When I was in grade school I held a brief fascination with those figure-ground illustrations, which depending on viewer perception and contrast, could be interpreted quite differently, i.e. two profiles nose to nose, or, the outline of a lamp.

Later on, I learned that the theory behind figure ground drawings could, quite often, be applied to quantitative data.

As example, I present a report released last week by the AICPA revealed that nearly 64,000 students graduated with either a bachelor’s or master’s degree in accounting over the 2006-2007 school year — incidentally the highest number in 36 years according to the institute.

As a natural progression to those elevated numbers, hiring by accounting firms over that same period spiked 83 percent from its level of the previous three years. Meanwhile, nearly 70 percent of the CPA firms that responded to the institute survey predicted they would continue to increase their hiring.

Now in most circles that would probably be viewed as somewhat upbeat. After some very lean years in the late 1990s and through 2003, the profession’s pipeline appears on paper at least, to be on an uptick.
Last week the Treasury Department's Advisory Committee on the Auditing Profession released a ponderous draft containing recommendations core to its mission —  “sustaining a viable auditing profession,” that included some not-so-flattering remarks on the state of accounting education and firm recruiting.

Now I won’t delve into every recommendation the group put forth, but there seems to be another school of thought with regard to their members’ perception of human capital issues surrounding the profession.

Former SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt, who co-chairs the Treasury group, for one, labeled the public perception of auditors as “the elephant that’s not in the room,” and commented that auditing appears not to be a popular career choice.

Former SEC chief accountant Lynn Turner said the profession was not attracting the proverbial “best and brightest” because accounting compensation was not commensurate with other professions such as law, and ditto for the level of education versus other credentialed fields.

AICPA president and CEO Barry Melancon reiterated the enrollment numbers, calling the current state of accounting student enrollment and graduation “extraordinarily positive.”
I’m sure I’m not the only one who is puzzled by this dichotomy.

I’ll respectfully disagree with the former SEC chair. I think with the advent of Sarbanes-Oxley coupled with the meteoric rise of lucrative client niches such as forensics, litigation support and valuations, accounting has once again, become a viable career choice.

The salary issue is arguably another matter but alas, would take far longer in this space to weigh than any of you would have time to read.

Could recruiting and education strategies be made better? I have no doubt they can. But let’s pause on occasion to laud at least a measure of progress.

With the scars of Enron and WorldCom still visible, the profession has had to weather the half-empty perception a bit longer than it should have.

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