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AICPA Report: Accounting Education Is Lagging Woefully Behind Necessary Real-World Skills

Not sure if y’all heard but we live in the future now. Not the cool Ray Bradbury one with casual weekend trips to exotic Mars destinations and robots to do all the tedious things we’d rather not, but the future no less.

And here in this dystopian nightmare glorious future, technical aptitude is in high demand. Perhaps for an earlier generation of accountants “technical aptitude” meant being able to set the clock on your VCR and delete your own browser cookies, but here in the actual future, data analytics rule. This is no more evident than in the ambitious CPA Evolution project, an overhaul of the CPA exam the likes of which hasn’t been seen maybe since the exam went computerized 17 years ago. Expected to launch in 2024, the “new” testing model under CPA Evolution is intended to better reflect the realities of practice, “requiring deeper proven knowledge in one of three disciplines that are pillars of the profession.”

So here’s the problem. The place bright-eyed and bushy-tailed soon-to-be CPAs get their knowledge from (college, obvs) might not be doing its job and preparing said untainted future CPAs for the new reality. In other words, accounting students might be missing out on the technology-focused education they’ll need to compete in the workplace.

From a March 17 AICPA press release:

There are major gaps in college accounting education today, with fewer than half of all programs teaching emerging topics, such as IT governance and cybersecurity, according to a new report by the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) and National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA).

Accounting Program Curriculum Gap Analysis Report found mixed results for coverage of emerging and technology topics. While more than 60 percent of collegiate accounting programs are teaching topics like data analytics and IT audit, fewer programs cover cybersecurity, predictive analytics or System and Organization Controls (SOC). Each of these topics could be covered more in-depth on the CPA Exam in 2024, pending the results of the current Exam Practice Analysis.

“The accounting profession is becoming increasingly reliant on the use of emerging technologies, information systems and data analytics. Businesses are increasingly seeking technology-related services and advice and it’s important for newly licensed CPAs to be adept in their knowledge, usage and skills,” said Sue Coffey, CPA, CGMA, CEO – Public Accounting, AICPA. “Accounting programs have a responsibility to assure their curricula and course offerings are setting students up for success in the profession.”

The news isn’t all bad, as you can see. Some schools are keeping up, while others are kind of keeping up but missing critical components necessary to mold well-rounded accountants.

From the AICPA’s Do colleges prepare future CPAs? Three key insights:

These topics are often taught as only a part of one or two class sessions rather than a dedicated course or unit of study. For example, system and organization controls (SOC) engagements are a rapidly growing practice area for CPA firms. But, among those surveyed, only 32% of accounting programs with over 100 undergraduate accounting majors cover the topic in their curriculum. At smaller schools, the percentages are less. Some future CPAs may not be learning what they need to compete in the job market as firm services become more technology-focused.

What’s the solution? “The answer is clear,” says the AICPA. “Smaller schools must enhance their offerings or consider other options that will give their students greater exposure to these topics. Due to the demands of the profession, as well as the CPA Exam requirements, faculty at schools of all sizes must assess their capabilities to teach these technologies and commit to evolving so they can more effectively deliver the education students need.”

The AICPA plans to provide a model curriculum sometime this summer that will help accounting educators ensure their graduates are not only prepared for the CPA exam changes three years from now but also for the rapidly-changing profession. I know the profession doesn’t have the best track record for proactively adapting but let’s try to be hopeful here and just wait to see how everything shakes out. Interesting times, that’s for sure.

While we’re on the topic of the future, I’m just gonna leave this here.