The AICPA has long advocated for 150 college semester hours – which equates to a fifth year – to obtain a CPA license. The association believes a traditional four-year undergraduate program is not adequate for students to obtain the knowledge and skills they need to become a CPA, citing ever-evolving tax laws, increasingly complex business methods and the changing needs of the profession. Yet as firms struggle to bring in and retain enough talent to handle the growing influx of work, many across the profession may be questioning whether the 150-hour requirement stands as an unnecessary impediment for young professionals considering accounting as a career.
INSIDE Public Accounting (IPA) reached out to leaders from firms of all sizes in March to find out whether they see the 150-hour requirement as a helpful means of better preparing new graduates for the rigors of the profession or simply another barrier to getting bright young people in the door and doing meaningful work.
A Lopsided Result: More than four-fifths of the 158 MPs and CEOs who participated in the survey (81%) believe an extra year of education hinders their firms’ ability to recruit accounting graduates. This problem is particularly acute at a time when finding quality talent stands as one of the top challenges for firms throughout the profession, thanks in part to fewer accounting majors and the lure of seemingly more lucrative opportunities in other professions.
Further, as the profession works diligently to amplify the diversity of its ranks, 9 in 10 firm leaders also say the extra time and expense of meeting the 150-hour requirement hinders minorities and/or those who are economically disadvantaged from becoming CPAs. Here again, this belief holds steady across firms of all sizes.
Skill Gaps Remain: Even as it presents yet another barrier to the accounting profession, most respondents don’t believe the 150-hour requirement fulfills its intended purpose of providing another year of vital training and education. When asked whether they think new accounting graduates are well prepared to join their firms, a majority of survey respondents (57%) say they are not, citing shortcomings in areas such as written and verbal communication skills, analytical thinking and collaboration.
Fixing the Problem: Given the opinions noted above, it should come as no surprise that a full 86% of respondents would like to see the 150-hour requirement go away. As for alternatives for helping to fill some of those skill gaps, 28% advocate for recruiting students from other majors (something that is already happening in many firms), while 27% suggest hiring those fifth-year students as interns to get them in the door and learning in a real-world environment.
A Hot-Button Issue: Given the level of participation in this mini survey, IPA knew early on that leaders held strong opinions. Respondents provided many anonymous comments to support and elaborate on their multiple-choice responses, including:
“The required fifth-year courses should focus more on analytics, technology and communication skills.”
“All programs should give either additional units or offer some incentive for doing a winter or summer internship prior to graduating. I think some relevant work experience is helpful and there should be a bigger push at the university level.”
“We need to rethink the entire profession as a trade and allow for a community college graduate to gain experience in order to sit for the CPA exam in lieu of a five-year degree. The world has moved beyond post-secondary education as a requirement for success.”
“Firms are quite good at providing the training they specifically are looking for – let us do it.”
“Communication and analytical thinking are the top two skillsets that impact a person’s future professional success in most areas of business. The education process should focus more on these areas instead of just debits and credits.”
“Having a child recently graduate from college as an accounting major with honors, I was appalled at the types of easy classes her accounting major classmates were taking just to achieve the 150 hours. A year of working experience is so much better!”
“Experience is the best teacher – always has been, always will be.”