Education: Preparing the Next Generation of CPAs
As the role of the CPA demands the mastery of more nontraditional accounting skills, professionals both in academia and in public and private accounting practice are left pondering what kind of education is needed to successfully prepare a new breed of accountants.
From newly designed course offerings to customized internships, experts weigh in on the education and training that is needed at both the high school and college levels:
Do high school students understand what it means to be a CPA? How can we explain a CPA to high school students?
Cathleen McQuillen, D.P.S., CPA, associate professor in the School of Business & Digital Media at Georgian Court University
Many first-year students just out of high school do not understand what it means to be an accountant and do not appreciate the prestige and employment opportunities for CPAs. This is true whether the student comes from a more privileged background or is a first-generation student going to college. Often students first learn of accounting by taking the required accounting classes for all business students. If these are not taken until junior or senior year, changing to an accounting major would delay graduation which directly impacts their financial future.
Often this is not a risk they are willing to take. A recent trend is the better-prepared student taking the lower-level college courses in high school which has led to more students selecting accounting as a major upon entry to college.
What is also needed to initiate an interest among high school students is to meet them where they live, online. We know that accounting appeals to a certain type of person, and the use and development of games such as AICPA’s “Bank on It” game is important. But to fully attract students, an application with prizes and advancement would be more interactive and effective.
Does the college accounting curriculum need to be altered? How can colleges better prepare young professionals?
Corey R. Temple, CPA, managing partner of KPMG LLC’s Short Hills office
Today’s professionals need a blend of accounting and STEM skills. The future accountant needs to be more data-centric, with skills in data mining, analysis and visualization. Auditors need to “speak the language of data” and should be well versed in artificial intelligence (AI), data science, blockchain and other technologies as well as accounting practices. KPMG, for example, is helping to shape the “accountants of the future” through the KPMG Master of Accounting with Data and Analytics Program, which prepares auditors and tax professionals for the data age by integrating data and analytics skills into traditional accounting courses.
How do internships help? Are they a stepping-stone to a job?
Courtney McLaughlin, CPA, senior tax accountant at Withum
Internships help students experience different fields of accounting. One of the most beneficial aspects of an internship is the exposure and hands-on experience it provides to different areas of accounting. Audit? Tax? Public? Private? There are so many options! These experiences allow students to find which areas of accounting they dislike and enjoy, allowing them to make more educated decisions when it comes time to commit to an industry for full-time employment.
Is there a more appropriate way to train CPAs than the traditional route?
Dr. Joseph Howe, CPA, CFE, CGFM, chief financial officer of a government entity in New Jersey
Becoming a CPA requires a certain level of education and experience. It is an apprentice profession in that to become fully licensed, you must work under the supervision of an experienced licensee for a specified period of time. This model has stood the test of time from the trades to the medical profession. Both education and experience are important pillars of gaining the knowledge, skills and abilities necessary to be successful in the profession. While prescribed a particular set of courses, aspiring CPAs have flexibility outside of the requisite coursework in getting their degree. The CPA license should be viewed from the lens of a generalist. Accountants are exposed to accounting, audit and tax and understand the mechanics of each of these areas. Once working, an accountant can choose to specialize and can get specialized credentials in that area.
Cathleen M. McQuillen
Cathleen McQuillen, D.P.S., CPA, is an associate professor in the School & Digital Media at Georgian Court University.
This article appeared in the September/October 2020 issue of New Jersey CPA magazine. Read the full issue.