Universities, advocacy organizations, and accounting professionals are currently faced with an important question: what will it take to ensure a healthy, sustainable number of students majoring in accounting—especially among African American students? Data from AICPA “Trends in the Supply of Accounting Graduates and the Demand for Public Accounting Recruits Report” indicates the percentage of African American students studying accounting has been steady for nearly 40 years, despite societal changes.
A survey conducted by George Violette, PhD, CPA and Carol L. Cain, PhD suggests the troubling lack of growth in black student enrollment is part of a larger problem with attracting students to study accounting; all demographics reported poor first impressions dissuading prospective accounting majors. Schools, professionals, and advocates can cooperate to tackle this problem.
Forming Positive Impressions
The same survey indicated that students who had negative experiences in their first accounting classes did not commit to the major, often citing stereotypes attached to accounting (“too hard” or “too boring”). The problem, then, is how to create a better first impression either in the first year of the major or before college.
Luckily the survey’s results also seem to hold the answer. Of the accounting majors surveyed, 53% personally knew a CPA or accountant. Compared to the 11% of nonmajors who personally knew a CPA or account, it seems one of the keys to reaching students is by giving them access to role models in the world of accountancy.
Some options for accountants and firms to make these connections include:
- Attending high school and college job fairs. Paid internships help to ensure accessibility and equality of opportunities.
- Reaching out to high schools, community colleges, and university accounting departments with offers to speak to classes or to mentor students.
- Offering students opportunities to job shadow. Visiting firms with a diverse workforce can assure underrepresented students they have a place in the profession.
As a longtime advocate for accountancy and underrepresented populations, Dee Studler (SDC CPAs founder and member) encourages fellow accounting professionals to consider their role in forming connections that positively represent the profession. Firms can help increase the number of talented potential new hires by generating interest and excitement for accounting.