Increasing Diversity in the CPA Profession

The AICPA formed the Minority Initiatives Committee in 1969 with the goal of encouraging, providing opportunities, and promoting the hiring of qualified minority accounting students (Article 1).  In 1979, the number of minority CPAs climbed from 150 to 1,000 compared to about 51,000 in the accounting profession (Article 1, Ebook). Today, minorities only represent 4.3% of the accounting profession and African-Americans make up only 3% of the new hire population for CPA firms (Article 1).  This means that within 40 years, the African-American percentage in the accounting profession only rose by 2% (Article 1 and 2).

The CPA journal surveyed approximately 50 undergraduate African American students and found the combination of a more captivating introductory accounting course combined with personally knowing an accountant or CPA as an example or mentor could potentially stimulate more interest in the profession (Article 1).  For many colleges, majors are not declared until students arrive on campus. Offering high school accounting courses or more exciting and captivating introductory accounting courses could contribute to a higher percentage of minorities majoring in accounting. It might also prove beneficial for firms to send minority employees to college campuses to serve as role models and even mentors to undergraduate students.

A similar idea was mentioned in another article posted by the same source, the CPA Journal (2).  This article spoke about how the CPA profession is considered a generational profession (2). Most current CPAs have a family member who is or was a CPA.  Since minorities have always made up a small, single-digit percentage of the accounting profession, and since this profession is generational, it makes sense that the number of minorities within the accounting profession remains low.  Since minority groups do not receive the same exposure to the accounting profession from their personal life, it is up to accounting firms to create this exposure during their undergraduate tenure. The exam dropout rate might also contribute to the low number of minorities in the accounting profession.  After sitting for just one exam, 12% of Caucasian exam candidates, 24.5% of Hispanic candidates, and 32% of African-American candidates drop out (Article 2). One reason for this high dropout rate could be the cost of the CPA exam process. Some of the most advertised review courses are priced around $3,000.  One exam alone costs hundreds of dollars. The candidate must repay this fee if they fail the exam. Lack of mentors along with the high cost of the exam process might contribute to the high dropout rate.

In order to stimulate a desire to both major in accounting and become a CPA, students need to be provided with exposure in the classroom, mentorship, and financial resources.  Introductory accounting courses should be offered in high schools and advertised more heavily in the first year of college. Firms can partner with both high schools and colleges to begin a mentorship program for potential candidates with mentors helping CPA candidates see the big picture. Candidates facing financial hardships could choose to work at firms that reimburse employees for CPA expenses. All of the ideas mentioned above can hopefully increase diversity in the accounting profession.

Resources

Article 1: https://www.cpajournal.com/2018/01/08/african-american-students-still-not-majoring-accounting/

Article 2: https://www.cpajournal.com/2017/12/22/advancing-diversity-within-cpa-profession/

EBook: https://www.aicpa.org/Career/DiversityInitiatives/DownloadableDocuments/MIC_E-Book2541-331.pdf