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Improving the college-to-career pathway for CPAs

A professor shares her thoughts on preparing for the CPA Evolution and the changes it will bring to the classroom and the workplace.

6 min read


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The certified public accountant licensure model is transforming to ensure incoming CPAs possess the skills and knowledge necessary in a technology-driven marketplace. As the profession endures this major overhaul — known as the CPA Evolution — and soft skills they need to pass the CPA Exam and get a job in the changing marketplace, instructors need to adjust their current accounting programs, CPA Exam prep strategy, and employer outreach efforts. Here is my advice on how colleges can better support students’ college-to-career pathway in an evolving profession.

Use course materials that mirror the real-world field

In this new climate, what students need to know to be successful in their career is changing. Now, with automation and advanced data analytics tools, some of the basic accounting tasks accountants were doing as first-year staff have been offloaded. To keep up, students need to be able to see the big picture early on and engage in higher-order thinking before they leave college.

Several collegiate processes are causing lags between knowing that students need a skill and actually teaching it to them. First, updating course curriculum and textbooks is taking too long. Second, there is a delay in providing faculty with the resources they need to upskill so that they can better teach these evolving skill sets. To overcome this disconnect between what we know we need to teach and what we are actually teaching, colleges need to seek course materials that are updated regularly and take into account the CPA Evolution.

As new advancements in technology are continuously emerging, I also recommend developing flexible course descriptions for your course catalog. For example, let’s say that the use of Excel in your course is being replaced by new tech, but your current description states “This course uses Excel to do XYZ.”  To make the necessary update, you are likely going to need to put the revision in front of several committees to finalize the change. However, if you had from the onset given the course a more generic description like, “This course uses software and technology to do XYZ,” you could avoid the headache altogether.

Use exam prep to support the college-to-career pathway

Since the CPA license is a useful credential to have in the accounting profession, I like to regularly include CPA Exam questions from various exam prep providers on exams and assignments. Having students understand what it takes to pass the exam, seeing the questions, and believing they can succeed helps motivate them to consider gaining CPA licensure. 

I primarily use the UWorld Roger CPA Review learning platform because it’s updated regularly, ensuring students are exposed to questions that reflect the most current CPA Exam and changes in the profession as a whole. Providing exam prep questions throughout the curriculum helps students understand how and what they should be studying in class to reduce their exam study time in the future. 

While it’s expedient to use test banks to write exams and use multiple-choice questions that are easy to grade, life isn’t a multiple-choice test. Incorporating not only multiple-choice questions but also cases and real-world scenarios is helpful as well.

Offer mentor programs for recent graduates and current students

Now that face-to-face meetings are looking more viable as COVID restrictions are lifted, I suggest hosting more firms and professionals on campus. Rather than having these professionals deliver a basic “why work for us” type presentation, it would benefit your students to learn what they need to know in order to be successful early in their careers. 

Offering mentorship programs with recent grads and current students is another great way to go beyond obvious career prep and give students a real look into what it means to have an accounting career today. You can offer soft-skill workshops that address topics like how to dress, write resumes, have a great interview, and more.

Make sure you check in regularly with your students and find out how the job search and interviewing process is going. Even in hybrid or virtual learning environments, students need to feel like they have a connection with you and know that they aren’t just a black screen with a name on the side of your Zoom window.  

Work with employers to make sure that students have the skills employers need

I think it’s essential for faculty to get out and meet with employers. Beyond just having an advisory board meeting a few times a year with accounting employers, we need to ask them what we can do to better prepare students, because they are the ones that truly know the answer. I suggest faculty gain first-hand experience with employers to get a better understanding of what entry-level accountants really need to know. This could include accompanying students on a firm tour or attending an internship orientation. 

If we take a hands-on approach with employers, we will gain valuable insights into what our students need to know before they enter the accounting workforce. By engaging more with accounting firms instead of simply guessing, we can learn what applications are being used, what tech our students do and do not need to spend time learning, and what soft skills will help them stand out in the workforce. As a result, we’ll have more evidence to support changing our curriculum to include relevant skills, like working with unstructured data and learning programming skills.

You don’t need to change everything

Although the accounting field is changing rapidly, many legacy standards still apply. Students still need to have organizational and time-management skills, the ability to work in a team, communication skills, and polish.

However, we’ve seen that life and the profession change quickly. Students need to learn and understand new rules and changes and then be able to apply the new knowledge. By prioritizing relevant skills in the curriculum, incorporating CPA exam content that is continuously updated, offering mentorship programs, and working with employers to ensure students are learning the right skills, you will prepare your students with the tools they need to succeed in the workforce.

Certified public accountant Megan Burke is an assistant professor of accounting at Texas Woman’s University. She is also a content developer at UWorld Roger CPA Review, which offers universities customizable CPA Exam solutions.


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