AICPA Drafts Plan to Address Pipeline Issues
The AICPA has drafted an action plan for addressing certain root causes of pipeline issues. Per AICPA, “The plan is designed to maintain rigor while increasing flexibility for CPA candidates. It’s also intended to drive quick results and lasting progress. It should be viewed as an action plan that is a piece of a comprehensive effort.”
Below is an overview of the Draft Pipeline Acceleration Plan:
1. AICPA-NASBA Experience, Learn & Earn Program (ELE). The initiative blends work, experience, and online courses for the final stretch of credit hours and a focus on licensure. The AICPA and NASBA program would provide university students on a CPA career pathway an opportunity to work at a firm and gain a mix of work experience, study time, and affordable college credit hours. Students will be eligible after completing a bachelor’s degree and core accounting courses and before achieving 150 credit hours of education. The program is not an internship or an apprenticeship. The graduates are first-year staff with a reduced workload and time to complete the additional credit hours they need to reach the 150-hour requirement. CPA firms of any size and practice type could choose to recruit entry-level hires into the program.
The program’s online learning will be priced at or below the average cost of a community college credit. It will be customizable to the number of credits students need, since many students graduate with more than 120 credit hours. The courses will be based on skills and competencies needed by first-year staff.
The program will launch as a pilot in Fall 2023 with up to 1,000 students and a single university partner to allow for a rapid start and needed testing of the model. Proposals from universities interested in the next phase will be sought this summer. Outreach to firms about participation is beginning now.
An advisory group of leaders from state societies and state boards of accountancy is helping to shape ELE state outreach and materials.
Goals of the program include increasing access to and affordability of entry into the profession for a diverse pool of candidates. The program will benefit both candidates and firms by recruiting more students into the pipeline and helping them reach their CPA licenses.
2. Highlighting success stories. This awareness campaign will focus on how the additional 30 credit hours required for licensure can best be used to increase career readiness. Firms of all sizes told the AICPA in a recent survey what the key first-year skills and competencies are. Their responses are helping define the ELE Program coursework while also informing this awareness campaign. The campaign will also do some myth-busting around the 30 hours of education needed to become a CPA. Working within guidelines set out in the Uniform Accountancy Act and with an eye toward the revised CPA Exam in 2024, candidates are developing competencies needed to succeed in an ever more complex business environment. Campaign materials spotlighting success stories and firm data that can guide other students will begin rolling out in the second quarter of 2023.
3. Addressing the 18-month exam window. Qualified candidates may be unable to complete all four parts of the exam within 18 months for numerous reasons. Working with NASBA, the AICPA is exploring what changes are needed to keep students progressing to licensure while ensuring the window isn't shutting out qualified candidates. NASBA is exposing a proposal that will be a guide for state boards to extend the exam window to 24 months. The proposal also provides greater clarity on a state board’s authority to allow additional time to candidates.
Comments and recommendations on the proposal can be sent to the NASBA Uniform Accountancy Act Committee via email@example.com by April 17, 2023.
4. Tackling inconsistencies in state licensure pathways. When inconsistencies in state regulations result in candidate confusion and frustration, we all lose. Minimizing unneeded differences in requirements will smooth out bumps in the journey to licensure. The AICPA completed state-by-state research in January that revealed differences in experience requirements, as well as requirements for recommendation letters and candidate submissions of experience “portfolios.” Collaboratively, stakeholders will assess these identified differences, and jointly develop an action plan for 2024 state legislative sessions (and beyond) to tackle either regulatory changes, legal changes, or both.
5. Revving up high school and college efforts. Accounting stakeholders are working to spark a new era of engagement with students about the opportunities and value of a career in accounting. This is a critical step toward energizing interest in the profession. Effective communication efforts must be paired with pipeline building activities at the high school and college level.
The AICPA is developing a high school education strategy that includes dual-credit course options that allow high school students to earn college credit and is also researching an AP accounting course. The goal of the strategy will be to raise awareness and interest in accounting and the CPA profession while streamlining the educational process.
To maximize ongoing communications, the AICPA will leverage recent Center for Audit Quality (CAQ) research for improved messaging to students and teachers promoting accounting and the CPA profession. This includes developing an awareness campaign strategy that messages students directly and promotes accounting and the CPA profession. This work will align with the CAQ-led Accounting+ initiative. Accounting+ is a multi-year branding and persuasion campaign designed to elevate the image and attractiveness of accounting among Black and Hispanic or Latino student populations.
At the college level, the AICPA’s 2023 plan includes strategy development in three key areas:
- • Improving the curriculum and delivery of Introduction to Accounting courses
- • Providing relevant information and resources to inform teaching and research
- • Promoting accounting and the CPA profession to online universities, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Minority Serving Institutions, and their students
And, notably, in partnership with stakeholders including firms, colleges, and universities, the AICPA will provide a fresh data-driven look at the profession’s pipeline and firm hiring via the 2023 Trends Report. The report, due out mid-2023, outlines trends in U.S. accounting program enrollments and graduates, as well as hiring in the public accounting sector, and provides select information about CPA Exam candidates.
6. Win STEM recognition for accounting. Interest in professional careers starts with exposure and awareness. And one fact that may surprise and intrigue the next generation of the workforce is that the accounting profession is increasingly about technology. The AICPA and state CPA societies are working diligently to win recognition of accounting as a STEM field under the technology banner. Legislation introduced in 2021 would allow STEM K-12 grant funding to be used for accounting awareness and education, with a focus on increasing access to underrepresented groups.
At the higher education level, the profession can work with colleges and universities to expand their accounting curricula to include additional technology-focused courses to meet the profession’s current and future needs.
7. Shift AICPA Foundation funding to focus on CPA candidates. The AICPA Foundation has agreed to shift its focus to students who plan to pursue CPA licensure or those who are currently CPA candidates. The Foundation, which is projected to award more than $2 million in scholarships and grants in 2023, will assist individuals with financial needs through a variety of scholarship programs. An estimated 61% of grants and scholarships are expected to go to diverse populations. When viewed collectively, the combined giving of the Foundation, state societies and firms is helping to make the pursuit of a CPA more affordable for more candidates.
8. Engage the system of stakeholders in solutions. The CPA pipeline decline is the result of many factors, ranging from lower college enrollment and higher costs to the expense of exam preparation to the disconnect of starting salaries from new market realities. The AICPA is calling on all stakeholders to assess and address the environmental forces deterring individuals from pursuing a CPA career. This includes meetings between AICPA leaders and regulators this spring, and a continued dialog with firms about the need for evolving their business models and heightening their attractiveness to young talent.
The GWSCPA Governing Board is currently reviewing AICPA’s proposed plan and anticipates sending our organizational response by March 10th. If you have input on the plan, please reach out to Kari Bedell at firstname.lastname@example.org.