support of the standard by a unanimous vote.
"Should any state or jurisdiction lower the licensure requirement to 120 hours, their CPAs would no longer be automatically substantially equivalent and would no longer enjoy the mobility and reciprocal practice privileges they currently are afforded," NASBA President and CEO Ken Bishop said in an interview with the JofA. "Lowering the bar to 120 hours is only one of the alternatives we have heard that has been discussed and considered. Others, including lowering the cut score for passing the CPA Exam, have the potential and risk of creating the perception of dumbing down the profession. No one is talking about, for example, lowering the bar to become an attorney, and they're also suffering from lack of entry."
Bishop said the NASBA board vote was prompted by "a few state society staff members but not the profession in general" considering action that would create different pathways to CPA licensure. Bishop understands the sentiment behind the consideration but stressed that any changes on the state level that don't align with the UAA would be counterproductive for the profession.
"If I was a society CEO and I had some members who were having trouble hiring CPAs knocking on my door, I would be trying to react. We're not saying don't react; we're saying let's do it in a uniform way," Bishop said. "What really gets our attention is something that has an opportunity to disturb or completely adulterate the substantial equivalency, mobility, reciprocal licensure — things that we're working to protect and maintain.
"That doesn't mean that things won't change in the future. We're open to change, but it can't be state-specific or state-unilateral change, or we're in real trouble. We are reaching out to persuade states to not take any unilateral action that could damage both the public and the profession."
The NASBA legal team recently sent a letter to the AICPA in response to an AICPA inquiry regarding a recent action taken by the Minnesota Society of CPAs. The Minnesota Society's board of directors approved the drafting and introduction of legislation to create an additional education and experience pathway to CPA licensure.
"If a new CPA candidate obtains their initial licensure in any state that has requirements that are less than the UAA, they're landlocked in that state," Bishop said. "It would be similar to Minnesota passing a law and their driver's license would only be good in the state of Minnesota. It would mean that people could not cross the state line into another state and have the same level of privilege that they have in Minnesota."
NASBA itself qualifies as a stakeholder struggling in the midst of what Bishop called the greatest pipeline disruption of his lifetime. The 16-year NASBA veteran and his staff are working tirelessly to come up with solutions that work for everyone in the profession.
"All professions are experiencing the same struggles," Bishop said. "Organizations such as state CPA societies are under tremendous pressure from firms to address this issue, and it has created some panic and a rush to find solutions. But we don't want to make shoot-from-the-hip decisions.
"NASBA and the AICPA are aggressively looking at options and alternatives that have the potential to increase the number of CPA candidates applying for licensure without disrupting substantial equivalency and practice privilege mobility."
— To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Bryan Strickland at Bryan.Strickland@aicpa-cima.com.