The number of students enrolling in accounting programs for Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees continues to rise. That’s according to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants’ (AICPA) 2011 “Trends in the Supply of Accounting Graduates and Demand for Public Accounting Recruits.” However, with the economy still far from recovery, many wonder whether these more than 225,000 students will find employment after graduation.
Trends in Graduate Employment
“The trend that we are seeing in accounting graduate employment is positive,” said Scott Moore, senior manager, College and University Initiatives, for AICPA Academic and Career Awareness team. “While 2009 showed a decline in the number of accounting graduates being hired after graduation, the 2011 trend report shows a substantial bounce back from those numbers, and the demand is still growing.”
According to the survey, hiring in the field of accounting has increased across all segments since the 2009 edition of the report, and has reached the second highest point since the survey began in 1971. This substantial increase in demand raises concerns that the number of jobs in the field of accounting will outnumber graduates.
“While accounting enrollment is strong, there are a number of outside forces that may produce a shortage of graduates in the future,” said Moore. “For example, funding cuts for education may drastically reduce the number of students entering the university setting each year. A shortage of faculty is also a concern, and I believe may be a bigger problem than the number of people pursuing the major.”
The Future of Accounting Education
While enrollment for the Masters of Accountancy degree has increased more than 30 percent since 2009, Moore notes that the number of Master’s students pursuing Doctoral degrees is not substantial enough to backfill the number of professors retiring each year. To combat this, the AICPA has developed the Accounting Doctoral Scholar Program to provide funding to help accountants with recent public accounting experience in auditing and tax to obtain their doctorates.
“Educators play an important role in the future of accounting,” said Moore. “It is their job to pass it forward in a sense, and show students how much they enjoy their job. When they are talking to students about career opportunities, they can’t forget to share about the choices that they have made.”
Rise of CPAs
The field has also seen an increase in the number of people pursuing their CPA each year, with statistics showing that just fewer than 100,000 people sat for the exam in 2011. This number has shown a steady increase since 2005, and is expected to continue to grow. It is interesting to note, however, that the average age of people taking the exam has increased from 27 to 30 over the past four years.
“When the recession hit, a lot of students opted out of becoming a CPA after graduation. Now, a few years later, they are looking to build their credentials and take the exam,” said Moore. “We are also seeing more and more people enter the field later in their careers. For those whose careers have not been fruitful, or whose professions have been phased out, accounting offers a career that is stable with a strong demand for their services.”
With the rate of change in the field of accounting, Moore suggests that students take their CPA exam as soon as possible, as keeping up with environmental changes and studying for the exam will become more overwhelming as time goes on. Further, taking the exam early on will open up a number of opportunities for the future.
“Once you graduate, your journey has just begun. Graduating from college and earning a CPA license is just the beginning. Then you must make the climb through your career,” said Moore. “In a field as forward-moving as accounting, this means that you must always be prepared to learn. Take advantage of the opportunities presented to you, and if possible align yourself with an employer that provides continued training.”
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