Number of Accounting Degree Graduates Declines: Report

The number of bachelor's degree completions in accounting dropped by nearly 8% between the 2021 and 2022 academic years, according to a new report from the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants.
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Published on October 27, 2023
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  • Bachelor's in accounting degree completions dropped 7.8% between the 2021 and 2022 academic years , according to a report from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA).
  • That represents a greater decline than in previous years.
  • Master's degree completions also fell, but that decline is less than in previous years.
  • Programs were largely optimistic about future enrollment figures.

Fewer people are graduating with accounting degrees, according to a new report, although most programs are optimistic about enrollment.

A survey from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) found that bachelor's degree completions dropped 7.8% between the academic years of 2021 and 2022. That represents a major drop compared to previous years: The 7.8% fall follows a gradual decline of between 1-3% per year since the 2015-2016 academic year.

Master's degree completions also fell by 6.4% between the 2021 and 2022 academic years, but that decline is less than previous years.

The decline in degree completions comes amid a nationwide accounting shortage that has been worsened due to retirements, barriers to entry, and accountants moving to other financial roles, according to The Wall Street Journal.

A decline in the number of people entering the accounting field has led to difficulties for public and private organizations alike in filling key roles, according to the Society for Human Resources Management. Groups like the Cato Institute have called for certified public accountant (CPA) licensing reform to reduce barriers to entry in the field.

The requirements for a career in accounting include required exams, with people who want to become CPAs having to pass the Uniform CPA Examination via their state board of accounting.

An accounting degree can prepare students for a wide variety of fields beyond just the traditional CPA route, with positions like financial advisor, budget analyst, real estate appraiser, and other fields in the broad field opening up with a degree.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the number of jobs for accountants and auditors will rise by 4% between 2022 and 2032. This is slightly higher than the projected 2022-2032 growth rate (3%) for all U.S. occupations.

The degree can also yield a high return on investment: BestColleges previously reported that financial specialists like accountants, auditors, analysts, and advisors earn 69% more than the average worker across all industries in the U.S.

The CPA pipeline is a shared priority for everyone in the accounting profession, the AICPA report reads. The AICPA has taken many steps to strengthen the profession's talent outlook, and convening the National Pipeline Advisory Group is among the most important steps taken. The group is assessing factors contributing to trends in accounting majors and CPA licensure and will develop a cohesive, agile national plan for the profession that is inclusive of its many stakeholders.

While the number of degrees awarded was down, bachelor's and master's programs in the AICPA survey were optimistic about future enrollment.

More than 70% of both bachelor's and master's programs that responded to the AICPA survey said they expect enrollment in the 2023-2024 academic year to be the same or higher as in 2021-2022. Hiring firms that responded overwhelmingly indicated that they would hire the same or more new accounting graduates in the next year.