COAP program sees continued growth as it approaches milestone

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This year marked another period of increased enrollment in the Career Opportunities in the Accounting Profession (COAP) program, an initiative started in 1987 by the New York State Society of Certified Public Accountants (NYSSCPA) that recruits minority high school juniors from public and private schools in New York to the CPA profession. AccountingWEB’s Jason Bramwell spoke with NYSSCPA executive director Joanne Barry about this year’s program participation and the future of the initiative as it enters its 25th year in 2011.

More than 320 high school juniors participated in the five-day COAP program this summer at 10 colleges and universities throughout New York. The breakdown of program participation per educational institution includes:

  • Long Island University, Brooklyn – 46 students
  • Hofstra University, Hempstead – 38 students
  • Pace University, Westchester (the oldest COAP program) – 37 students
  • State University of New York (SUNY) at Albany – 37 students (double the number of participants from last year)
  • SUNY at Brockport – 34 students
  • SUNY at New Paltz – 30 students
  • SUNY at Buffalo – 28 students
  • St. John’s University, Queens – 25 students
  • SUNY at Oswego – 24 students
  • Westchester Community College, Valhalla – 22 students

"This is an increase over last year, when COAP hosted 310 high school minority students", Barry said. "In 2008, 259 New York high schoolers participated in COAP, so the numbers are rising, which we are glad to see."

COAP is based on a model that began in 1982 in Seattle as an initiative of the local chapter of the National Association of Black Accountants Inc. The NYSSCPA introduced the program in 1987 at Pace University.

COAP offers students a tailored curriculum in accounting and finance, as well as extensive opportunities to interact with successful minority CPAs in a corporate environment. According to the NYSSCPA, students apply for the program in the spring and are interviewed in a group setting – a selection process used by the organization to find students serious about participating in the COAP program.

When COAP celebrates its 25th anniversary next summer, more than 2,500 students will have taken part in the program. More than 53 percent of students went on to study business or accounting, according to NYSSCPA survey data.

While the program’s core goal remains the same – to recruit young people from minority groups that have historically been underrepresented in the CPA profession – the need for minority representation and retention in the profession remains strong, Barry said.

"According to statistics provided in the final report from the U.S. Treasury Advisory Committee on the Auditing Profession, in 2007, African-Americans represented 1 percent of all CPAs; Hispanics/Latinos, only 2 percent; and Asians/Pacific Islanders, 4 percent, despite the fact that during that same year, minorities accounted for 21 percent of awarded bachelor’s and master’s degrees in accounting", Barry said. "So the interest in accounting is there, but we have to make sure we support our minority college students in their endeavors to pursue a CPA license. The COAP program has been doing that for almost 25 years."

COAP creates a program for students with multiple career interests. Rather than promoting accounting as a career, the initiative promotes higher education in general. In addition to providing resources, COAP also teaches participants how to prepare for and conduct oneself during a job interview and other practical skills, such as how to dress for an interview, according to the NYSSCPA.

The curriculum at the various programs covers accounting concepts, business ethics, college preparation, resume writing, networking, mock interviews, financial statement analysis, case studies, public speaking, and how to get scholarships and internships.

"COAP programs are made possible through the dedication of NYSSCPA members and representatives of statewide colleges. Most of these members help to organize and continue to maintain these COAP programs", Barry stated. "The society actively pursues program participants through high school guidance counselors, the NYSSCPA Web site, and statewide publicity campaigns. Career surveys have shown accounting to be a growing profession in a depressed economy. This has increased college enrollments and will add students to the COAP program.

"Our members also dedicate their time to CPA recruitment through our various chapter committees that offer Career Day events and scholarships, and our Foundation for Accounting Education offers annual scholarships to encourage and aid deserving candidates to enter the accounting profession", she added.

As the accounting initiative reaches its 25th year, the NYSSCPA is looking to develop an internship program for COAP graduates that will further support their transition from education to a CPA license. The NYSSCPA also is working to provide younger CPAs with more leadership opportunities within the organization.

Barry is optimistic that, with the help of participating educational institutions and program alumni, enrollment in the COAP program will continue to increase annually as the accounting profession grows in popularity.

"Accounting professors and COAP graduates are the greatest promoters of the program", she said. "They have reached out to other schools to expand the program, calling it a life-changing opportunity."

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