Building the pipeline of future CPAs starts in high school

Written on Jan 24, 2017

By Jennifer Rieman, CAE, manager, public relations

College is a significant investment of time and resources. Yet more than 40% of students enrolled full-time at four-year institutions fail to earn a bachelor’s degree within six years, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics.

Of the students that decide to major in accounting, research from the AICPA shows that roughly 35% of white, Hispanic and Asian students and more than half of black students made the decision in high school. Add in the fact that students that stick with a major are more likely to graduate from college on time and the case for presenting the accounting major and profession to younger students becomes clear.

The Ohio CPA Foundation is creating partnerships with influencers – the teachers, parents and guidance counselors most likely to sway a student’s decision to major in accounting – and expanding programs such as High School Accounting Career Days to introduce the accounting major and profession to younger students.

“We understand that if we wait until students are in college to talk about accounting it may be too late, as many students have already made up their minds to go in a different direction,” said Karen West, CAE, executive director, The Ohio CPA Foundation. “If we’re going to compete for the best and brightest students we need to be out in front with our message.”

The case for majoring in accounting and earning the CPA credential is strong as demand for accounting graduates continues to grow. Robert Half projects a 3.7% increase in accounting salaries for skilled professionals in 2017 as firms and businesses increase pay and bonuses to stay competitive.

“The growth in employment is about 13% for accountants and auditors,” said Dave Brockman, CPA, partner-in-charge, Sikich, LLP and chair of the Foundation’s Board of Trustees. “At the same time, there’s a decline in high school graduates in Ohio. So, it’s even more important that we focus on this issue.”

John Stalcup, an accounting and finance teacher at Stebbins High School in Riverside is keen on supporting the Foundation’s efforts. High school teachers play a crucial role in helping students to choose a major. The AICPA cites the availability of and taking a high school accounting class as the most influential in encouraging students to major in accounting, followed by family members employed in accounting and teachers supportive of the profession.

“I emphasize to my students the benefits of an accounting career and the opportunities that the major represents,” Stalcup said. “I tell them that a very large percentage of students that graduate with a degree in accounting end up getting a job right after graduation.”

The Ohio CPA Foundation is building relationships with high school teachers throughout Ohio, offering resources and partnering with teachers to increase awareness of Foundation programs and services.

“I’ve probably brought more than 50 students to High School Accounting Career Days over the years, and I can’t think of one that said they didn’t want to do accounting anymore after attending,” Stalcup said. “It’s either backed up their decision to pursue the major, or if they were on the fence, it’s pushed them to the accounting side.”

In 2015, the Foundation doubled the number of High School Accounting Career Days, which now reach hundreds of students on Ohio campuses statewide.

The effort is paying off. Students that might not have previously considered accounting are coming around to the benefits the profession offers, including strong starting salaries, flexibility and advancement opportunities.

“Honestly after today I would think about majoring in accounting,” said Desirae Villarreal, senior at Genoa High School and a Toledo High School Accounting Career Day attendee. “There’s a lot of stuff I didn’t know, like how much money you make and the things you get to do. It seems like every day is a lot of fun.”

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