Attracting Students to the CPA Exam

By Dr. Sean Stein Smith, CPA, DBA, CMA, CGMA, CFE, City University of New York – Lehman College – April 23, 2024
Attracting Students to the CPA Exam

Much has been written about the issues facing the accounting pipeline, and these issues are not going away anytime soon. This conversation has seemingly reached a crescendo during the last year, with enrollment figures, CPA Exam takers and accounting graduates overall declining and pushing this topic to the top of the profession’s collective mind. A critical part of the pipeline conversation is figuring out how to attract students to the CPA Exam in the first place.

I discussed this topic with some CPA colleagues who represent a cross-section of the profession:

  • “Plain and simple: Communicate how great the CPA designation is. The one thing I remember when taking my first accounting class is that my teacher told me, ‘CPAs can go anywhere and do anything.’ I thought this was too good to be true, but now, having the hindsight, I could not agree more! Being a CPA allows you to have access to jobs with higher authority and responsibilities (and higher pay), and, most importantly, there is a tremendous amount of job security. The CPA designation opens doors to nearly every industry and affords flexibility that most other professional designations don’t have the power to do.”
    — Nicole DeRosa, CPA, tax partner, Wiss

  • “Accounting must evolve to reverse the decline in CPA Exam enrollment. There are a few ways to address this issue, and it starts with economics. Accounting pay has lagged behind other industries, so addressing salaries and compensation models is a great place to start. Reducing the credit hours needed for licensure eligi­bility can also remove educational barriers. Further, to attract more young talent to accounting, the industry needs to modernize, embrace new technology and methodologies, and learn lessons from other industries that have had similar transitions.”
    — Zachary Gordon, CPA, vice president of accounting, Propeller Industries

  • “To attract a wider range of students to the CPA Exam, it’s essential to emphasize the diverse career opportunities extending beyond traditional public accounting roles. Students should be informed about the potential to launch their careers in various sectors such as corporate finance, where they can engage in strategic financial planning, government accounting for public sector financial management, nonprofits focusing on fund accounting and grant management, forensic accounting for financial investiga­tion, financial services with a focus on risk management and compliance, and innovative roles in startups. Highlighting this diversity in career paths can draw students with varied interests to the CPA profession, ensuring its continued growth and evolution in adapting to modern business needs.”
    — Blake Oliver, CPA, founder and CEO, Earmark

  • “The CPA license provides countless opportunities throughout one’s career. As a CPA, you instantly gain the respect of business leaders. This is due, in part, to a long history of CPAs providing quality work and behaving ethically. The CPA designation is well known throughout not only the business community, but also the world. In many instances, simply by obtaining the CPA license, you will be provided opportunities that are otherwise out of reach. It is up to the individual to decide what happens with the opportunity, but just getting your foot in the door is typically the biggest obstacle. The CPA license gives you the qualifications to achieve whatever goals you may have in business.”
    — Josh Allen McGowan, CPA, associate director in the School of Accountancy, Troy University

  • We need to show the value proposition of having the CPA over just having an accounting degree. Students see the initial high costs to the Exam in time and money, but they don’t see the benefit right away. Having a CPA lets them become an entrepreneur at a young age. It’s a ticket to running their own business. And even if they don’t want to run their own business, the salary difference in industry for having the CPA over not having it is significant. It would be most helpful if firms would just pay new hires more upfront for having the CPA Exam passed. But until that happens, we must focus on the entrepreneurship aspect.
    — Jack Castonguay, CPA, Ph.D., assistant professor, Hofstra University and vice president, Surgent 

This article appeared in the Spring 2024 issue of New Jersey CPA magazine. Read the full issue.