What College Students Think About CPA Evolution and the CPA Exam

by Sarah L. O'Rourke, CPA, Rutgers Business School | December 2, 2022

CPA Evolution encompasses a new model for licensure and the CPA Exam that will subsequently necessitate some significant changes to our accounting programs. As accounting educators, we’ve been considering CPA Evolution for some time. The CPA Exam is due for an overhaul, and we are enthusiastic about the changes, but many questions remain about how best to incorporate these new topics into our programs. Curriculum changes aren’t always easy to achieve. And while we recognize the importance of the new material, we also grapple with the challenge of where to include the new material in a curriculum that is already jam-packed. 

Accounting educators have been considering CPA Evolution for some time, but what about accounting students? Are they thinking about the new licensure model at all? Do they welcome the changes? Are they worried? To find the answers, I polled a few accounting majors at Rutgers Business School. Most of the students who responded to my inquiry were juniors and seniors — all of whom are likely to be affected by the new CPA Exam. 

Here’s what I found out:

  • Students were aware of the new Exam but not focused on it yet — their familiarity with the new Exam was anywhere from “somewhat familiar” to “not so familiar.” They are likely waiting on more guidance from instructors or their chosen review course provider.
  • Students had a positive opinion about CPA Evolution and agreed the changes were necessary. Students appreciated that the new Exam will be more modern and adapted to the ever-changing profession. They liked the inclusion of more data- and technology-related topics. They also liked that they could specialize and become more skilled in an area that interests them.
  • At the same time, they also worried about the data and technology topics on the Exam. Despite students overwhelmingly listing technology as well as analytical and problem-solving skills as topics they welcomed, they were concerned their current accounting classes would not adequately prepare them for these new topics. This is a valid concern and perhaps a wakeup call for accounting educators. We also wonder what data and technology topics are most important since firms and companies vary in practice with what they use. In addition, some accounting faculty don’t feel comfortable teaching the data and technology subjects because their background is in accounting.
  • The students were concerned about the requirement to choose a specialty in the new licensure model. While they did appreciate the opportunity to become more skilled in a specific area of interest, students worried about picking the wrong section. What if their chosen specialty eventually was not a good fit for them? Deciding upon an area of specialty is difficult when you’ve not yet had the chance to gain much work experience. Students also wondered if firms might favor one section over another — would they favor a job candidate over another due to their selected specialty? They also wondered about choosing between a section that might be considered easier versus choosing a section that has more practical application.
  • Students showed concern about the availability of practice material for the new Exam. After all, who wants to be the first group to try out a new exam?

In general, students did seem very optimistic about the new licensure model as well as the accounting profession as a whole. They viewed accounting as a rewarding career with security and opportunities for growth.

The new CPA Exam will test candidates on knowledge required for a profession that has changed and will continue to evolve for years to come. A revised curriculum at the college level, based on the CPA Evolution initiative, will equip students with the skills expected by today’s accounting profession. While we aren’t 100-percent sure yet what that revised curriculum will look like, we know we are ready to meet the challenge — both accounting educators and students alike.

Sarah L. O'Rourke

Sarah L. O'Rourke

Sarah L. O’Rourke, CPA, is an assistant professor of professional practice in the Department of Accounting & Information Systems at Rutgers Business School-New Brunswick. She is a member of the NJCPA and can be reached at slilley@business.rutgers.edu.

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