The Future of Accounting Education

In-Demand Skills, Workplace Readiness and the CPA Exam


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Changing educational requirements to sit for the CPA Exam are throwing the future of accounting education into doubt. In the years since the 150-hour requirement has been established, it is questionable whether its original intent is still operative. This is evidenced by declining enrollment in Master of Accountancy programs, a trend that should raise concerns about the future. The future of work means that the skills demanded of entry-level accountants are changing and will continue to do so. This article examines these current trends and poses questions as to what the future of accounting education will look like.

The future of accounting education is currently being impacted on several critical dimensions: The educational requirements to take the CPA exam keep changing. Candidates may take the CPA exam with only an undergraduate degree, thus weakening the original intent of the 150-hour educational requirement. Finally, enrollments in Master of Accountancy (MAcc) programs and MBA programs with a concentration in accounting continue to decrease. These trends raise concerns for both the current and future state of masters’ level accounting education.

Survey data from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB 2020, 2015) (AACSB, “Overview of AACSB-Accredited Accounting Programs: Data from the 2018-2019 Accounting Programs Questionnaire,” 2020; AACSB, “Overview of AACSB-Accredited Accounting Programs: Data from the 2014-2015 Accounting Programs Questionnaire,” 2015) on enrollment in MAcc programs with AACSB accounting accreditation indicates average MAcc enrollment per reporting program decreased 1.4% (87 vs. 86) from 2014/15 to 2018/19 (see Exhibit 1). Average full-time MAcc enrollment decreased 18.1% (72 vs. 59) during this period, and average part-time MAcc enrollment increased 72.1% (15 vs. 26). AICPA survey data from a larger sample of schools indicates a decline of 30.6% in MAcc enrollment from 2014/15 to 2017/18 (“2019 Trends in the Supply and Demand for Public Accounting Recruits,” AICPA 2019). The AICPA data from 2017/18 also shows that U.S. CPA firms hired 19,498 bachelor’s degree graduates, but only 11,405 master’s degree graduates, which indicates that MAcc recipients have not overtaken undergraduate recipients for entry-level positions in CPA firms.

In recent years, almost all state boards of accountancy have relaxed the 150-hour requirement to permit accounting undergraduate degree holders to immediately sit for the CPA exam (subject to the satisfaction of specific accounting course requirements) upon completion of their baccalaureate degree and then require the additional hours or an experience requirement to obtain licensure. As a result of these changes, increasing numbers of students are now foregoing a MAcc program and completing the requisite additional hours on a part-time basis while concurrently employed in an accounting position on a full-time basis.

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Source: The CPA Journal

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