To Take CPE Courses or Not Ö Thatís the Question
Experts share answers.

August 18, 2008
by Sukanya Mitra

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Ever think, what would happen if you stopped taking courses and receiving your CPE credits? Besides the obvious, of losing your license, possibly your sleep. But what if you took a course and did not receive credit? Ever wonder if there’s any difference between taking courses online versus offline? CPA Insider™ reached out to two experts in the world of CPE, David Tolson, CPA, director, CPE Product Development at the AICPA and Carla Blake, CPA, compliance manager — sponsor services, at the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) to find out all the answers. Last week, our experts revealed why you need to take CPE courses and what some of the hot-topic trends are.

Can non-CPAs take CPE courses and get credit for them? Can those credits be used to obtain the CPA designation or any other AICPA designation?

David Tolson (AICPA): Non-CPAs can take the courses and get CPE certificates, but the credits earned will not directly help them to get the CPA or other AICPA designation. To earn the CPA designation, applicants are required to complete a university curriculum as specified by their respective state board, pass the CPA examination and meet certain other requirements.

Carla Blake (NASBA): I agree with David. Any individual may participate in programs of learning that are offered for CPE credit. The benefit to the non-CPA is that the program will enhance their existing skills and may meet their company’s developmental training requirements. Individual state boards of accountancy would have the authority to allow the learning activity to count toward any of the CPA licensure requirements.

Let’s spend a moment on the history of self-study.When did it really come into vogue?

Tolson: Self study has existed for decades, but became more popular about six years ago when it was put on an equal footing with “live” training. Previously, CPAs generally only earned half credit for every hour of training. With the AICPA/NASBA joint CPE Standards changes about six years ago, certain improvements were made to the quality of self-study training and many state boards began allowing full credit for self-study courses that meet the new requirements.

Blake: Due to a concern with the quality of courses offered by self-study sponsors, the Florida Board of Accountancy requested NASBA’s assistance in developing an in-depth review process for self-study sponsors. The result of this was the creation of the Quality Assurance Service (QAS) for self-study sponsors. In 2002, the Standards were revised to eliminate non-interactive self-study and bring National Registry self-study closer to meeting the QAS self-study requirements.

Has there been a shift toward taking more CPE self-study online? If so, will online take over traditional classroom CPE sessions?

Tolson: Online training continues to grow steadily, but training in general has been growing. We have not and do not anticipate a decline in traditional classroom training in the foreseeable future but some modifications may be needed, such as offering half-day training instead of full days.

Blake: Most self-study today is delivered via the Web or on CD-ROM for use with personal computers. However, there are still many providers who offer the traditional paper-pencil based courses. As David points out, I also feel that it is unlikely that self-study will take over traditional classroom programs mainly due to the fact that many state boards of accountancy limit the number of CPE credits which can be earned by self-study. Additionally, many CPAs enjoy the interaction with other participants and the instructor in person and opt for only traditional live classroom programs of learning.

Should someone take a CPE course and not get proper credit for it, what recourse would s/he have?

Tolson: It would depend on why they didn’t get credit. For example, their recourse would be to contact the CPE provider if the provider improperly advertised the course as meeting state board requirements.

Blake: Many state boards provide CPAs with an opportunity to submit a written request to the board to ask for a one-time exemption to the CPE rules in the event that the CPA took a course and did not receive proper credit. However, the state board may provide additional rules on this opportunity. One such rule is to require the CPA to ask the board if the course would be eligible for credit before taking the course. If the CPA is unsure of the eligibility of a course, NASBA recommends that the CPA contact the board prior to registering for the course. NASBA maintains an approved Registry and QAS list on the Web site that state boards and CPAs may access at any time.

Besides AICPA, can you recommend any other authorized CPE course providers, both on and offline?

Blake: The National Registry of CPE Sponsors maintained by NASBA consists of over 1500 CPE providers offering a variety of CPE programs, a complete listing of them can be viewed at http://registry.nasbatools.com. CPAs can also search a database of CPE courses at www.cpemarket.com — a service of NASBA.

How can CPE credits benefit the sole practitioner?

Blake: CPE credits allow the sole practitioner to gain knowledge and skills in many areas. The CPA can demonstrate these competencies to potential clients and establish a larger clientele.

How has the slowing of the economy, rising energy prices and joblessness affected CPE?

Tolson: There has been no impact. The CPA profession is often one of the last industries to be impacted in a downturn since the CPA can provide valuable services to clients during troublesome times. (See related story on how CPAs are surviving today’s slow economy.)

How are you changing your products because of this?

Tolson: We are developing some training aimed at CPAs helping clients who are having financial difficulties.

How does AICPA’s CPE offering (CPExpress) compete successfully with many for-profit vendors?

Tolson: Because of the AICPA’s large membership base, we are able to meet members’ diverse training needs very effectively at a low price. For example, CPExpress offers members more than 900 courses (over 1,200 credits) for a single annual subscription price of less than $200. When you consider that online training generally sells for about $15 per credit hour, CPExpress offers our members $18,000 worth of training courses for only $200. It really sounds too good to be true. You’d be surprised how many members are unaware of this great member benefit.

Armed with all this useful information, you now know how to get your CPE credits, where to get them and how many to get. There’s just no excuse for you to be a laggard when it comes to getting your CPEs.

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Sukanya Mitra is Managing Editor of the AICPA Insider™ e-newsletter group.