August is Pipeline Month at the VSCPA! This month, we'll be highlighting educators who are working to create a CPA culture on campus and help fulfill the VSCPA2025 bold strategy, "Influence students to become CPAs." Our next subject is Bob Cochran, CPA, accounting professor at Longwood University in Farmville and a former member of the Virginia Board of Accountancy.
VSCPA: What do you hear from students at your university about the CPA credential?
BC: My experience is that students do not initiate the conversation about the CPA credential. I believe the conversation needs to be a long-term conversation and has to be initiated by the faculty. I begin the conversation in my accounting principles class. Most of these students are sophomores and do not intend to major in accounting. The focus of the conversation at this point is on the value of accounting as a major without specifically discussing the CPA. Rather, I introduce them to the range of career opportunities available to our graduates who major in accounting.
Those students who decide to pursue the major will then take our first intermediate class in the fall of their junior year. As a course requirement, the students must join the VSCPA and the AICPA and familiarize themselves with the related websites. I also begin to discuss the CPA Exam.
In our third intermediate class, I spend a class period or two explaining the relationship and responsibilities of the VBOA, NASBA, AICPA and Prometric with regard to the CPA Exam. During these classes, I visit their sites and point out the various tools available to them to help them successfully navigate the Exam. We also use our Accounting Association to invite firms and service providers (e.g., Becker) to speak to our students in an interactive face-to-face forum.
VSCPA: When you were a student, what led you to pursue the CPA credential?
BC: From beginning to end, the faculty and the curricula at my university stressed the CPA Exam. As a student, it seemed to me that the sole reason for the accounting program was to prepare students to pass the Exam and acquire the credential. Past CPA Exams and other CPA-related materials were frequently incorporated in the curricula. Additionally, public accounting was prioritized as the preferred career path post-graduation, and the credential was mandatory. Practitioners were ever-present on campus recruiting and promoting the profession and their firms.
At that time, students were allowed to take the Exam in May of their senior year. Student collaboration was encouraged. My recollection is that the vast majority of my cohorts did take the Exam and did begin their careers in the public arena.
VSCPA: What’s the best way universities and professors can influence students to become CPAs?
BC: Engagement is the key. Immerse the students in an active conversation about becoming a CPA. The conversation needs to be ongoing throughout the students’ academic career and include as many diverse participants as possible.
The faculty needs to constantly stress the importance of the credential. I do this in a variety of ways. I begin in the accounting principles classes by stressing the variety of career opportunities available to accounting majors especially those that get the CPA. In upper-level classes where all the students are declared accounting majors, I require membership in the VSCPA and the AICPA. I set aside at least one class day each semester to introduce students to a variety of websites available to assist in preparing for and passing the CPA Exam.
Our Accounting Association routinely hosts events where potential employers, review course providers and others can introduce their organizations to our students. Our Career Center sponsors a career fair exclusively for accounting firms.
Finally, it is important for the faculty to live the CPA culture by being CPAs. Our former dean is a CPA. We have two full-time faculty; both are CPAs. All of our adjunct faculty are CPAs. Our auditing course is taught by a senior manager of a “Big 4” accounting firm.
VSCPA: What can CPAs do to get students interested in the profession before they get to college?
BC: Engagement is the key here as well. The VSCPA has programs that put members in front of high school students. The earlier the stereotype of what it is to be an accountant can be dispelled, the better. CPAs are energetic, dynamic individuals. They are CEOs, CFOs, auditors, tax experts, FBI agents, members of state police forces and professors. Additionally, they are entrepreneurs; self-employed individuals who start their own companies. They are, and can be, anything. That’s an important concept. As a profession, we need to make sure young people understand this.
I think it would be a good idea for members to look to high school students for summer employment. I think it would be helpful for the society to sponsor a program where students are invited to the CPA Center to hear from a variety of members in different areas of practice, as mentioned above.
VSCPA: What’s your opinion on the potential alternate pathway to the CPA credential for non-accounting majors?
BC: All pathways to the credential should be embraced.