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Why aren't they taking the CPA Exam?

May 2014

The number of people taking the CPA has dropped. This shortage of candidates pursuing the CPA credential impacts the ability of CPA firms to hire qualified staff; there is a talent shortage in the industry.

We know two changes have occurred in recent history. First, the introduction of the computerized version of the CPA exam in 2004 resulted in a large decline of candidates taking the exam, and the number taking the exam has not yet risen to pre-2004 levels. Second, the introduction of the 150 credit hour requirement (meaning people need to take about 10 classes beyond the typical undergraduate degree) to obtain a CPA license in most jurisdictions has limited the number of individuals entering the field.

However, the reduced number of CPA exam candidates comes at a time when the demand for CPAs is increasing due to improvements in the economy, changes in financial laws, an increase in governmental regulation, and retirements of seasoned professionals.

Dr. Marty Coe, who earned his DBA degree from St. Ambrose in 2013, is a CPA and Professor of Accounting at Western Illinois University. For his dissertation, he studied factors that influenced students' intentions to take the CPA exam. Dr. Coe surveyed 235 upper-division accounting majors from Iowa and Illinois in both public and private colleges and universities. Surprisingly, cost to prepare and take the CPA exam was not related to intentions to take the CPA exam. However, social support and having a role model who was a CPA were both positively and significantly related to intentions to take the exam.

Most jurisdictions only require 120 credit hours to sit for the CPA exam. This is the case in Iowa, but not in Illinois where 150 credit hours are needed to take the exam. Although the majority of respondents (68%) in Dr. Coe's research reported that they were aware the number of credit hours required to be eligible to take the CPA exam differs by state, only 37% of the respondents were aware they could take the CPA exam in Iowa after completing 120 credit hours of education even if they do not live or work in Iowa.

The results of this dissertation indicate that more work needs to be done to provide accounting students with role models who are CPAs, to inform students of the benefits of being a CPA, and to educate students that the CPA exam can be taken in a 120 credit hour jurisdiction.

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