Cultivate students’ interest in the accounting profession

Simple steps can help your department attract accounting majors.
By Yolanda Banks Deaver, CPA

It was over 35 years ago, while sitting in a law office waiting on my mother, that I perused a magazine that contained an article about the accounting profession. The article made some generic comments about the profession, but the one statement that piqued my interest was that CPAs made annual salaries of $25,000. I was ecstatic because I was taking an accounting course in high school, which I absolutely loved, and this was the perfect equation. Passion plus Compensation equaled Accounting: my future, my career.

Do incoming generations share the same passion? The AICPA 2017 Trends report indicates that 2015-16 undergraduate accounting enrollment was 216,482, an increase of 5% from the prior year. Enrollment in bachelor’s programs in accounting has increased every year since 2002-03.

However, not all universities have seen such growth in the number of accounting majors. My university, small in size (8,096 students), experienced a 15% decline in enrollment of accounting majors from 2011 to 2015. In response, our business school implemented strategies (some creative and some traditional) to enhance enrollment and retention. In the past two years accounting enrollments have increased by 2.3%. I have also taken some steps in my own introductory classes to help foster enrollment.

Below are a few of the strategies we have used. If your department is struggling with enrollment or retention, you may want to consider something similar:

Increase the visibility of the accounting program. At our school, we found that accounting appeared to be losing popularity compared with other business disciplines. In an effort to stand out, we use new and old strategies. The chair of the department posted a message on the business school’s website discussing and promoting accounting. We utilize a digital display board to advertise the accounting club and the myriad events it hosts. Many of these events are open to all students, not just accounting majors. For instance, the accounting club hosts speakers from the local professional association and gives students opportunities to travel to national conferences.

Recently, I have written blog posts on our intranet to interest current accounting students and attract other students. In these posts, I offer short informational tips about the benefits of accounting. My goal is to help students understand that accounting is the “one degree with 360 degrees of possibilities.” It is important to convey to students that accounting is widely applicable and is exciting!

This year, the business school helped spark interest in accounting by presenting the documentary All the Queen’s Horses, a true story of a fraud case that rousingly highlighted the importance of internal controls, forensic accounting, and auditing.

Reach out to high school students. Connecting with high school students provides an opportunity to highlight the profession to inquiring minds. As other organizations do, we host a summer program for pre-college students. The Summer Youth Business and Entrepreneurship Academy (SYBEA) is a residential learning experience for 40 high school students from the surrounding area. This program exposes students to business training, including financial literacy and accounting concepts. The program is extremely beneficial to the students, and at the same time yields additional enrollees for the university.

Provide on-campus experiential learning. One problem our department faced was a lack of external internships. Deborah Brame, director of professional development, reached out across  campus and arranged to have accounting students placed in departments such as Internal Auditing and Budgets/Financial Planning for a semester. This enabled students to gain hands-on experience with audit programs, sampling, budgeting, pivot tables, and other accounting concepts and tools. Now, students are constantly seeking out those campus learning experiences.

This type of opportunity benefits students in other ways as well. It motivates them to work harder to be eligible for placement. Moreover, it helps them develop confidence and pride, encouraging them to stay in school until graduation.

Help students have a positive experience in introductory accounting courses. Most business students are required to take an entry-level course on the principles of accounting. If their introduction to accounting is a pleasant one, they will be more likely to consider accounting as a profession. I try to make my classes welcoming. Some tools I deploy include music, food, and student ambassadors. A few minutes before the start of class, I play music to set an upbeat but calming mood, which strengthens the connection between me and my students. During many class periods, I reward extra effort with snacks. Fruit gummies are a student favorite.

I also invite students who are doing well to be ambassadors and assist others with in-class assignments or to demonstrate how an accounting problem is solved. This technique really changes the dynamics of the class and encourages preparedness.

Show students how accounting benefits them. I ask each student to complete a “Student Introduction” sheet, which gives me a sense of their career goals and other interests. I use this data to personalize the class and show how accounting relates to their goals, such as owning a real estate agency or a clothing store. I can’t tell you how many light bulbs have been illuminated with this strategy.

Some students are not sure what career path is best. I take the opportunity to steer those talented minds toward a satisfying, diverse, and lucrative profession — accounting. I bring my passion for and various experiences in accounting to each student interaction. My desire is to affirm the choice of accounting for those who have selected it and to open the door for those who are willing to give consideration to the endless possibilities.

And that is the formula where “x” equals Accounting.

Yolanda Banks Deaver, CPA, is an assistant professor of accounting at North Carolina Central University in Durham, N.C. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact senior editor Courtney Vien at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.

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