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AICPA Trends Report finds Accounting Enrollments Reach an All-Time High

TRENDSLast week, the AICPA released the 2015 Trends in the Supply of Accounting Graduates and Demand for Public Accounting Recruits report. The report found that enrollments in undergraduate and graduate accounting programs increased in the 2013-14 academic year, and combined to cross the 250,000 threshold for the first time. On the recruiting side, accounting firms hired a record number of accounting graduates in 2014, representing a seven percent increase from the previous survey.

In addition, there was optimism from both universities and firms that the growth of the accounting profession will continue. Ninety-seven percent of bachelor’s programs and seventy percent of master’s programs stated that they expect their enrollment to be the same or higher within two years of responding to the survey.

Building upon the record levels of hiring, 91 percent of firms reported that they expect to hire at the same or an increased level in the following year. Larger firms are particularly optimistic about future hiring levels. All firms employing more than 200 CPAs reported their hiring will either increase or stay the same in the next year. This indicates that job prospects for current enrollees in accounting programs, as well as recent graduates, remains extremely bright.

While the data on enrollments and hiring represent a continued upward trend and increase from the previous survey, the combined number of undergraduate and graduate degrees awarded showed a slowing of momentum. Degrees awarded held steady at the previous record high level (less than a one percent decrease), which was driven by a sharp increase in master’s degrees awarded (31 percent) and a decline in bachelor’s degrees (11 percent).

“The data in the Trends report is very positive overall, and the outlook for accounting students entering the profession is bright. At that same time, we’ve continued to see a slight widening of the gap between the number of students who are graduating with accounting degrees and the number of candidates sitting for the CPA Exam, although the growth of the gap has slowed,” said Barry Melancon, CPA, CGMA, president and CEO of the AICPA. “We’ve been looking into this issue in great detail and are considering a number of profession-wide initiatives to complement our existing programs and ensure that qualified accounting graduates are earning their CPA license.”

Joanne Fiore, AICPA vice president of professional media, pathways and inclusion reiterated that the AICPA had been looking into this issue and noted possible solutions to address it. “To increase the number of students sitting for the exam, our research shows that employers can make a difference by encouraging or requiring students to sit for the exam and supporting them by giving time off to study and helping with costs,” she said.

The results of the Trends report are consistent with the findings of the Bureau of Labor Statistics 2014-2015 Occupational Outlook Handbook, which found that employment of accountants and auditors is expected to grow 13 percent from 2012 to 2022, representing an additional 166,700 jobs. The BLS Handbook notes that many accountants become CPAs to enhance their job prospects and gain clients, and some employers prefer to hire applicants with a master’s degree – which also aligns with the findings of the Trends report.

“We saw the increase in the number of students graduating with master’s degrees translating directly into increased hiring of those candidates by firms. The growing trend of specialization in the profession combined with a higher level of performance expected for today’s entry level CPAs has sent a strong message. Accounting students have responded to that marketplace demand by increasingly earning master’s degrees and developing specialized skills to complement their strong technical base before they enter the profession,” she said.

In addition to looking at the supply of and demand for accounting graduates, the report also contains information on firm demographics. Fiore took note of the increase in percentage of female partners.

“Female partners in firms have grown by five percentage points, and that’s significant. It’s an important development because more women in leadership positions has a cascading effect. It ushers in other changes for women and others in the profession, and creates even more future female leaders,” she said.

James Schiavone, Senior Manager - Public Relations, American Institute of CPAs.

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