Kelley Ellis
Go back to school to help the accounting profession

Five ways you can help recruit and prepare the next generation of accountants.

September 23, 2013
by Kelley Ellis, CPA

As a kid, I thought summer vacation never lasted long enough. Even now, years later, the summer months still seem to pass by the quickest.

It is back-to-school time as universities across the nation begin their fall semesters. Even though many of us haven’t been students for a long time, we can still look forward to the beginning of a new school year and the excitement of a new wave of graduating seniors to come. That’s because we all have a vested interest in the graduates entering our workforce. And now is a good time to explore the ways each of us can help meet the challenges our profession faces in producing that workforce of the future.

Challenges for the profession

Two notable reports have highlighted challenges that need to be addressed to support the future growth of the profession: the AICPA’s survey, 2013 Trends in the Supply of Accounting Graduates and the Demand for Public Accounting Recruits, and the Pathways Commission’s final report, Charting a National Strategy for the Next Generation of Accountants. Here’s a quick look at some of the issues the reports identified:       

  1. More accounting faculty members are needed to teach the growing number of accounting students. The supply of accounting grads is trending upward and hit an all-time high in the 2011-12 academic year. Almost 5% of universities indicated that they do not have the capacity to accept all qualified accounting major applicants because of classroom size constraints and the shortage of new accounting doctoral faculty coupled with the retirement of existing doctoral faculty. The faculty shortage is more prevalent in the specialty areas of auditing, taxation, and accounting information systems, which also are the same targeted skill sets demanded by public accounting firms.
  2. The high demand for accounting grads necessitates the continued focus on maintaining and growing enrollment of accounting students at all levels (bachelors, masters, and doctorate). The demand for accounting grads within the public accounting sector is trending upward and is likely to continue to spike to all-time highs with the impending retirement of the Baby Boomer generation. Accounting grads are not only needed in the business community, but also in the academic workforce—where they can support the growth in student enrollment.
  3. Diversity is still a challenge for the profession. The diversity of the profession is not reflective of the communities in which it serves. This is especially true at the partner level of CPA firms, where the racial composition is 90% white and the gender composition is 81% male. This is not a new challenge. Diversifying the accounting profession and promoting workforce diversity have been high priorities with the AICPA for more than a decade. 

How you can help

We can all make a small contribution to solving these big challenges. Here is how you can help by “going back to school” in your own way.

  1. Be an ambassador and encourage students, especially minorities, to major in accounting and obtain their CPA certification. Many local CPA societies have volunteer opportunities for guest speakers at local high schools, community colleges, and universities to share insights into the profession and what it means to be a CPA. In addition, there are opportunities to mentor accounting students.
  2. Volunteer to be a guest lecturer at your local college or university. Sharing your real-world experience as a subject matter expert allows the students to see how technical accounting guidance is put into practice.
  3. Collaborate with local professors to develop meaningful case studies on important accounting and reporting issues that can be used in the classroom. You also can get involved by helping students with academic research projects. The academic community is always interested in gaining insight from the business community to further the educational process.
  4. Consider becoming an adjunct or full-time professor at a local college or university. An adjunct position is a great way to get started, because it is a limited time commitment and provides an opportunity to demonstrate your abilities to better position yourself for a full-time professor role. 
    The skill set required to teach a three-credit-hour course to a diverse student base is obviously different from that required to perform your job in the business world. It is also more demanding than sharing “war stories” for an hour as a guest lecturer. There are resources that can help. For instance, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business offers an annual Bridge Program that helps prepare experienced business professionals to transition to academia. The weeklong program covers a variety of topics that include understanding and motivating students, addressing different learning styles, and managing the classroom.
  5. For the ultimate “back to school” challenge, consider completing an accounting doctoral program and pursuing a tenure-track position. Many scholarship and fellowship opportunities are available to assist you, including these. This option definitely entails the greatest effort, but the renewed excitement for summer vacations will be priceless.

Whatever you decide to do, I hope you take action soon and start sharing your perspective regarding the opportunities and rewards that await future members of our accounting community.

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Kelley Ellis, CPA, EMBA, is an assistant professor of practice in the School of Accounting at Drake University.