Accounting student enrollment remains high, AICPA 'Trends' survey finds

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Undergraduate and graduate enrollment in accounting programs remained high during the 2015-2016 school year, new data shows, with over 250,000 enrollments retaining record highs found in 2013-14.

Among the findings in the AICPA's 2017 Trends in the Supply of Accounting Graduates and Demand for Public Accounting Recruits report, released on Wednesday, 57,119 undergraduate accounting degrees were awarded during the 2015-2016 academic year, representing the second highest figure on record.

Notably, master’s degrees awarded in the same time-frame (22,405) represented a decline from record numbers in 2013-2014, but still equaled the second highest amount recorded.

“The high number of undergraduate enrollments in accounting programs bodes well for the goal of continuing a strong pipeline of talent entering the profession,” stated Yvonne Hinson, AICPA academic-in-residence and senior director of Academic & Student Engagement. “The AICPA remains incredibly focused on attracting bright, motivated accounting students into the profession. We use the results from the Trends report and other internal research to shape our programs and initiatives to ensure that the next generation of CPAs know that joining the accounting profession is a great career choice with substantial flexibility and opportunities."

“In my experience as an educator, economic turmoil is a strong motivator for people to seek out the stability that a career in accounting provides,” Hinson added. “The uncertain job market in the years immediately after the recession may have driven a high number of career changers to return to school for a master’s in accounting. At the same time, we saw many students pursing their master’s directly after they earned their undergraduate degree to bolster their academic credentials, raising the overall numbers during that period.”

Public accounting hires were also found to have dipped slightly in 2016, with 8,363 less accounting graduates hired than the previous year. The Trends report found that 59 percent of firms that hired one or more accounting graduates in 2016 were planning to hire the same amount or more candidates in 2017. Similarly, the 2016 Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Handbook expected the hiring of accountants and auditors to grow 11 percent in to 2024.

“While technology and data analytics are reshaping the global economy, CPAs remain uniquely positioned to take advantage of these trends,” said Barry Melancon, AICPA president and CEO, per a statement. “We’ve been focused on educating our members about the current and future opportunities that will become available to them as accounting firms increasingly shift to providing broader assurance services. And we’re also proactively addressing the shift in the profession through the new version of the CPA Exam, which places greater emphasis on higher order skills such as analytic ability and problem solving.”

Concerning testing, the AICPA's report found a 13 percent rise in candidates sitting for the Uniform CPA Examination in the 2015-16 academic year.

For the full report, head to the AICPA’s site here.

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