The number of students earning US postsecondary accounting degrees fell sharply in the 2021-22 academic year, according to a biennial American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) report on trends related to accounting graduation rates, the CPA Exam and hiring demand by accounting firms.

Some 47,067 students earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting in the 2021-22 school year, down 7.8% from the previous year, according to 2023 Trends: A Report on Accounting Education, the CPA Exam and Public Accounting Firms’ Hiring of Recent Graduates.

The number of students who earned a master’s degree in accounting, meanwhile, fell 6.4% to 18,238. In the previous Trends report, the comparative rates of decline were 2.8% and 8.4%, respectively.

Enrolment projections for the coming academic year are optimistic. Three-quarters of responding university bachelor’s programs and 78% of responding master’s programs expect enrolment in 2023-24 to be the same or higher as in 2021-22. That compares to 58% for both program categories in the previous Trends report.

AICPA academic in residence Jan Taylor said: “We’re still on a downward trajectory for accounting graduates, although it’s worthwhile to note US university enrolment and earned degrees collectively shrank during this period. The AICPA remains focused on advocating profession-wide solutions to the talent shortage, and we saw increased mobilisation and coordination in these efforts over the past year.”

The Trends report has been published since 1971, measuring both the supply of and demand for accounting graduates. This year, however, the response rate from accounting firms on their hiring practices was too low to be statistically valid – despite an extension of the time the survey was in the field – so the AICPA is unable to accurately project the number of graduates hired into public accounting in 2021. The organisation is looking into a number of issues, including the survey’s timing, delivery methods and promotion, to ensure more complete data in the next report.

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To help remedy the profession’s pipeline issues, the AICPA in the past year convened the National Pipeline Advisory Group, a multi-stakeholder group that is exploring data-driven approaches to address the talent shortage. The advisory group is expected to deliver a draft national strategy plan at the AICPA’s governing Council meeting in May 2024. The AICPA is also moving forward with its Pipeline Acceleration Plan, a series of initiatives that already have considerable consensus within the profession.