My Perspective on State v. National Qualifications

Each state has their own educational requirements for sitting for the NASBA-administered (National Association of State Boards of Accountancy) CPA exam. Haven’t you ever wondered why the decision of who is qualified to sit for the exam is decentralized and left to each state, even though the exam that each candidate takes is the same, regardless of which state qualified you? Wouldn’t it make more sense to have the same requirements for every candidate, across all states?

My experience of trying to qualify for licensure in Texas as a result of moving from California to Texas, has been a personal nightmare. Let’s start from the beginning. I received my bachelor’s degree in Management and Marketing. Over ten years after graduating, I decided I wanted to get my CPA license. Living in California at the time, I looked up the requirements to sit for the CPA exam on the California Board of Accountancy website. I realized I was going to have to go back to school to earn 18 more accounting semester hours. I researched the colleges and universities in the area. I decided to take my accounting classes within the local community college district because of the many different options of where the classes were offered and the lower cost. I took two evening classes each semester for two years, while working full-time during the day. I finally finished all my classes by June 2004. I applied to the California State Board to sit for the CPA exam and was approved. I began my studying and started to sit in November 2004. My husband’s career moved us to Texas in December 2004. I continued to sit for the CPA exam (since I had already paid for all parts) under California’s approval. I had passed all parts of the CPA exam by July 2005. I then applied to the Texas State Board of Public Accountancy, hoping to transfer my experience and CPA exam grades to Texas and subsequently apply for licensure.

I soon began to feel like a tiger at the circus, having to jump through a flaming hoop. They would not consider any of the accounting classes that I had taken to meet their accounting semester hours rule (effective January 2004). All 30 required accounting semester hours must be upper division (according to their definition, not the university attended) and taken at a four-year degree-granting institution. There is one exception to this rule: the courses may be taken at one of the four community colleges in Texas that are approved by the State Board. These colleges have applied and received the State Board’s “Qualifying Education Credit for CPA Examination” designation.

After wallowing in self pity and sharing my horrible experience with many people, I began to do some more research on their website. I found two separate online documents stating that accounting courses taken at a community college, prior to January 2004, will be accepted by the Board. I brought this to the attention of the Director of Qualifications at the Texas State Board. She told me that is outdated information and none of my classes qualify.

Until 2004, an Associate’s Degree was allowed (versus a Bachelor’s degree) to sit for the CPA exam in Texas. This is quite a large change - from only a 2-year degreee requirement to a 4-year degree and 30 upper division accounting courses.

I find it interesting that the only thing that is keeping me from getting my Texas CPA license is my education. I have colleagues, here in Texas, that have bachelor’s degrees in Accounting, some even have Master’s degrees in Accounting, who still cannot pass parts of the CPA exam. Yet I just have community college accounting courses and passed all the parts of the exam in four of five sittings. Obviously, it isn’t the school and/or the specific classes that prepare a candidate for the CPA exam. Maybe the whole application of a candidate (including CPA exam scores) should be examined and not simply the specific accounting classes taken.

My experience with the Texas State Board has caused me to doubt whether I want to continue to obtain my license in the state. I will obtain and maintain my license in California. in case I should move back, or move to another state, or stay in Texas and apply for reciprocity.

I am currently an internal auditor a position I have had for the last seven years. If I decide to work towards applying for reciprocity in Texas there are two options (or a flaming hoop in my mind): obtain four years of public accounting experience while licensed or meet Texas’ educational requirements. This means taking ten more accounting classes or 30 semester hours (at a university - this time). I can even repeat some of the courses I’ve already taken. The Texas Board’s thinking seems to be that I’ll be a better CPA taking the class a second time and receiving an “A” twice instead of once. That makes a lot of sense....

In the global, internet landscape we live in today, has the time come to standardize educational and experience requirements? Wouldn’t it be great if we all had the same educational requirements to sit for the CPA exam, instead of letting each state make up their own rules? I don’t know if this is the decision of the AICPA or NASBA but something should be done about consistency; since this is one of the principles our profession is based upon.

If NASBA can’t change the requirmeents across all states, then maybe states should consider phasing in their changed requirements instead of changing the requirements effective a particular date.

Written by Kaye Milburn.

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