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Accounting Program Enrollments Reached Record High in 2013-14

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Aug 10th 2015
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A new report released on Aug. 10 found that enrollments in accounting programs and hiring of new graduates at public accounting firms reached all-time highs last year.

Undergraduate and graduate accounting program enrollments combined to exceed 250,000 for the first time, according to the 2015 Trends: In the Supply of Accounting Graduates and Demand for Public Accounting Recruits report from the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA).

In the 2013-14 academic year, total accounting program enrollments reached 253,082, up from 240,379 during the 2011-12 school year. Master's degree enrollments increased 19 percent – from 38,809 in 2011-12 to 46,011 in 2013-14 – while bachelor's degree enrollments went up from 201,570 in 2011-12 to 207,071 in 2013-14, a 3 percent increase, according to the report.

Master of accounting programs at both public and private institutions saw a big boost in enrollments – with 23 percent and 50 percent increases, respectively. Bachelor of accounting program enrollments went up 12 percent at private universities during the 2013-14 academic year; however, bachelor's degree enrollments at public universities decreased 22 percent.

Total bachelor's and master's degrees in accounting awarded in the 2013-14 school year remained steady, with a less than 1 percent decline after reaching an all-time high in 2011-12, according to the report. Master's degrees awarded increased 31 percent in 2013-14, while bachelor's degrees awarded decreased by 11 percent.

“There has been a growing trend of specialization in the profession, as well as a higher level of performance expected for today's entry-level CPAs,” Joanne Fiore, AICPA vice president of professional media, pathways, and inclusion, said in a written statement. “Accounting students have responded to that marketplace demand by increasingly earning master's degrees and developing specialized skills to complement their strong technical base before they enter the profession.”

On the recruiting side, accounting firms hired a record number of accounting graduates in 2014, representing a 7 percent increase since 2012. Master's degree hires saw the largest growth, with an 11 percent increase, while bachelor's degree hires increased 5 percent, according to the report. As a percentage of total hires in 2014, new hires with bachelor's degrees increased 3 percentage points, those with master's degrees decreased 6 percentage points, and total nonaccounting hires increased 2 percentage points since the previous reporting period.

Universities and accounting firms are both optimistic about the future growth of the profession: 97 percent of bachelor's programs and 70 percent of master's programs expect their enrollments to be the same or higher than the previous year. In addition, 91 percent of firms expect to hire at the same or an increased level in the following year. Larger firms are particularly optimistic about future hiring, with all firms employing more than 200 CPAs reporting that their hiring will either increase or stay the same in the next year.

The report also found that the percentage of women partners at public accounting firms increased from 19 percent in 2012 to 24 percent in 2014. The gender distribution of professional staff at all firms is now 52 percent male and 48 percent female.

“The data in the Trends report is very positive overall, and the outlook for accounting students entering the profession is bright. At that same time, we've continued to see a slight widening of the gap between the number of students who are graduating with accounting degrees and the number of candidates sitting for the CPA exam, although the growth of the gap has slowed,” said AICPA President and CEO Barry Melancon, CPA, CGMA. “It is critical that we're producing enough CPAs to replace the retiring baby boomers and that the profession is continuing to meet the ever-changing needs of the US capital markets. We've been looking into this issue in great detail and are considering a number of profession-wide initiatives to complement our existing programs and ensure that qualified accounting graduates are earning their CPA license.”

Complementary AICPA research has found that accounting programs that stress the importance of the CPA and on-campus employer recruiting increase students' interest in becoming a CPA. Once students graduate, the single greatest influence on sitting for the CPA exam is support from their employer to pursue their license, including time off to study and financial compensation. Conversely, accounting graduates who are recruited by companies directly out of college, and foreign accounting students who return to their home countries after graduation, are less likely to earn their CPA license than those who begin their careers in public accounting.

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