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Legislation introduced in Senate to recognize accounting as a STEM field in K-12 education

The legislation could increase funding for accounting awareness and education.
By Diana Deem, CPA, CGMA

Accounting faculty realize that the profession is becoming more technologically savvy with each passing day. The AICPA knows this, too, and is working to gain recognition for accounting as a science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) curriculum under the technology field.

The STEM Education in Accounting Act, S. 3398, would, if passed, contribute one step to this recognition. In December 2021, Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., introduced this bill, a companion bill to one that was introduced in the House in June 2021. The identical House bill, titled the Accounting STEM Pursuit Act of 2021, H.R. 3855,was introduced by Reps. Haley Stevens, D-Mich., and Victoria Spartz, R-Ind.

The legislation would help bolster the argument that accounting is a STEM field by allowing STEM K-12 grant funding to be used for accounting awareness and education. The legislation adds "activities to promote the development, implementation, and strengthening of programs to teach accounting" to the list of allowable uses of grant funding under the Student Support and Academic Enrichment grant program (Title IV, part A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act) with a focus on "increasing access to high-quality accounting courses for students through grade 12 who are members of groups underrepresented in accounting careers." While this bill does not immediately translate into accounting being recognized as a STEM field at the post-secondary level, its passage would strongly reinforce the message that it should be.

The AICPA has argued that this bill should be passed because there is a clear and logical overlap between accounting and technology. As the profession better employs technology to serve in the public interest, CPAs have become technology leaders who manage and analyze big data, ensure data security, and work alongside information technology (IT) professionals.

CPAs also utilize technology skills that are integral to the audit function and other areas for American businesses, including IT auditing (which demands high-level technology knowledge and skills to evaluate IT infrastructure), artificial intelligence, blockchain, data analytics, forensic and predictive accounting, and cybersecurity.

As the profession considers its future, finding and retaining qualified staff are consistently among the top issues facing CPA firms of every firm-size segment and among businesses that employ CPAs. The passage of this bill could help ensure that firms have a pipeline of CPAs to hire in the future by increasing awareness of the accounting profession among K-12 students, who might be inspired to pursue careers in accounting.

The profession is engaged in diversity and inclusion initiatives because it believes that professionals who are reflective and inclusive of the communities they serve are better positioned to solve the challenging and complex issues facing clients and respond to the evolving public interest. However, current data shows that while there has been progress, more work needs to be done to increase racial and ethnic diversity in the accounting profession pipeline. The profession is currently missing out on a population of diverse students that could have a great impact and who would directly benefit from accounting as a career path. History shows us that early exposure to the accounting profession in high school will increase opportunities for students to understand the limitless possibilities of an accounting career and therefore increase their pursuit of such careers.

In addition to the AICPA, the legislation is supported by the Center for Audit Quality, which is affiliated with the AICPA; Diverse Organization of Firms; NAF; National Association of State Boards of Accountancy; National Association of Black Accountants; and National Society of Black CPAs.

Beyond legislation

In addition to seeking this federal legislation, the AICPA is working with colleges and universities to expand their accounting curricula to include additional technology-focused courses to meet the profession's current and future needs. And the AICPA is not the only voice of encouragement: Colleges and universities increasingly hear from accounting firms and business professionals about the urgent need for tech-savvier CPAs. Accounting departments are responding by integrating more technology and data analysis skills into their curricula and reclassifying their programs as meeting STEM requirements. (Learn more about the AICPA's STEM initiatives here.)

One of the world's leading business school and accounting accreditors — the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business — has also recognized that technology knowledge is a minimum requirement for entry into the accounting profession and now requires all programs seeking accounting program accreditation in addition to business school accreditation to meet this requirement.

The AICPA encourages faculty to inform the AICPA's Academic and Student Engagement Team of efforts to recognize their accounting programs with a STEM-designated CIP (Classification of Instructional Programs) code. Use this link to let the team know about your accounting program's STEM initiatives.  

Diana Deem, CPA, CGMA, is director–Congressional and Political Affairs for the AICPA. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.

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