Aug 11, 2022

Accounting as Part of STEM: A Critical Pipeline Need

Jennifer Cryder, CPA, PICPA CEOBy Jennifer L. Cryder, CPA, PICPA CEO

In a rapidly changing world, it is vital that students are well-versed in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (commonly abbreviated as STEM) so that our nation can compete in a highly technical world. Computer science has been included as part of STEM, but what about accounting? Accounting already is a profession that requires high aptitude in technology, and it will become even more so. It is vital to the profession that this evolving skill set is recognized.   

Three accounting students viewing a monitor to resolve a problem.Accountants’ embrace of technology has enhanced the profession’s role in interpreting data more efficiently and effectively. But accountants are doing more than just using the technology available; we are also researching, innovating, and contributing to the development of new technologies. We are engaged in the process of writing scripts and algorithms to improve the financial management of businesses (robotic process automation). We are working on blockchain technology and applying it to numerous business functions. And the college-level education of accountants is evolving to reflect the rising technological baseline for future professionals in our field. Technology is also a big piece of the new CPA Exam that is in the works as part of the CPA Evolution project. Technology and digital acumen has been integrated across the three core testing components (accounting, audit, and tax) as well as the three new discipline options, particularly the discipline option of information systems and controls. Maybe we don’t currently have the STEM tag, but we are in reality a STEM field.  

So, if we are a STEM field in fact, even if not labeled as such, why is gaining recognition important at all? Two words: accounting pipeline.

A big reason why the inclusion of accounting in STEM is so important is that the classification would open up funding streams for accounting education in elementary, middle, and high school classrooms. This in turn would generate more high-quality accounting classes being taught more frequently. Data show that awareness and engagement of accounting at younger ages translate directly to more students choosing to major in accounting and, ultimately, pursuing a career as a CPA.

Here is a small example of how this works, but it would be at a much bigger and more persistent scale. When our Pennsylvania CPA Foundation provides a program to students, we often have them take a survey measuring their feelings toward accounting before and then after our presentation. After compiling the results of 70 before-and-after surveys, the number of students considering a major in accounting grew by 27 percentage points and a positive perception of accounting grew by 29 percentage points. And this is just our effect on a limited scope of students. Imagine what could be achieved if the positive and exciting aspects of accounting were ongoing and persistent through its inclusion in the STEM curriculum!

Another benefit of early exposure to accounting via STEM would be destigmatizing the profession among younger students and countering persistent negative stereotypes. Not only that, but by making accounting part of the primary and high school STEM curriculum, it will broaden the demographics exposed to accounting at a younger age. Thus, the effort would very likely enhance the diversity and inclusion efforts that are so important to a profession that historically has had difficulty gaining traction in this area.

The PICPA is addressing STEM inclusion on several fronts. Last fall we were part of a national effort to get members of Congress to recognize accounting as a STEM profession. PICPA representatives met members of the Pennsylvania Congressional delegation to discuss STEM recognition among other issues. In fact, there are two bills in Congress that have the intent of including accounting in the STEM curriculum: the Accounting STEM Pursuit Act of 2021 and the STEM Education in Accounting Act of 2021-2022. Unfortunately, both bills are stalled in the respective House and Senate committees, with little chance of passage in the current session. But the fact that both chambers of Congress have discussed adding accounting to the STEM curriculum is notable and encouraging. The PICPA will continue to work with other state societies and the AICPA to urge Congress forward on this long-overdue recognition.

Most recently, we partnered with the AICPA by signing on to a letter asking the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to include accounting programs on its revised list of designated STEM degrees obtained by F-1 nonimmigrant students that qualify for a 24-month extension to their post-graduation optional practical training (OPT) period. While as narrow in scope as this particular effort may be, any acknowledgement we achieve in this area will be an important step forward.

As you can see, there is a concerted push within the profession to get accounting firmly accepted within STEM programs. It is not merely a “label” thing. Getting accounting recognized and included within the STEM curriculum is vital to rejuvenating our professional pipeline. As our efforts continue, I hope we can count on your support. As PICPA presses state and federal legislators for this long overdue acknowledgement, we will update you here in our CPA Now blog and in the Pennsylvania CPA Journal, and may be reaching out to you to help us push this effort over the finish line.

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Statements of fact and opinion are the authors’ responsibility alone and do not imply an opinion on the part of PICPA officers or members. The information contained in herein does not constitute accounting, legal, or professional advice. For professional advice, please engage or consult a qualified professional.