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Integrating Experience and Education is One Way to Ease the Accountant Shortage at Least a Little

There’s a contentious battle raging over the 150 unit requirement for CPA licensure as we speak and in the meantime we have to figure something out to ease the accountant shortage that has a bit more immediate impact (and doesn’t involve paying people more because clearly the firms are not down with that idea). Wherever you stand on the issue of potentially lowering the requirement back down to 120 units where it was in the olden days pre-1983 and the utility of the 150 hour rule as it stands today, we all agree that the pathway to accounting needs to be A) better illuminated and B) as accessible as possible to people of diverse backgrounds without dumbing down the profession and letting any old riffraff in. One idea that has been batted around and deployed on a limited basis is integrating work experience in public accounting and college credit to grant units toward the additional 30 required.

In New Jersey, they are piloting a program that grants credit for work. A partnership between PwC and Saint Peter’s University in Jersey City, the program essentially trades that 5th year of education for experience in the field, a win-win for both students and firms. The university oversees the work for credit program the same they would any other internship for credit, making sure that students are actually learning and not just working for free. No reasonable person can argue that 30 arbitrary units in any subject (the current requirement) is better than actual experience and exposure to accounting practice where you learn more about accounting than you would in underwater basket weaving. One CPA I spoke to who was instrumental in arranging this pilot program told me that he hopes to see this program expanded to firms of all sizes, and accounting employers beyond large public accounting firms, even non-profit, government, and industry. We’ll have to wait to see how that shakes out.

On this topic, I came across a recent article in the Journal of Accountancy that describes another firm/education partnership also integrating experience and education, albeit in a different way to what they’re doing in New Jersey. Read:

Though it wasn’t common among [2022–2023 chair of the AICPA board of directors Anoop Natwar] Mehta’s peers when he was in school, he got work experience in accounting while still a student. He believes that gave him a leg up, and he believes today’s company leaders can benefit from offering the same opportunities.

“These students are getting recruited before even they finish their degrees, which is new and which is exciting,” Mehta said. “If I relate back to my own career, I started working after a couple of years in college, and I do know that I felt that I came out ahead because of it.”

Mehta made mention of an AICPA program in development to help firms and students alike. Students finishing their undergraduate degree who haven’t yet reached the 150 hours required for CPA licensure would be hired by firms and work as first-year associates while taking up to 30 hours of cost-effective classes catered to the skills the firms need.

“I’m all for figuring out a way to formalize one year of work experience tied in with their education,” Mehta said. “If we can figure out a way to make that affordable, I think we’re really going to start to move toward solving pipeline issues.”

Watch this January 19 AICPA Town Hall for more on this topic, pipeline discussion timestamped here.

A couple years ago, EY announced EY Career Path Accelerator, a partnership with Hult International Business School to offer a free online MBA to 312,000 employees. As of February 2022, only 55 EYers had graduated from the program. So that concept has already been tried out to some success.

Desperate times call for desperate measures and the traditionally uncreative profession is going to have to start hitting the blunt to come up with some wild ideas to get students into accounting. We imagine it won’t be too difficult to convince firms to let people work for free. The rest might take some evangelizing.

One thought on “Integrating Experience and Education is One Way to Ease the Accountant Shortage at Least a Little

  1. The NJ is an over complicated solution that would be better served by going to allowing licensure at 120 hours / 2 years of experience or 150 hours / 1 year experience. The NJ extra 30 is not education, it’s experience.

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