Faced with the downward trend in individuals completing the CPA Exam, the accounting profession is looking at various tactics to best attract people to and promote CPA careers. One piece of these efforts is boosting enrollment in accounting and accounting related majors. And at the California State University, Northridge (CSUN), those efforts seem to be paying off.
Like many accounting programs around the country, CSUN’s experienced declining enrollment over the past five years or so, which led department chair Rishma Vedd to develop outreach efforts that have not only seen accounting department numbers stabilize but also increase. In this Q&A, Vedd and Cerritos College accounting professor, Debra Johnson share their insights about the importance of these outreach efforts.
Q: How many undergraduate students are in the major and graduate each year?
Vedd: During recent years, the CSUN accounting program enrollment has been between 900-1,000 students pursuing bachelor’s degrees, and 200-250 graduating each year. We also have approximately 50 students each in the master’s in taxation and master’s in professional accountancy programs.
Q: How many community college students transfer into the accounting major from community colleges each year?
Vedd: Approximately 80 percent of our total accounting students come from community college transfers. The remaining 20 percent are direct high school admissions, international and returning to college students, like veterans or parents who deferred their college education. Our community college pipeline is very important.
Q: How is the CSUN accounting program fairing compared to accounting program enrollment at other California universities?
Vedd: Before the pandemic, total students in the accounting program approximated 1,250, but is currently around 1,000. Not surprisingly, the number of community college transfers into both CSUN and our accounting program has also declined.
Q: Describe the CSUN accounting program outreach efforts, including target schools, key activities and why you have made this a priority.
Vedd: Our accounting program hosts two accounting program open houses at CSUN, in October and November. We also present information sessions at eight to 10 Los Angeles-area community colleges, which have been traditional feeder schools for our undergraduate accounting program. We also wanted to build relationships with community colleges where we historically haven’t had many transfer students, but felt our relationship with the faculty would create a large audience for us, like at Cerritos College.
For the most part, the information sessions are at the community college and in person. At one campus, we host the information session via Zoom in the evening since so many of the students also work. I lead all of the presentations and have our EY Career Center director, Gladys Polio, our student staff and professionals from our outreach sponsor, Moss Adams, in attendance.
I explain what needs to be done once the student applies for the pre-accounting major. Gladys discusses the importance of using the EY Career Center since recruiting is year-round, and we invest a lot of resources to prepare our students to interact with employers.
Involvement with student clubs and activities on campus is emphasized because engagement with other students is critical for post-graduation success. I explain that student employees in the accounting department will share their transfer experiences, explain how to use the program resources and offer themselves to be available for questions. The Moss Adams professionals reinforce what we discuss, lay out the recruiting timetable and what to expect since the fall recruiting process starts immediately upon the start of the fall semester. It’s a comprehensive information session.
Q: Moss Adams is your outreach sponsor and partner. How did they get involved and what is their role?
Vedd: Moss Adams is one of the top employers on our campus. With their recruiting team, we discussed strategies to recruit more students into our accounting program. Given the significant proportion of community college transfer students at CSUN, it was natural to focus our efforts on those students.
Moss Adams supports the administrative needs for our in-person and virtual information sessions, as well as sponsoring lunch and gifts for the accounting program open houses. The firm’s support is invaluable to our outreach activities.
Q: What are some key things your department does to make the transition more successful and comfortable for transfer students?
Vedd: We focus on the students’ external qualities, like engagement, building community and confidence. I meet with every transfer candidate, go over their first-semester class schedule, and answer questions about the academic plan, transfer process and expectations. The personal touch sets the tone and translates into higher acceptance rates and a smoother transition to our campus.
We encourage our new students to join clubs and other accounting department sponsored activities like the VITA program and Business Honors, and are mindful to discuss the benefits of each of these activities. I also expect our students and staff who work in the accounting department to share their experiences of transferring to CSUN and offer themselves to be available for questions—to have a mentoring mentality. It’s important that our students, particularly transfer students, feel that they have a support system as soon as they arrive on campus.
Q: What does the success of your outreach efforts look like and how are you doing compared to your expectations?
Vedd: Success is increased enrollment and graduates with accounting degrees. Since Covid, the annual number of transfer students has increased from 145 to over 180 for fall 2023. To the extent it can be measured, we also want the passing rate of the CPA Exam to increase for CSUN graduates.
Q: What changes to the CSUN accounting program curriculum have been made in recent years, or are being planned, to meet the needs of future practicing professionals?
Vedd: Our department added a required Excel certification course and two elective classes, an advanced audit course and a nonprofit-governmental accounting course. We also added IT content, including data analytics, all of which is to meet the evolving needs in practice and to map the requirements of the new CPA Exam, effective in January 2024. Our department is looking to add a graduate certificate in data analytics and a CPA Exam review course to support the 150-unit requirement for CPA licensure.
Q: What can community college transfer students do a better job of to be successful in the CSUN accounting program?
Vedd: The No. 1 thing for any transfer student is to possess a mindset to do three things: get involved in clubs, activities and organizations; be committed to the coursework; and stay motivated and positive because the accounting major is challenging. What differentiates our team is that we aim to take care of the “external” part of the student, the interpersonal skills. For some students, if I see a need, I will refer them to a leadership seminar taught by EY partners and managers, and guest faculty, to help them learn leadership communication skills.
Q: What are the next steps for outreach activities for the CSUN accounting program?
Vedd: Time permitting, we want to expand our efforts to more community colleges. Scholarship awareness also has to be expanded to encourage every qualified accounting student to apply for one of our department scholarships. The accounting firms and our Advisory Board are generous about supporting student scholarships, but there are more qualified students who aren’t taking advantage of them.
Although CSUN has one of the largest VITA programs in California, my goal is to have every accounting student, no matter what career track they intend to take, participate in the program. Income tax return preparation affects everyone and is a basic skill, and students connect and work together.
Q: How can community colleges and CalCPA support the goals of your outreach program?
Vedd: To the extent possible, I’d like to see community colleges collaborate with us so they’re aware of our curriculum enhancements to meet the needs of the accounting profession, particularly in Excel and information technology. We will also learn how to better make their transition to our accounting program as successful as possible. I’d also like to see community colleges encourage 100 percent student membership in CalCPA and the AICPA. This is a great starting point for students to get involved and connect with one another.
Q: What makes the CSUN accounting program outreach efforts effective in terms of supporting your goals as a community college faculty member?
Johnson: I attend every CSUN accounting program information session and I find them extremely impressive, and the reaction from our students is equally enthusiastic. To start, Dr. Vedd is involved throughout the presentation and explains how she is intimately involved with the students as they navigate their way through the transfer process, as are the other staff involved with the program. This projects a caring culture, which is contrary to what many of our students identify with a large commuter campus. Because we have a large first-generation college student population, transferring is a big step into the unknown for most of them, so the message from this presentation resonates with our students.
The emphasis on building interpersonal skills differentiates this presentation from others. Not only are the academic and administrative requirements discussed, but most of the discussion centers on the types of clubs, organizations and programs that potential transfer students should seek out upon enrolling at CSUN. Dr. Vedd and the student staff do a great job of explaining how to access the campus clubs and programs, and how the experiences will help them to be successful in their post-graduation careers. Our students see CSUN as an elite program.
Q: How does this type of outreach differ from information provided by accounting or business programs at other universities?
Johnson: In my 33 years of teaching college-level accounting, I have never seen such a comprehensive presentation where all facets of the program are explained by all levels: department chair, students and Moss Adams professionals. Where most universities send a flier or attend our annual general transfer fair, CSUN offers their live information event every semester and holds them in the evening to accommodate our working students, many of whom support themselves.
One of the CSUN programs, “Recruiting Boot Camp,” prepares accounting students for the interviewing process and is impressive. To me, it’s a unique resource that supports students’ transition from college to career.
Q: How are your students, accounting-focused or not, benefiting from this type of outreach?
Johnson: The feedback I receive from my students is that they see themselves in a program like this. That is why the tone at the top is so important and the messages reinforced throughout the session. It builds confidence in our students who want to pursue accounting to go to the next level.
Q: What other resources would help attract more of your students into the discipline of accounting?
Johnson: As a faculty, we need to build a cohesive and clear message about the accounting profession. That includes the variety of career paths, job types and experiences that accounting graduates can look forward to, not the stereotyped person recording journal entries. Though approximately 50 students attend each session, we need to double the attendance.
Community college transfers play a key role in sustaining enrollment levels at California public universities—51 percent and 29 percent to CSU and UC campuses, respectively, according to the California Community College Chancellor’s Office. The accounting profession in California relies heavily on graduates from these institutions to enter the profession and become candidates for licensure.
The accounting program at CSUN, partnering with an employer, created a community college outreach program to mitigate the disruption to their transfer pipeline. Led by the accounting department chair, the CSUN outreach program goes beyond explaining transfer requirements to create an expectation of the transfer experience and explain how their program develops essential interpersonal skills in addition to required technical skills. This intentional, personal and unified messaging is echoed throughout all levels of faculty, students and employer throughout the presentation.
Charles Osaki, CPA is an accounting and finance lecturer at Cerritos College.