Nation Faces Shortage of Accountants

Article excerpt

NEW YORK -- Kevin Lee wanted to be an accountant. But that was before Lee, a 22-year-old student at New York University, worked one summer at a New Jersey accounting firm. "Accounting is stable," he said, "but it's not exciting because you're doing the same thing over and over." And he says he can make much more working on Wall Street.

Plenty of young people are reaching such conclusions these days. A result is a worsening shortage of accountants, even as the demand for qualified accountants rises amid a boom in small risk-taking companies whose books cry out for careful scrutiny. That has raised concerns about a corresponding decline in the quality of auditors as the profession reaches deeper to fill its ranks.

From Georgetown University to the University of Colorado, the number of students graduating with an accounting degree this spring will be only about half what it was a few years ago. Accounting professors fret about classrooms that seem empty. The largest accounting firms, in the midst of their busy season, are aggressively recruiting liberal arts majors, science majors, any student with an inkling of becoming an accountant. As accountants debate what to do, the profession's largest and most powerful group has proposed making the job more attractive by, in part, reducing the requirements. The group is lobbying state legislatures to eliminate the two years of on-the-job experience that most accountants now need at a public accounting firm to earn the right to put the letters CPA -- for certified public accountant -- behind their name. But some accountants, regulators and investors adamantly oppose the plan, saying it makes about as much sense as lowering the standards for emergency-room nurses or police officers if shortages developed in those jobs. "This is not in the public's best interest," wrote members of the National Conference of CPA Practitioners, a group that represents about 1,000 small accounting firms, in a letter to the much-larger American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, the group that is pushing to relax the standards. …