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Preparing accounting students for a changing profession

GettyImages-635957998We are in an unprecedented time of change for the accounting academic community. I’ve seen a fire lit beneath educators the likes of which I’ve never seen before as it relates to evolving their classrooms and curricula. Accounting programs have had to quickly make changes, like adapting to full-time remote learning almost overnight in response to the coronavirus pandemic, as well as longer-term changes to ensure programs are preparing the next generation of accountants for the realities of a rapidly evolving business environment.

Research conducted by the AICPA found that public accounting firms are hiring fewer new accounting graduates. Instead, they’re hiring more non-accounting graduates who possess different skill sets, particularly those related to technology. Practitioners are increasingly advising schools that accounting curricula need to help students gain a better understanding of technology and its applications within the profession.

And it’s not just technology impacting the profession — our roles as CPAs have evolved as well. When I began my teaching career in the mid ‘90s, accounting students generally chose between studying audit or tax for public practice. That’s not the case anymore. Now, students are graduating straight into specialized roles in areas such as business valuation and forensic accounting.

Accounting academic programs must consider whether or not they are equipping students with the skills and knowledge CPAs need in today’s business environment. And they also need to consider if they’re adequately preparing students for the roles they may have once they graduate.

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Evolving accounting curricula as the profession evolves

When I was the Director of Accountancy at Wake Forest University, I saw students graduate from our program — in which they chose between an audit track and a tax track — and enter roles more diverse and evolved than just “audit or tax.” Our students were being hired directly into some specialized roles, so our faculty wondered if we could do a better job as an academic institution in preparing them for those roles.

The faculty recognized that the profession and the skill sets some of our students needed had changed, so our program and curriculum needed to change as well. We altered our accountancy program tracks to mirror what we saw happening in the profession. Instead of just offering audit and tax tracks, we evolved to assurance services, tax consulting and a newly created financial transaction services track.

The result was that students obtained the skills and knowledge they needed to meet the needs of the marketplace. This evolution was a success for our program.

Now we, as an academic community, have the opportunity to achieve similar success at a much broader level.

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The CPA Evolution initiative

That’s why the AICPA, in partnership with the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA), created CPA Evolution, an effort to transform the CPA licensure model to recognize the rapidly changing skills and competencies accounting requires today and in the future.

NASBA and the AICPA are proposing that CPA licensure moves to a “core + discipline” model. The proposed model starts with a strong core in accounting, auditing, tax and technology that all candidates would be required to complete. Each candidate would then choose a discipline in which to demonstrate deeper skills and knowledge. Regardless of chosen discipline, this model leads to full CPA licensure, with rights and privileges consistent with any other CPA. You can learn more about the proposed model in this blog post and the CPA Evolution FAQs.

The AICPA Council will vote on May 20 on a resolution supporting the CPA Evolution initiative. NASBA’s board of directors will be asked to pass a companion vote of support in July. If the AICPA Council and NASBA’s board of directors support the initiative, we will move forward with implementing the new licensure model. Pending that support, our goal is to launch the new CPA Exam by January 2024.

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Supporting educators through CPA Evolution

We recognize that this will be a big change, particularly for smaller colleges and universities. That’s why the AICPA is committed to helping accounting programs prepare for the new licensure model by developing the resources educators need to position their students for success. We’ve been actively working with the academic community to identify the resources they’ll need to make this transition, such as model curricula, bridge resources focused on technology integration and a model internship framework. We’ll also conduct a gap analysis to determine the differences between what is being taught today and what might be tested on the Exam under CPA Evolution.

This is an exciting time to be part of the CPA profession and the accounting academic community. I truly believe CPA Evolution and the resources the AICPA are developing for educators will help curricula reflect the needs of the profession, integrate skills the profession will need in the future and position accounting programs as a valuable option for students choosing their career paths.  initiative, visit EvolutionOfCPA.org.

Yvonne Hinson, CPA, CGMA, Ph.D., AICPA Academic in Residence, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants

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