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Sept 1991

Integration of blacks in the accounting profession: a framework for the '90s. (includes related article) (Cover Story)

by D'Angelo, Danielle

    Abstract- The integration of Afro-Americans into the accounting profession would require a three-party approach involving the academic community, the business and professional sector, and the Afro-American student group. The need for taking measures towards this integration can be seen by the significant decline in the percentage of blacks in accounting firms. The coordinated approach should be broad-based and well-coordinated while covering both the local and national levels. An example of such a program's services would be the Black Accounting Scholars Programs, on university campuses in the US, to be established by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and other accounting organizations. It functions through its outreach efforts, financial support, and academic assistance through mentors, peer groups, workshops, and tutoring.

In May 1969, the AICPA Council passed a resolution establishing the goal "to integrate the accounting profession in fact as well as ideal." Since then the actual number of blacks in the profession has increased. However, despite commendable efforts on the part of the AICPA and others in the accounting profession, the percentage of blacks in major accounting firms has declined significantly during the past decade. This situation suggests that a new approach is needed for addressing the important accounting and social issue of integration.



In October 1969, the Journal of Accountancy published a study by Bert N. Mitchell that showed that there were 150 blacks out of more than 100,000 CPAs (or .15%) in the U.S. An updated study conducted by the NYSSCPA by Mitchell and Dr. Virginia Flintall, published in the August 1990 Journal of Accountancy, reported that as of 1980 there were 2,500 blacks out of 400,000 CPAs (or .6%). Bulletin 2340 published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the percentage of blacks in the legal and medical professions in 1988 were 2.0% and 3.3% respectively.

The AICPA Committee on Minority Recruitment conducts an annual study of black and other minority representation in major accounting firms. Major firms are defined as those having more than 25 AICPA members on their staffs. The five groups studies by the committee for the purpose of monitoring minority recruitment and opportunity within the profession are:

1. American Indian;

2. Asian;

3. Black;

4. Hispanic; and

5. All women.

Figure 1 contains the information related to blacks as reported in the committee's 1989 study.




When stated in terms of percentage, the 1989 AICPA study reveals that since 1976, the percentage of every minority group in the profession has increased except for blacks. As shown in Figure 2, blacks represented 1.83% of all professionals in major firms in 1976. In 1989 blacks represented 1.31% of these professionals. This represents a .52% absolute decline and a 28% relative decline. This problem is likely to be further exacerbated by the recent 150 college credit hour requirement for new AICPA members to begin in the year 2000.

Possible Reasons for Failure to


It is not possible to state precisely why blacks are not more fully integrated into the accounting profession. Nor is it possible to state why their progress has lagged considerably behind that of other minority groups identified by the AICPA. The reasons are complex. They have social, economic, cultural and historical roots. To delve into these causes at length is beyond the scope and purpose of this article. However, a few of the reasons discussed in the accounting literature include:

* Lack of knowledge about the profession due to a lack of role models and a lack of counseling on opportunities available;

* Lack of financial resources; and

* Lower college attendance and graduation rates for blacks.



An American Council on Education (ACE) study shows that the percentage of middle-income blacks attending college declined from 53% in 1976 to 36% in 1988. However, in the August 7, 1988 issue of The New York Times, Joseph Berger reported that a few predominantly white colleges are bucking the odds against minorities dropping out. To accomplish this, these schools are combining existing programs, and intensifying their commitment to come up with successful strategies for achieving higher minority graduation rates. The mix of approaches that work for these colleges include:

* Aggressive recruitment of only those students they believe can succeed;

* Generous scholarships and loans to ensure that students do not drop out because of financial fears;

* Preparatory programs for students whose high schools gave them deceptively high grades while not preparing them adequately for college rigors;

* A cadre of administrators, preferably impassioned ones, whose principal jobs are to goad students on;

* Watchfulness over campus social life


and its racial climate; and

* Commitment from the school's leadership to attain robust diversity.




The profession plays an important role in helping to increase the number of black professionals through financial contributions and other efforts. It is important to continue building on the progress made thus far and to achieve more proportional representation for blacks. In order to do this, future efforts should be broad-based and comprehensive in nature. Scholarship funds by themselves are not sufficient. Public relations efforts, internships and other well-intended programs are also not likely to be very effective by themselves. Instead there must be a well coordinated, multi-faceted approach directed at various aspects of the problem on both the national and local levels.

The primary responsibility for integration of the profession should rest with those parties directly affected by and benefiting from the solution of the problem. These parties would include:

* Employers of accountants in both public practice and industry;

* Educational institutions; and

* Minority students themselves.

Each should play an important role in a coordinated approach.

One possible means of accomplishing this would be for the AICPA, state CPA societies, and other accounting organizations to support and encourage the establishment of Black Accounting Scholars Programs (BASPs) on college campuses around the country. The purpose of these BASPs would be to help identify, encourage and support qualified black students who have the potential and interest to enter the accounting profession.




The three facets to the approach taken by the BASPs are:

* Outreach activities;

* Financial assistance; and

* Academic support.

The major components of a typical BASP are outlined in Figure 3.

Outreach Activities

An important aspect of outreach activities is to avoid duplicating efforts of existing programs aimed at minorities. The following programs provide some examples of how a BASP could be coordinated with the efforts of existing programs.

NABA. Student members of the scholars program could work along with the National Association of Black Accountants (NABA) to help further develop NABA's programs aimed at influencing black high school students. Teams of speakers, consisting of practicing major black accountants and black accounting majors, could visit high schools. These visits would enhance the profile of blacks as role models in the profession. They would also serve as a source of valuable information for black high school students.

INROADS. BASPs could also compliment the work of INROADS. INROADS is a nationally recognized program whose primary goal is to help integrate minorities into business. It has an excellent reputation for identifying and developing talented minority youth. It is supported by major national corporations and CPA firms throughout the country. Given BASP's concentration on blacks in accounting, it would be a logical extension of the INROADS mission.

High School Programs. In a study published in the October 1982 issue of Accounting Review, Joseph Paolillo and Ralph Estes found that accountants tend to make their career choices during the freshman and sophomore years of college. This is in contrast to physicians and engineers, who tend to decide on careers before graduating from high school. A University of Akron study by Liberman and Marquette, reported in the Summer 1986 Ohio CPA Journal, showed that high school students (both black and white) have little exposure to career options in accounting.

Given the timing of the accounting career decision and the low exposure of high school students to career opportunities in accounting, it would be beneficial for the profession to direct more public relations and recruiting activities at high school students. Some state CPA societies have significant programs to inform black high school students about the accounting profession. (For an example, see the sidebar describing the New York State Society of CPA's COAP program.)

BASP student members and faculty advisors could participate in area high school career days and other speaking engagements to help identify and attract qualified students to the profession.

Other Outreach Efforts. Other outreach efforts include:

* Attracting top-notch junior college transfer students by coordinating recruiting efforts with community colleges;

* Guest appearances on T.V. talk shows aimed at black audiences;

* Speaking at local black church programs and social organizations; and

* Obtaining recruiting leads from the Negro Emergency Educational Drive (NEED),


the Urban League and other black scholarship funds.

Financial Assistance

The BASP approach to financial assistance could be three pronged, drawing upon 1) students, 2) private industry, and 3) educational institutions.

Student Financial Contributions. There could be two categories of student participation in the BASP. The first would be for honors scholars who have maintained specified levels of high academic achievement. For the honors scholars, financial assistance would consist of a combination of scholarship funds, partial tuition waivers, and internship earnings.

Other black accounting students, not qualifying as honors scholars, would still be eligible for internship earning opportunities to help defray educational costs. These students would also participate in the outreach and academic support components of the program. Furthermore, they would be provided incentives and encouraged to strive for membership in the honors program.

In addition to allowing black students to contribute to their own financial support, interships provide further learning opportunities. These include knowledge of accounting matters as well as knowledge about the organizational setting and environment in which future black accountants would be working.

Industry Financial Contributions. CPA firms and other business organizations would make contributions to help establish an endowment fund. The earnings from this fund would be used to help provide scholarships.

Academic performance would be the first and primary criterion for granting scholarships. Financial need and other criteria would be considered after the academic requirements had been satisfied. The main objective is to get qualified candidates through the system.

In addition to general contributions, firms could sponsor specific scholarship awards bearing the sponsoring organization's name. These scholarships could be awarded to specific individuals designated by the sponsoring firm.

Educational Institution Financial Contributions. Educational institutions could contribute financially by granting either full or partial tuition waivers. This demonstrated commitment by educational institutions might encourage a higher level of corporate and other sponsor participation.


Coordination with Other


To help overcome educational disadvantages and other systemic problems noted earlier, steps should be taken to create a learning environment more conducive to ensuring success. BASPs could assist in doing this by encouraging black students to take advantage of programs already in existence. For example, these would include:

* Services offered by college learning skills centers; and

* College related workshops and programs sponsored by INROADS and other minority organizations.

Mentor Support

It would be beneficial to have a faculty-student mentor program available during the freshman and sophomore years. The faculty member would be of assistance in learning and planning strategies. In the junior and senior years the faculty mentor would be replaced by a practitioner mentor at a sponsoring firm and the orientation would be towards technical, business, and firm climate matters.

Peer Group Support

The existence of the BASP organization itself would provide a basis for social interaction and moral support among black students striving toward a common goal. In addition to this informal aspect, more formal mechanisms, notably an accounting workshop and a tutoring program would be put into place.

Accounting Workshops and


BASP members would be encouraged to help each other succeed in their chosen profession. For example, with appropriate monitoring, BASP members taking junior and senior level accounting courses could hold accounting workshops and/or tutor those taking lower level courses. In addition to aiding other black students in accounting, those students doing the tutoring and conducting the workshops would benefit by solidifying their own understanding of accounting.



The following is a partial list of the ways in which BASPs could benefit the accounting profession.

1. Provide an opportunity to make an investment that will allow the profession to acces a segment of society that has not been easily accessed (i.e., provide a source of qualified black accounting employees).

2. Allow the profession to contribute to the solution of a significant social problem.

3. Provide an opportunity to establish contact with and evaluate potential employees prior to the regular recruiting period during the senior year.

4. Provide an opportunity to cooperate with colleges in encouraging and developing future black business leaders.

5. Provide heightened awareness in the black community of the profession's performance and commitment to developing black CPAs.




No one group can be responsible for the integration of the profession. A successful approach will combine the resources of the business and professional communities, the academic sector, and student participants. The business and professional communities provide financial support, mentors, and work experience. The academic community provides an appropriate learning environment and supplemental financial support. The black students can contribute toward their own financial assistance through internships, and demonstrate commitment through the work-study and self-help elements of the program. This coordinated three-party approach would contribute significantly to integrating the profession in fact as well as in ideal.

Kenneth L. Paige, PhD, CPA, is an Assistant Professor at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.

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