September 2000

‘We are running out of people’

The refrain—“The profession is running out of new entrants”—is one I hear constantly as I visit with NYSSCPA members. It is commonly believed that “new blood” is in short supply. Accounting programs have fewer students and, therefore, fewer graduates with accounting degrees and fewer applicants for accounting jobs. There are fewer individuals taking the CPA exam and, therefore, fewer CPAs.

These indicators stand in the face of the fact that the accounting profession had an extraordinarily successful run in the last two years. Revenues are up, practices are expanding, and the CPA remains the most trusted professional. So why aren’t we attracting new people into the profession?

According to conventional wisdom, one major reason is the 150-hour requirement. But I see no documentation or substantiation of that red herring. The legal profession, which requires three years of graduate work, is drawing more applicants to law school every year. I believe the larger issue lies in the changing population. The accounting profession has not promoted itself to young people in the way the legal and medical professions have. Every child has seen doctors and television medical dramas. Every youngster has seen television shows and news stories about lawyers and gathered a fair notion of what lawyers do. But few young people not from upper-middle-class or upper-class families have a clue what a CPA does, and we have not done a good job of telling them.

New York City public schools have long been substantially minority-majority; more than 85% of the public school children are minority. Minorities represent approximately one-fourth of the entire U.S. population, and that proportion is probably higher in New York State itself. Although I have never seen a validated figure of the number of minorities in the accounting profession, I have heard figures as low as 1% (which I do not believe) and as high as 14%, according to the American Bar Association review of all professions.

New York State schools will follow California as a minority-majority system in a few years. Therefore, it is imperative for the accounting profession to make itself known to its future staff and clients, and the future is now. NYSSCPA members should be proud that the Career Opportunities in the Accounting Profession (COAP) program is in its 14th year in New York City and has expanded and been on Long Island for four years. COAP is a residential learning experience developed by the New York State Society of CPAs to expose promising minority high school juniors to accounting and business careers.

Sponsored by the NYSSCPA and its Foundation for Accounting Education (FAE), academia, and the profession, COAP centers around a weeklong residency session and features successful minority role models and a carefully tailored curriculum. Students learn about business opportunities and can make a more informed decision as to a career choice. At the same time, COAP addresses the concern that too few minority students are entering the accounting profession in public accounting, private industry, government, and education.

Although COAP is a wonderful program, it is not enough. We must take this program statewide. If you are not involved with this program and the issue of the lack of minority representation in the profession concerns you as much as it does me, then get involved. I encourage the state’s young CPA groups to make the COAP program their charity of choice. I encourage every NYSSCPA chapter to partner with us in expanding the program. NYSSCPA members should look at their dues bill and check off the space for a donation to the program. We can never do enough, and I call upon every CPA to make a difference.

This leads me to the One-on-One program. One-on-One, the NYSSCPA’s effort to bring CPAs directly into classrooms, plays an important part of molding the future of the profession. Volunteers visit individual classrooms or participate in career days to speak about their respective professions. Unfortunately, accounting is often underrepresented. Some NYSSCPA chapters use the One-on-One program very effectively. For instance, the Buffalo and Syracuse chapters proactively approach schools and send enthusiastic volunteers to speak to students about the profession, and they receive tremendous feedback. I call on every NYSSCPA chapter and every CPA to do the same. Ask your chapter if it has a One-on-One program. If it doesn’t, get involved and start one.

Last, one of the most important ways the NYSSCPA is reaching out to disadvantaged students is through the Excellence in Accounting Scholarship, now in its 10th year. The $1,500 scholarship is based on financial need and awarded geographically, to ensure funds are available to accounting students all over the state. To be eligible, applicants must have declared a major in accounting and be enrolled in a New York State college or university that offers an accounting program. They must have satisfactory grades and must be near the end of the program.

Although this program has noble goals and is well established, it is not being used as widely as one would hope. I call upon every NYSSCPA chapter and every school with an accounting program to join with us in making every potential applicant aware of the scholarship program so this valuable tool can truly meet its intended purpose.

If among these established programs we do not have the tools to ensure that the profession never runs out of people, then I am confident that we have the means to create new ones. If you have thoughts or ideas on the subject, I encourage you to share them with me.

Lou Grumet
Executive Director, NYSSCPA
Publisher, The CPA Journal

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