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Warning To College Accounting Programs: Fudge Your CPA Exam Ranking And We Will Find You

A concerned accounting student exercises his or her professional skepticism here (good work, kiddo, you'll be a true asset to the profession!):

I am an accounting student at San Diego State University.  SDSU claims that student test scores on the CPA exam rank among the top five in the nation. 

I copied this from SDSU's accounting page with a link so you can see for yourself:

Special Features

The School of Accountancy is the first and one of only four accredited accounting programs in California. Student test scores on the CPA exam consistently rank among the top five in the nation.

Is this true?  Going Concern never mentions SDSU when discussing top accounting schools so I'm wondering if SDSU's claim is correct.

First: as we have discussed until we are all blue in the face, CPA exam scores and pass rates are one small part of an accounting program's draw. Does an 88 on the CPA exam mean you learned more than someone who got a 75 if you are both CPAs at the end? Point made.

Now, about that SDSU claim. Are they saying they have one of the highest pass rates in the nation or are they referring to the actual raw score? I'm going with the latter since they said "student test scores." The problem with proving this claim is that few people – especially parents and would-be students just graduating high school and applying for college – have a NASBA Candidate Performance Book handy to check. Good thing I do, eh?

In 2011, SDSU ranked 13th in California with an average score of 71.9 (all testing events). Not only that but it boasts a 48.9% pass rate, which is pretty much on par with the national average. There's really nothing wrong with that pass rate but when you're bragging about how awesome you are and using your students' CPA exam performance to prove it, you might not want to brag if you're average in pass rates and below passing in average scores.

Just to be sure, I checked 2010 as well. SDSU's average score of 72.9 was 11th best of all California schools and we're not even getting into the national numbers there. I can tell you Kentucky's Bellarmine University (yeah, I've never heard of it either) scored higher, as did Kansas' Emporia State, the University of Maryland's College Park, Massachusettes' Stonehill College… you get the point. I don't need to sort through the entire book to clearly see SDSU is blowing smoke here.

Now, it's possible that SDSU is claiming its students individually score higher than most schools in the nation but that doesn't even make sense as a claim as you have no idea to how many students the figure is referring. Who cares if five people got 97s across the board when the average score is far below passing and over 50% of SDSU students aren't passing right away? Are they talking about this SDSU grad who was awarded the Elijah Watt Sells award in 1991? I sure hope not as that would not be useful at all.

So, SDSU, I suggest you either revamp this section of your website to make it more useful for users of the data (read: parents and kids you're trying to lure in to your program) and clarify what it is exactly you're claiming here. Again, nothing about SDSU's performance is bad but it's certainly not top 5 in the nation either. It looks worse to pretend like they are and hope no one notices than it would if they just made a general statement about preparing students for the CPA exam, which I am sure they do from my time working with accounting students in California. Tsk tsk.

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