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EY Survey: Students and Executives Alike Support Alternate Pathways to CPA Licensure

a comment bubble representing survey results

The EY Accounting Professional of the Future survey has gotten some interest around the profession since it was publicized last week, as it should due to its unique approach of tapping the thoughts and feelings of different cohorts. To farm the results, EY surveyed and interviewed more than 1,000 people across two groups: college students with an academic focus in business or science, technology, engineering and/or math (STEM) fields and senior management leaders and executives from large, publicly traded organizations. Qualified student respondents were between the ages of 18 and 60, with 90% of them age 30 or younger.

46 percent of student respondents cited “career stability and comfortable lifestyle” as one of the top motivations to pursue a career in accounting. The ability to find solutions within numbers and data (25%), the opportunity to contribute to society (23%) and the chance to impact sustainability (21%) rounded out the list. Almost 8 in 10 accounting and STEM students surveyed believe an accounting career will deliver long-term value and 34 percent of the students see a career in accounting as a steppingstone to other leadership opportunities.

Great. That’s all great. Let’s talk about this part though. There are citations littered throughout the text in EY’s report, we’ll hit each of them as we go.

The CPA career path advances opportunities

In a survey by the Center for Audit Quality (CAQ) and Edge Research, 82% of undergraduate accounting majors and 74% of recent accounting graduates find value in the CPA exam, citing respect, career advancement and higher earning potential as the top motivators for obtaining CPA licensure

They’re talking about this CAQ survey: Increasing Diversity in the Accounting Profession Pipeline: Challenges and Opportunities. The one that contains this quote:

screenshot from the July 2023 CAQ report: Increasing Diversity in the Accounting Profession Pipeline: Challenges and Opportunities
From the CAQ report “Increasing Diversity in the Accounting Profession Pipeline: Challenges and Opportunities”

The EY survey report continues:

CPAs bring desirable skills to C-level executive roles. According to recent survey data shared by the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants and the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, the top undergraduate major among CFOs was accounting. Additionally, of the 652 CFOs surveyed in that study, close to 45% were CPAs.

They’re now referring to this: Diversity continues to rise among CFOs and CEOs, survey shows in Journal of Accountancy (January 2022).


Yet the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy’s data indicates that the number of CPA exam takers fell by almost 50% between 1990 and 2021. [Ed. note: new CPA exam candidate data came out just before EY released this survey and surprise, it’s worse]

Another cite here. The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same: Addressing the CPA Pipeline Crisis written by Rick Reisig, CPA and published on NASBA’s blog on March 14, 2023. Choice quote from his article:

Yes, like me, many of us obtained a CPA license prior to the 150-credit hour education requirement, and we’re doing “just fine.” We need to acknowledge that we expect much more from our staff when they come to us — particularly during their first year with the firm—than we ever did before. If there were ever a time we need our young staff to come to us with more education not less, it’s now. That’s what CPA Evolution is all about–providing the education and the skillsets not needed yesterday, or even today, but those that will be needed for tomorrow! How can relying on the experience earned “yesterday” be an effective replacement for the education necessary to prepare our staff for what will be needed tomorrow?

Then EY swings back around to the CAQ report:

However, according to CAQ research on increasing diversity in the accounting profession pipeline, many students have expressed that the cost and time needed to reach the 150 credit hours required for CPA licensure serve as a big obstacle.

For 52% of the non-accounting students, not being able to afford the 150-hour obligation was a reason for not choosing the profession. This concern was even higher among Black (62%) and Hispanic (69%) respondents.

Interestingly, in the EY survey it’s the executives who support alternate paths to CPA licensure more than the students. 87 percent of executives surveyed believe the profession would benefit from alternate pathways to earning a CPA.

Screenshot from the EY Accounting Professional of the Future survey

Said Becky Burke, EY Americas Assurance Chief Operating Officer: “Our survey findings underscore the importance of creating alternate paths for students to become CPAs. A career in accounting can open the door for many opportunities. Organizations, academic institutions and professional associations can collaborate to demonstrate the benefits that a career in accounting provides and remove potential barriers to entry.”

Right now the prevailing alternate pathway being considered is 120 units and two years of experience as introduced in Minnesota and hated on by the AICPA and NASBA. The debate on that continues.

Does the 150 Hour Rule Provide Value to the Profession or to Students as Future CPAs? No, Says Professor