How accounting programs can help students pass the CPA exam: best practices include setting up on-campus study rooms for off-campus students and creating academic champion programs.

Author:Gaynor, Gregory
Position:Certified public accountants exam - Cover story

The CPA Exam remains a rigorous rite of passage for those entering the accounting profession. Because protection of the public interest is one of the profession's primary goals, it is imperative to have a strong pipeline of CPA candidates who demonstrate their proficiency by passing the exam.

In recent years, concerns have been raised regarding the demographic challenges facing the profession. A large percentage of active CPAs are approaching retirement age. In addition, the growth in accounting enrollments has recently outpaced the number of candidates sitting for and passing the CPA Exam.

In response, we conducted the CPA Candidate Success Research Project in 2015 with the ultimate goal of finding ways to help increase CPA Exam sit and pass rates. The study focused on identifying best practices that college and university accounting programs employ to help their students achieve success on the exam. (A report of the project's findings is available at

Schools often cited the following factors as primary keys to their success:

* Ability to recruit and retain great students;

* Students securing jobs with firms that pay for a review class;

* Advising students about state requirements for exam/licensure;

* An accounting program structured, especially at the graduate level, to facilitate students' attaining the necessary credits for the exam; and

* The positive signal and confidence boost that current students receive when older students they know succeed on the exam.


The survey results point to three particularly important best practices for schools that wish to improve their students' exam pass rates:

Offer CPA review classes on campus

This recommendation is straightforward but also may not be feasible at all schools, especially those with smaller budgets and enrollments. Some schools may be unable to handle the relatively large costs of administering these rigorous courses or may be unable to sustain the enrollment attrition that can result from imposing additional requirements on student performance. Also, if you're considering offering such classes for academic credit, find out whether the state boards of accountancy in the states where your students most likely will work will accept these credits toward fulfillment of the exam's education requirement.

Create a study room on campus--and a practice testing computer lab if possible

It can be difficult to secure licensing...

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