CPA Exam Accessibility: Representation Matters

I think we all know that CPAs are integral to the workforce. From acting as the eyes and ears for a company Ė identifying risk, cost savings, and strategies to reduce overhead, to navigating through tough economic times, a good Certified Public Accountant ensures that smart accounting decisions are made.

But did you know that African Americans make up only 1% of the CPAs in the United States? And their pass rates routinely hover around just 30%? Thatís almost 20 whole percentage points lower than the overall pass rate.

This is a problem that will ultimately limit the industry in multiple ways. A lack of diversity means a lack of diverse thinking and thatís a poison pill for innovation. Take a look below at just a few of the reasons why part of my mission as a Surgent fellow is to increase the representation of people of color in accounting professions.

Diversity of Thought

As I insinuated above, diverse thinking allows for innovation, thatís really no secret, but itís important to remember that diverse thinking really only comes from a range of experiences and backgrounds. Giving candidates of all races, socio-economic backgrounds, and experience-levels a fair shot and a place to speak, is crucial.

Think about it. Would you prefer to work alongside somebody who has the exact same life experiences as you do, and canít expand upon your ideas, or would you rather collaborate with a professional where your knowledge intertwines to reach a more inclusive solution with broader appeal? Itís an easy answer.

Equal Opportunity

Historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) have less in the way of resources, often not being able to offer their students CPA study or the appropriate materials. This isnít an issue of their desire to, but simply their ability.

I know from my own experience, as a HBCU alumna from North Carolina A&T State University, that my professors were brilliant and dedicated to my learning, but they were also stretched thin (multiple committee appointments, multiple faculty advisors to student organizations and teaching multiple courses).

But one thing my professors always instilled in us was our commitment to excellence. This commitment motivated us to form study groups. And we studied hard! We knew the opportunity in front of us and the responsibility that was on our shoulders to advance our communities.

Thatís why itís important that we increase the accessibility of the CPA Exam by providing the CPA Review materials that can guide these students to success, through partnerships like the HBCU Accounting Career Development Program.

Representation Matters

I grew up with my dad as my teacher and as an advocate for the accounting profession. This is really what encouraged my enthusiasm and excitement about the industry. Without this key player in my life, itís hard to say what career I would have pursued. Having somebody in the industry that I could relate to and having this kind of representation and encouragement is a necessary component of every CPA studentís success. And with such a low number of African American CPAs, itís easy to see the issue.

When I was studying for the exam, I read Theresa Hammondís book ďA White-Collar Profession: African American Certified Public Accountants since 1921Ē. This book changed my outlook on CPA exam studying. I knew it was my responsibility to sit and pass the CPA exam because so many others that came before me didnít have the opportunity to sit.

Itís important that all CPA candidates feel respected, represented, and part of the team; without this, we canít expect growth. As CPA candidates yourselves, take the time to look around and see what kind of diversity and accessibility you can foster for your community. Whether itís a study buddy program, or helping to include others in your excitement, those who take the time to collaborate will succeed.

Article written by Dr. Kelly Richmond Pope, Ph.D., CPA, Surgent Fellow