Enrollments in Undergraduate Accounting Programs Remain Strong: AICPA Trends Report

Enrollments in undergraduate and graduate accounting programs for the 2015-2016 school year totaled more than 250,000, maintaining the record high level from 2013-2014. This was driven primarily by an all-time high in undergraduate enrollments. On the demand side, accounting firm hiring of new graduates was down from the historic level seen in 2014, according to the 2017 Trends in the Supply of Accounting Graduates and Demand for Public Accounting Recruits report, released by the AICPA.

“The high number of undergraduate enrollments in accounting programs bodes well for the goal of continuing a strong pipeline of talent entering the profession,” says Yvonne Hinson AICPA academic-in-residence, senior director, academic and student engagement.

While undergraduate enrollments were at an all-time high, the report found projected master’s enrollments in accounting returning to pre-2014 levels. The last several Trends reports found a sharp rise in the number of master’s enrollments and graduates. The CPA profession has significantly lower rates of unemployment than the broader economy – particularly during economic downturns – which may have been a factor in attracting both traditional students and those changing careers to earn their master’s in accounting.

“In my experience as an educator, economic turmoil is a strong motivator for people to seek out the stability that a career in accounting provides,” adds Hinson. “The uncertain job market in the years immediately after the recession may have driven a high number of career changers to return to school for a master’s in accounting. At the same time, we saw many students pursing their master’s directly after they earned their undergraduate degree to bolster their academic credentials, raising the overall numbers during that period.”

The number of undergraduate degrees awarded in the 2015-2016 academic year (57,119) remained strong, totaling the second highest on record and representing a 5% increase from 2013-2014. While master’s degrees awarded (22,405) saw a decline from the historic level seen in 2013-2014, they were also the second highest on record. Combined, there was an overall projected decrease of 2,258 accounting degrees awarded in 2015-2016.

The 2016 Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Handbook, found that employment of accountants and auditors was expected to grow at an 11% rate from 2014-2024 – which is faster than average and represents an additional 142,000 jobs. According to the BLS Handbook, solid demand for accountants may lead to good prospects for entry-level positions, with strong competition for jobs at the most prestigious accounting firms and businesses. The handbook also notes that the job prospects are particularly bright for accountants and auditors who have earned their CPA license.

The full Trends report is available on the AICPA’s website.