Newly minted accountants have some of the brightest job prospects in the nation, with nearly 90 percent of accounting firms forecasting the same or increased hiring of graduates this year compared with 2010, and nearly three quarters, 71 percent, of the largest firms anticipating more hiring – an indicator of a rebounding economy.
That's according to survey results in the 2011 "Trends in the Supply of Accounting Graduates and the Demand for Public Accounting Recruits" report released in May by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. The report shows record numbers of accounting students and graduates, but also hints at a potential challenge for the profession: demand for new talent eventually could outpace supply.
"Opportunities in the accounting profession continue to expand as the needs of firms and businesses grow ever more complex and global", said Jeannie Patton, AICPA vice president for students, academics ,and membership. "As the U.S. and global economies recover, and as seasoned professionals begin to retire in unprecedented numbers, it's even more important to guard against a talent shortage. Employers increasingly want graduates with advanced degrees at the same time colleges, facing budget and other constraints, are restricted in their capacity to train all the students who want to join our profession."
The AICPA report echoes findings from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which expects accountants to experience "much faster than average" employment growth in the coming years. The bureau's 2010-2011 "Occupational Outlook Handbook" estimates 22 percent growth in accounting and auditing jobs in the decade between 2008 and 2018, adding that job candidates with professional designations, particularly CPAs, and graduates with masters degrees have the brightest outlook.
All told, 226,108 students were enrolled in undergraduate or graduate accounting programs during the 2009-2010 academic year, 6 percent more than in 2007-2008, the last time the AICPA conducted its survey. A record 68,639 students graduated with accounting degrees in 2010. Nearly 4 in 10 accounting graduates hired last year by CPA firms had master's degrees, compared with 26 percent in 2008. By contrast, 43 percent of graduates hired had bachelor's degrees, down from 56 percent in 2008.
The shift reflects growing complexity and globalization of the accounting industry. And against that backdrop, colleges and universities are struggling to keep up. According to the AICPA report, a growing number of accounting programs are rejecting qualified applicants because they don't have capacity to accept them. The increase likely is due to budget constraints at universities brought on by the economic downturn and a shortage of academically qualified professors as many longtime teachers reach retirement.
"The AICPA is diligently focused on this potential challenge, leading efforts like www.startheregoplaces.com and www.thiswaytocpa.com to guide students into the profession and supporting and administering programs like Accounting Doctoral Scholars, which addresses the need for more PhDs in the classroom", Patton added. "We are committed to ensuring the accounting profession continues robust growth for years to come."