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AICPA Finds Accounting Enrollments Remain High

Trends Cover 2017The AICPA recently released the 2017 Trends in the Supply of Accounting Graduates and Demand for Public Accounting Recruits report (Trends report). The report found that the total number of accounting undergraduate and graduate enrollments remains at the record levels seen in the 2014-2015 academic year, totaling more than 250,000 enrollments.  This was driven primarily by an all-time high in undergraduate enrollments. On the demand side, hiring of new accounting graduates has slowed compared to previous years.

This year we saw a shift in the mix of bachelor’s versus master’s enrollments. Projected master’s enrollments have returned to pre-2014 levels, while undergraduate enrollments remained high. The last several Trends reports found a sharp rise in the number of master’s enrollments and graduates. The higher numbers previously reported may be attributed to a surge in both traditional students and those changing careers earning their master’s in accounting. The CPA profession is known to have significantly lower rates of unemployment than the broader economy, particularly during economic downturns.  In my experience as an educator, economic turmoil is a strong motivator for people to seek out the stability that a career in accounting provides.

The high number of undergraduate enrollments in accounting programs bodes well for the goal of continuing a strong pipeline of talent entering the profession. The AICPA remains highly focused on attracting bright, motivated accounting students into the profession. And with the strength of our new Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, we are even better positioned to ensure that the next generation of CPAs knows that the accounting profession is a great career choice with substantial flexibility and opportunities.

The decrease in master’s graduates, as found in this year’s report, is not unusual to those in academia. Today, there are many reasons students may not be pursuing master’s degrees at the same scale as previously reported. The rising cost of tuition may be driving students to seek lower-cost alternatives to reach their state’s hourly requirements for CPA licensure.

Despite the dip in master’s graduates there was a 13 percent increase in the number of new candidates for the Uniform CPA Examination from 2015 to 2016. The increase was driven by the launch of the new exam in 2017, as well as concerted efforts by the AICPA, state CPA societies and accounting firms to encourage individuals to take the CPA Exam.

From a demand perspective, public accounting firm hiring of new accounting graduates slowed in 2016 compared to previous years. As technology advances, we expect this trend to continue. When looked at holistically, projected firm demand is still in alignment with the supply of accounting graduates in the U.S. We also know there are many opportunities for accounting graduates to start their careers in business and industry.

Additionally, increased opportunities in business and industry have led to a more competitive recruiting landscape, which is good news for both skilled employees and accounting graduates. The most recent AICPA Economic Outlook Survey, which polls CEOs, CFOs, controllers and other CPAs in U.S. companies, reported “availability of skilled personnel” as a top challenge. Seventy-five percent of respondents said they were seeing at least some increased competition in recruitment efforts, with 21 percent reporting a significant increase.  

Overall, this year’s Trends report shows a positive outlook for the profession. Record-high undergraduate enrollment and the shrinking gap between accounting graduates and new CPA Exam candidates is all very good news.

Powered by the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, the AICPA continues its laser focus on building the CPA pipeline. We are committed to profession-wide initiatives that attract, inspire and engage the next generation of CPAs.  If you are interested in getting involved by speaking to high school or college students about joining the accounting profession, visit AICPA.org/presentertoolkit for tips on how to get started. 

Yvonne Hinson, CPA, CGMA, Ph.D., Academic-in-Residence, Senior Director, Academic & Student Engagement, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants



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