Contributed by the Illinois CPA Society
A quick comparison between a "CPE Update" course list from a few years ago and another from a few weeks ago tells you a lot about what's happening with Continuing Professional Education (CPE) today.
For starters, there's the sheer size and variety of offerings. In 2006, for example, two-and-a-half pages were sufficient for a list that now covers six pages. Our course and program titles - "Troubled Times – Current Economic Crisis: Critical Accounting & Auditing Considerations" and "International Issues" – are indicative of our current economic climate. What's more, in 2009 you'll see a large dollar sign footnote pointing out member savings, and no registration form. Instead, only a reminder to register online is included.
At the Illinois CPA Society (ICPAS), leaders are well aware of CPE's evolution, and the fast pace at which they need to adapt to changes in technology, work habits, and, of course, the economy.
Members still rely on the Society to keep up-to-date, so usual offerings such as "Financial Accounting Standards Update and Review" are still available and well attended. "There always seems to be an interest in the latest information on the basics of the profession," comments Wendy Sech, CMP, the Society's director of education. But today, "You need to offer a much bigger menu."
Ideally, that menu should include hot topics that cover today's most pressing issues, many of which change at lightning speed. That said, you also need to know when to stay with an issue. International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), for example, is a popular topic with Illinois CPA Society members, but one that needs to be monitored and addressed for some years. Other new class topics that require a longer-term focus are Ethics, Fraud/Forensic, and Management and Personal Development.
We've noted a significant preference for half-day sessions over the more traditional day-long conference, so format is also an important consideration going forward. Sech stresses the importance of offering a wide range of options and teaching methods - from online education and onsite education to face-to-face instruction, self study, satellite programs and Webcasts. Webcasts, in particular, have proven very successful, and podcasts are being explored for their potential appeal to certain member segments.
With the state of the economy, price and convenience have become a major factor in our CPE planning. The Illinois CPA Society offers price differentials depending on geography and a wider variety of class locations to encourage members to get quality education close to home and therefore affordably. Our annual conference is being promoted to members as a "Great Value" for CPE credits in a reporting year, a chance to earn 17 hours of CPE over two days. Furthermore, the Society's holiday gift to members was a $25 gift certificate for their next CPE Program registration fee.
Such incentives have been implemented not only to acknowledge these tough times, but also to encourage our members to use local CPE opportunities. CPE is no longer the domain of societies. "There's a lot of competition," says Sech. "The market's changed greatly with online providers."
Executive level courses and an education arm for corporate finance have been added to increase our market competitiveness and to accommodate a wider range of needs for our corporate finance professionals. These courses address issues such as "How to Measure Financial Success" and are presented in different formats - an Executive Roundtable Series addressing the President's economic policies, for instance.
Sech explains that providing and promoting CPE offerings today requires more creativity, openness, and flexibility. While she knows the trend is towards technology as the primary method of course delivery, she adds that, "You can't duplicate the networking experience or other interactive aspects of in-person classes and events. I'd like to think that even with our ability to consistently adapt to changes in technology and the profession, there will always be a need for some type of one on one, personal education experience."