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October 4, 2023

Time to Panic? New CPA Exam Candidate Numbers Are Lower Than They’ve Been in More Than a Decade

We’ve written plenty of times about the AICPA freaking out over low CPA exam candidate numbers, but for the first time in two years thanks to the AICPA’s Trends in the Supply of Accounting Graduates and the Demand for Public Accounting Recruits report [PDF], we have actual numbers. You ready? It’s bad.

Graphic via the AICPA

Yikes. To be fair, the 2010 and 2016 numbers make things look worse than they are, and both can be credited in part to significant CPA exam changes the year following. Meaning: candidates who may have been putting off the exam or otherwise wouldn’t have rushed put aside their procrastination to get the exam done before it changed. Additionally, and this is partly anecdotal as I was working in CPA review at the time, candidate numbers were likely higher than would have been usual from about 2007 to 2009-ish, as the economy circled the drain and accounting was one of the only professions in which one could find a job fairly easily. Y’all younguns might not remember that dark time, be grateful.

If you recall, we already knew candidate numbers were down thanks to NASBA’s info released around this time last year. In case you need a refresher, here’s the data we had on unique candidates at that time (with cats!):

CPA Exam Candidates 2010-2017

Although new candidate numbers may be low, people are still finishing up the exam and in much higher numbers than they were a decade ago. So there’s that.

Graphic via the AICPA

In the Trends report, the AICPA highlights a virtual cornucopia of initiatives it has deployed to attract talent to the profession, the list of which we won’t waste your time with since we all know they’re hard at work trying to seduce future CPAs harder than the pot dealer we all saw in After School Specials peddling free drugs on the elementary school blacktop and don’t need a reminder. They’re on it, you guys, OK?

All of this is extra interesting on the heels of the potentially controversial plan on the part of the AICPA and NASBA to reconsider barriers to entry to the profession as well as news that firms have increased hiring of non-accounting grads over bona-fide accountants, but hey, it’s Friday, let’s not get into all that.

Time to panic? Maybe not. As the report notes: “CPA Exam data often show increases in candidates prior to changes to the Exam followed by significant decreases in the first few years after the CPA Examination changes.”

How many is a “few” again?

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