• Jun 11, 2015

    A Simple, Low-Cost Option for Meeting the 150-Credit-Hour Requirement

    By Guest Blogger, Amber Stack

    amber-stackNot many college freshmen are certain as to the career path they plan to pursue after graduation. Some start college with an undeclared major, while others change their major multiple times as they learn more about themselves and their interests. I was not one of them. I grew up being told I was a spitting image of my father, so it was not a surprise to my family that I followed in his career footsteps and entered my freshman year of college as an accounting major aspiring to be a CPA.

    I began my freshman year in 2011, a few months before the 150-credit-hour requirement to become a licensed CPA took effect. All of my professors spoke about this change, so my classmates and I were fully aware that we had to earn 150 credits. But no one knew exactly how we were expected to do so.

    My professors and colleagues all had different opinions, and I quickly learned that there was not a right or wrong answer. Some suggested I pick up a second major or minor and obtain the credits with undergraduate classes. Others advised me to go to graduate school and earn the credits and a master’s degree at the same time. I learned I also had the option to take “filler” classes at my university or a community college. These classes would give me the extra credits I needed but wouldn’t count toward a second degree or minor.

    At that point in my life I could not afford to go into debt for graduate school or pay extra money for a major or classes I didn’t need. Those didn’t seem like viable options for me. Then I met a senior accounting major who introduced me to the College-Level Examination Program (CLEP). She was behind in her 150-credit-hour requirement and needed to complete them before beginning her job. The CLEP was her ticket to earning credits quickly and inexpensively.

    CLEP exams are developed by the College Board. They are designed to help college students, high school graduates, home-schooled students, and military personnel “earn college credits for what they already know.” You take a CLEP exam at one of the College Board’s test centers. The exam costs $80, plus a sitting fee that varies based on the test center. I’ve found that some test centers do not charge a sitting fee, while others charge a small fee of $25 to $35.

    There are 33 subjects available for testing. If you pass the exam, the credits will transfer to your institution, much like taking a summer course at a community college on a pass/fail basis. Most exams are worth three credits, but depending on your institution they may be worth more. Your institution, however, may limit which exams you can take for credits. This information is readily available at clep.collegeboard.com.

    Needless to say, I was ecstatic to learn about the CLEP exams.

    I chose to test out of a few classes this way. To prepare for the examinations, I used Research & Education Association Inc. (REA) Test Prep for CLEP books. REA is not affiliated with College Board, but they design textbooks to assist in preparing for a CLEP exam. The textbooks only cost $20-$30 and include practice tests. I have found a few questions in the exams on material that was not mentioned in the textbooks, but I have never had an issue passing a CLEP exam by studying this way.

    I have already tested out of financial accounting and college algebra, and I am studying to take my precalculus exam. By the end of the summer I will have completed my 150-credit-hour requirement, and 14 of those credits will have been from CLEP exams. I have found them to be a simple fix for aspiring CPAs who want to save time and money fulfilling this requirement.

    Amber Stack, Bloomsburg University Graduate, Future Audit Staff at Kreischer Miller

  • Dec 08, 2014

    The Next Generation of the CPA Exam

    By Meg Killian, PICPA's Vice President of Member Relations
    Did you know that both Facebook and the electronic CPA Exam debuted around the same time 10 years ago?

    The year was 2004. There were no smartphones or tablets. No texting. Google existed, but it was a simple search engine and not yet a verb. Most people still watched TV shows on an actual television. Laptops were just starting to outpace desktops. And before Facebook, you had no idea what your friends across the country were up to unless they e-mailed or called you.

    I don’t think anyone can deny the impact technology and social media has made on the world, spawning a decade of fast-paced changes in how we do business, how we communicate, how we live. The accounting profession can’t ignore how these changes are influencing CPA candidates, their employers, their clients, and the environment in which they work.

    The AICPA recognized the need to evaluate whether the current exam format was still meeting the needs of the profession in this rapidly changing environment. It conducted extensive research earlier this year to determine what knowledge and skills CPA must possess to protect the public interest and maintain the integrity and relevance of the CPA designation. It has been determined that the expectations of newly licensed CPAs are shifting, so the AICPA developed an initial blueprint of the content needed to meet these expectations. It was also determined that preparing CPAs for the real world could be done by testing higher level skills through enhancements to the CPA Exam. More details on this can be found in the Invitation to Comment on Maintaining the Relevance of the Uniform CPA Exam.

    The AICPA asked all stakeholders to weigh in on its initial findings and share other recommendations. As one of the largest state CPA organizations, the PICPA always joins the national discussions on issues that affect the profession. We formed a task force to respond to the AICPA’s invitation to comment. The group met in November to discuss the current exam format and potential changes that could be made to ensure its relevancy while meeting the needs of candidates and their employers. One of the questions posed by the AICPA was whether an integrative section or capstone was needed. Our task force ultimately decided it wasn’t. Our members felt that extending the testing process would make the exam less appealing to candidates, and that testing higher-order skills and real-world simulations could be achieved by reorganizing and enhancing the current exam sections. Read the task force’s comment letter to find out what they did recommend to the AICPA.

    During the early part of 2015, the AICPA will analyze the responses from stakeholders and revise its blueprint based on the feedback. An exposure draft will be available later in the year, with additional opportunity for comment. The next generation of the CPA Exam is expected to be announced in 2016, and launched in 2017.

    Did you or your organization respond to the AICPA’s call for comment? What did you or would you recommend?
  • Jul 21, 2014

    Right from the Source- CPA Exam Advice from NASBA

    By Meg Killian, PICPA's Vice President of Member Relations
    Penny Vernon video“We are there in the trenches with you. If anything goes wrong, if you’re concerned about anything that happens prior to, during the exam, or after the exam, you can contact the department and we will work to come to a resolution for you.”
    –Peggy Vernon

    The National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) is the governing body that oversees the administration of the CPA Exam. While the organization may seem like it is torturing CPA candidates with a nightmare of bureaucratic rules, regulations, forms, and applications, it actually provides the valuable service of ensuring the integrity of CPA profession and protecting the public interest.

    One NASBA department that every CPA candidate should get to know is the Candidate Care Department. This group serves as the advocate for individuals pursuing the CPA Exam. Some prospective CPA candidates had the very special opportunity to meet and get advice directly from NASBA’s Candidate Care Manager, Penny Vernon, at PICPA’s Student Leadership Academy. Penny has been working with candidates for more than a decade, helping thousands navigate the stressful and complicated process of taking the CPA Exam.

    Penny’s advice was both practical and enlightening. While studying the content that will be found on the exam is obviously the most important thing to do to prepare, there are a few more things Penny recommended you do to get ready. These include practicing stress relief techniques, getting enough rest, and compiling and checking documentation.

    Knowing what to expect at the testing site can also be very helpful. What tools will be provided? How does the check-in process work? What if there is a technical problem or inclement weather on your scheduled testing day? Penny answered all these questions and more.

    If you missed this year’s Leadership Academy, or if you did attend and want a refresher, you can download the video of Penny’s entire presentation here.
  • Jun 18, 2014

    Are You Surrendering a Competitive Advantage?

    By Guest Blogger, Mervisa A. Johnson

    mervisajohnsonTop-performing accounting students with a desire to be successful in public accounting create a master plan that maps out the best path to take to fulfill all CPA Exam prerequisites by the time they begin full-time employment at a public accounting firm. Four years ago the emphasis was on graduating with a bachelor’s degree and having the requisite credit hours. The law has changed, and today a strong plan is attaining 150 hours, with 36 credits of accounting and business-related coursework.

    I was fortunate. My university, The University of Scranton, offered a combined program that allowed me to finish my bachelor’s degree in four years and spend a fifth fulfilling my 150-credit-hour requirement for CPA licensing while attaining my master’s degree. A growing number of schools are providing combined programs that allow students to achieve a bachelor’s degree — including the CPA Exam-required 24 hours of accounting related coursework — in the fourth year, and spend a fifth year in school gaining the remaining required 150-hour credits and a master’s degree.

    I have found that taking and passing all parts of the CPA Exam in the final year of a combined program will be the best choice you can make at the beginning of your career. I stand as your witness: passing all four parts before starting at a public accounting firm should be a self-mandated personal requirement.

    Some students may use these combined programs just to complete the 150-credit-hour requirement and then spend the summer to passing one or two parts of the CPA Exam. I propose that this is not enough.

    I have witnessed the struggle among those who did not complete all parts of the CPA Exam before joining their firm of choice. Some people begin their careers without having sat for or passed a single CPA Exam section. During training, when the facilitator asks those who have at least one part passed to raise their hands, you may suddenly realize that you are starting off behind your peers, the competition. Those who begin their careers having passed one or two sections may feel relieved, but not for long. The relief is quickly smothered by stress and the realization that they should have at least taken one more part before starting. Those that start working after having passed three parts have an advantage, but if their CPA completion plan is not strictly pursued, they could face even greater disappointment.

    Working at your first full-time job is all-consuming. Having to study for the CPA Exam adds an additional layer of stress. In public accounting, particularly in financial services, the hours can be very long, which diminishes study time. It becomes a constant struggle to put 100 percent effort into their job and 100 percent effort into studying for the CPA Exam. I have too often seen studies suffer against the demands of work. Many people rationalize that they will put off studying until more time becomes available. But what really happens is they delay scheduling their exams until they absolutely must because the Notice to Schedule is about to expire. Being focused on work compounded by ill-preparation due to a lack of energy and limited study time, causes many people to fail exam parts multiple times during the year, which breeds discouragement.

    Much of the heartache and stress could be avoided if students took a smarter approach to the CPA Exam and capitalized on a combined program at their schools, if available. If students tackled one or two exam parts during the fifth year in school (having received a bachelor’s degree and the required 24 semester credits in accounting subjects after year four) and then the final two parts during the summer before they start their careers, they will have an immediate competitive advantage. Although the prospect of spending the summer cramped at a study desk with Peter Olinto is daunting, it will be worth it in the end. Even better, if students planned well, they may even be able to complete all four parts of the exam before graduating and thus reclaim their last summer of absolute fun and limited responsibility. This is the optimal choice with the highest reward.

    Further, not having to study for the CPA Exam while working provides greater opportunity for success from day one. Those who already passed their exams can focus on developing technical skills in their free time, including mastering technology and enhancing their accounting knowledge and industry-related guidance. More importantly, new hires that don’t have to study have the time to network and attend team-building events. They can even take the time to get closer to key co-workers by tactically engaging in activities that those people love, such as biking, zumba, marathon training, kickboxing, etc. New hires without exam worries also have more time for community service and getting involved with organizations that promote causes that they support, which also gives them the chance to build their brand in the community.

    Finally, passing the CPA Exam before the pressures of work will give you more of the all-important “me” time: freedom to travel, explore the city you relocated to, visit family, work on building friendships, maintain a healthy lifestyle, and everything else that’s remarkable in life. With all the advantages to be had in the workplace and in one’s personal life, who wouldn’t work hard for a few months while still in school to gain the CPA competitive edge?

    For more information about gaining the CPA credential, visit the PICPA CPA Exam & Licensing Web page or download the free guide, “Becoming a CPA in Pennsylvania.”

    Mervisa A. Johnson is an auditor with PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP in New York City. She can be reached at mervjohnson07@hotmail.com.
  • Mar 17, 2014

    Four Options Prospective CPAs Have to Meet the Education Requirement

    By Guest Blogger, Liz Kolar, MBA, CPA, President SurgentKolar CPA Review

    lizkolarLicense applicants need 150 credit hours to become a CPA in Pennsylvania. Accounting students need to decide how they are going to complete those hours. The law is written so that accounting majors can choose the path that best meets their interests, career opportunities, and personal goals.

    Many public accounting firms will only hire candidates who have a plan to meet the 150-credit-hour requirement, offering a start date after completion of those credits. The firms generally do not require a graduate degree. They simply want candidates to have 150 credits before starting employment.  The traditional option of taking a few years off after earning an undergraduate degree with the plan of returning to graduate school part-time is no longer the best option for CPA candidates.

    Here are four options to consider.

    • Option 1: Earn additional undergraduate credits such as a double major in accounting and finance, double major in accounting and information systems.
    • Option 2: Earn a master’s degree in accounting, taxation, finance, etc.
    • Option 3: Earn a master’s degree in business administration.
    • Option 4: Combine an undergraduate degree in another discipline with an advanced degree with a concentration in accounting or a certificate in accounting.

    Which option is the best option for you?

    Option 1: Many colleges and universities offer qualified students the opportunity to enroll in one or two additional courses per semester at no additional cost. If you decide early in your undergraduate education that accounting is for you, try to plan a schedule of classes for each semester. By taking three to six additional credits each semester for eight semesters, you will be able to earn the 30 additional credits within four years at possibly no additional cost.

    Option 2:  If you have a keen interest in accounting, taxation, or finance, the best option is a master’s degree. These degrees consist of 30 credits and focus and expand knowledge in a specific subject area.  Many colleges and universities have developed integrated five year programs that offer candidates the opportunity to earn both an undergraduate degree and a master’s degree at the same institution in five years.

    Option 3:  If you want to learn about different aspects of business, a master’s in business administration with a concentration in an accounting-related subject might be worth considering. These degrees consist of 30 to 60 credits and will provide a well-rounded business education. The goal of an MBA program is to develop functional knowledge within multiple areas of business. The master’s degree in business administration is commonly preferred for senior-level corporate accounting and finance positions.

    Option 4:  Candidates who majored in other disciplines can also earn credits to become eligible to take the CPA Exam. Candidates can choose between a master’s degree in an accounting-related area or an accounting certificate program. The accounting certificate programs usually consist of 30 undergraduate credits in the specific courses required to become a CPA.

    Not all states have the same requirements as Pennsylvania and candidates must know the specific education requirements outlined by the board of accountancy in the jurisdiction for which they are applying.

    For more information about the CPA Exam and the 150-credit-hour requirement, visit the following helpful websites:

    Liz Kolar, MBA, CPA, President SurgentKolar CPA Review
  • Jan 20, 2014

    Your PICPA Scholarship Questions Answered

    By Meg Killian, PICPA's Vice President of Member Relations
    The 2014 PICPA scholarship application is now available. If you are an accounting major in Pennsylvania, don’t miss out on the chance to get some cash to help fund your education.

    The application process is a fairly easy one, but we know students may have a few questions before they get started. Here are some common questions and answers…

    What are the eligibility requirements?
    • Full-time enrollment at a Pennsylvania college or university
    • A minimum of 36 credit hours completed
    • Declared a major in accounting
    • A minimum 3.0 GPA
    What scholarships are available?
    • Multiyear scholarships from $1,000 to $5,000
    • One-year undergraduate scholarships from $1,000 to $2,000
    • Chapter scholarships from $500 to $1,500
    How do I apply?
    The 2014 PICPA scholarship application is online and can be found here. You can even preview the form before you begin.

    What kind of information do I have to provide on the application?
    In addition to basic demographic information, you’ll need to submit your college transcripts, answer a few short essay questions, and provide contact information for faculty recommendations.

    How long does the application take?
    It generally will take a couple of hours to fill out the application, submit thoughtful essays, and gather the contact information needed for recommendations.

    How are the scholarship recipients selected?
    PICPA member volunteers review the applications and meet annually to select the recipients.

    What kinds of qualities do strong applicants possess?
    Applicants will be evaluated on intellectual capacity, leadership potential, and financial need. The desire and the intent to pursue a career in accounting, and ultimately the CPA credential, are also heavily weighed.

    What is the deadline to submit an application?
    Applications must be completed by March 18, 2014.

    When are the scholarship recipients chosen?
    Recipients are selected in May. Letters to all applicants will be sent in early June.

    I already received my degree but don’t have 150 credit hours, can I still apply?
    The PICPA has a special scholarship to help candidates who are returning to school to complete the 150-hour requirement. Information on that can be found here.

    Do I have to be a PICPA member to apply?
    Being a PICPA student affiliate is not required, but it is strongly encouraged. Plus, the $10 membership fee is waived for all applicants, so there’s really no reason not to join!

    A few additional things to know…
    • About 25 percent of applicants are awarded a scholarship each year.
    • Once a multiyear scholarship is awarded, it is renewable each year until the student has completed his or her degree! The only renewal requirements are maintaining at least a 3.0 GPA, staying an accounting major and attending a PICPA event to be honored as one of our esteemed scholarship recipients.
    • Several PICPA chapters have scholarship programs that support students in certain geographic areas or attending specific schools.
    • The funding doesn’t stop with school. The PICPA also provides CPA Exam scholarships to accounting affiliate members who are paying exam application and review course fees out-of-pocket.
    Additional information about the PICPA scholarship programs can be found here. If you have more questions, call the Careers in Accounting Team at (215) 496-9272 or e-mail schools@picpa.org.

    Good luck!

    Part of PICPA’s mission from its inception has been to support the future of the CPA profession. The scholarship fund just celebrated its 75th anniversary and has awarded more than $2.3 million to qualifying students in just the last decade alone. PICPA members and their employers can help us continue that legacy by making a tax deductible donation to the scholarship fund.

  • Sep 30, 2013

    Act 15 Opens Licensing Opportunities, but Do You Need CPE First?

    By Mike Colgan, PICPA Executive Director and CEO

    Act 15, which amends the CPA Law in Pennsylvania to allow for a more general experience requirement prior to licensing, went into effect Aug. 19, 2013. Many CPA applications have been filed with the State Board of Accountancy since that time, and one question that keeps getting asked is whether a new candidate will need CPE prior to the upcoming biennial license expiration on Dec. 31, 2013.

    If you passed the CPA Exam in 2012-2013, you are able to get a license without obtaining CPE for the 2014-2015 license period. If you passed the exam prior to 2012, and are applying for your initial license after Oct. 1, 2013, you will need 80 hours of CPE, including 16 hours in accounting and auditing, eight hours in tax, and four hours in ethics in the preceding 24 months from when you apply. You will receive a license for the 2014-2015 period.

    The PICPA has numerous opportunities to help both new and existing licensees get their required CPE. One of our newest is On-Demand CPE. Our On-Demand course library continues to grow, with more than 60 programs available on hot topics such as ethics, Act 32, the Affordable Care Act, financial reporting frameworks for small and medium-sized entities, and pension accounting, among other topics. You can learn from expert speakers on your own schedule from your desktop, tablet, or mobile device. One of the best features is that once you pass the online exam you instantly earn your credits.

    Professional Issues Are Your Issues

    Fall marks the return of the PICPA Professional Issues Update tour around Pennsylvania. This is an excellent opportunity for PICPA members to receive two hours of free CPE while interacting with PICPA leadership and your peers and discussing key issues and trends affecting your practice, your business, accounting education, and the state of the economy in Pennsylvania.

    More than 1,000 members take time from their busy schedules each year to learn about legislative initiatives in Harrisburg and Washington and the impact these issues will have going forward. Professional and strategic issues on the PICPA and AICPA agendas are discussed, and program participants have the ability to shape the discussion to address areas of concern.

    As we work to finalize the agenda for the Professional Issues Update program, I would be interested in hearing from you on topics or issues that you would like to see included in this program. Recently PICPA polled attendees of our Leadership Conference and received some great responses. These leaders think the PICPA should be looking at tax simplification in Pennsylvania, succession planning opportunities, and various technical topics. These issues will be included in the Professional Issues Update. But we also want to know which legislative or regulatory issues cause you the most angst, or provide you with new opportunities? What does PICPA do (or not do) to add value to your membership? What issues keep you up at night? Hit the Comment button on this page to let me know.

    This is your Professional Issues Update, so help shape the agenda! A list of program dates and registration can be found at www.picpa.org.

    There will also be one-hour Professional Issues Update webinars available.

  • Jun 24, 2013

    CPA Law Changes, New Requirements Set for August

    By Mike Colgan, PICPA Executive Director and CEO

    bill signingThe Governor and PICPA representatives at the ceremonial bill signing of Act 15 of 2013 in Harrisburg. The State Board’s updated Certified Public Accountant Certification Application became available Aug. 19, 2013. 

    After years of persistence, PICPA-supported legislation that implements a “general experience requirement” to become a CPA in Pennsylvania was signed by Gov. Corbett on June 19, 2013.

    The new law, Act 15 of 2013, will become effective Aug. 18, 2013. It permits CPA candidates to attain their required experience through employment in public practice, industry, government, or academia. In addition, the experience can come from providing any type of service or advice that involves the use of accounting, attest, compilation, management advisory, financial advisory, tax, or consulting skills. The experience will still need to be of a caliber satisfactory to the State Board and verified by a current licensee. Most importantly, candidates are no longer required to achieve 25 percent of their required hours in the attest function.

    This change had widespread support among PICPA members and the profession. Larger firms with many specialized areas of practice and smaller firms that choose not to have an attest practice both welcome the change. Those firms will be able to use their personnel more effectively and efficiently, and candidates in industry, government, and academia will now be able to pursue their goal of becoming CPAs without having to change career paths or scramble for a way to accumulate attest hours.

    what do you think?
    What do you think about the elimination of the attest requirement? Mike Colgan explains the rule change and wants to know what you think.

    Pennsylvania became the 27th state to adopt this general experience requirement, and there has been no known adverse impact on the quality of practice in the other states with the same requirement. The reality is that CPA candidates who provide services in the attest area will most likely receive all of their experience hours in the attest function, plus this area is subject to additional oversight through standards and programs such as peer review. Candidates not working in the attest area will be able to maximize their training in areas related to their responsibilities.

    The PICPA has many resources to help members, CPA candidates, and students become familiar with these changes. In addition, the State Board of Accountancy is working on the necessary revisions to the Experience Form, which will be available before the law is effective on Aug. 18, 2013.

    I want to express my thanks to the PICPA Statute Revision Task Force, chaired by PICPA past president Kevin Mitchell, which initiated this change process back in 2011, as well as the many members who reached out to legislators in support of this legislation. Members who support our CPA-PAC had a direct hand in providing PICPA with access to key legislative leaders to promote our agenda. If you have not contributed in the past, please consider this worthwhile investment. I also need to thank many members of the PICPA team who have diligently worked behind-the-scenes to pursue and publicize this effort. With many hands involved in the process, change can happen!

    I look forward to welcoming many new CPAs to the profession over the next year, as well as current and future students who will find the pathways to enter the profession in Pennsylvania have been expanded.

  • Jun 17, 2013

    Free CPE: If It’s Free, It’s for Me!

    By Francesca Zampaglione, CPA, former PICPA Vice President, Professional Education

    Bill Lazor headshotHere at the PICPA we have a new member president each year. One particular president had a certain way of adding a comedic twist to what he said. We called this habit “Lazorisms” (after Bill’s last name, Lazor.) Although some of you may believe that there is no such thing as a free lunch, Bill felt otherwise. One of his favorite sayings was “If it’s free, it’s for me!”

    The PICPA offers our members a free service to schedule courses in their offices, which we call on-site training. A lot of our members may not know that this service is available. We’re doing our best to let them know by using our marketing vehicles and of course, this blog post.

    There are several advantages to having a course in your offices. The most obvious is saving time and money on staff travel to a public seminar, but just as important, and sometimes overlooked, is the ability to discuss confidential client matters while learning how to adopt a certain accounting or tax rule.

    In addition to training your own staff, on-site training can also be used to train your clients. In fact, just recently, the clients of accounting consultant AC Lordi and tax consultant GTM gave the gift of free CPE at a recent on-site program. You see the teams at AC Lordi and GTM decided that now that ethics is a requirement for Pennsylvania CPAs, why not treat clients and employees to four hours of ethics credit for free?

    The program was a tremendous success, and it was a win-win all around. The clients were thrilled to get their ethics credits taken care of, eat lunch, network, and then return to their offices for a productive day. AC Lordi and GTM were pleased because they would certainly see a return on their CPE investment. The PICPA was thrilled to be the sponsor for the program and provide our members with a high-quality education experience.

    Free CPE and lunch for your clients; how about it? Contact the PICPA for your next program and let us schedule the course at your location; secure the instructor and materials; and issue the continuing education credits. All you have to do is send the invitation to your clients and employees and enjoy the show!

  • Mar 18, 2013

    Recovering from the 2011 Exam Recession

    By Meg Killian, PICPA's Vice President of Member Relations

    It has taken several long years for the economy to finally gain some traction. Thank goodness it didn’t take that long for the CPA Exam to recover in Pennsylvania. I have to admit, I was in a slight panic when I wrote about Pennsylvania’s Not So Successful Candidates last year. Despite (or maybe because of) a record number of candidates taking the exam, the pass rate was down, the average score was down, and the number of successful candidates fell by 20 percent from 2010.

    I am pleased to report that the 2012 CPA Exam statistics in Pennsylvania were better!

    Successful candidate numbers are up. So are the pass rate and average score, which are also above the national average. As a result, Pennsylvania’s ranking in those areas improved significantly.  For comparison purposes, No. 1 ranked state Utah had a pass rate of 61.2 percent and an average score of 75.5. But keep in mind that Utah only had 530 candidates.

     2012     2011
       Rank*  National
    Number of Candidates
     3,594  6       4,815  5  
    New Candidates
     1,202      2,525    
    Total Sections Taken
     9,285  6    11,715  5  
    Passed 4th Section
     1,067      848    
    Pass Rate 47.30%  33  45.50% 38.80% 45 45.50%
    Avg. Score  71.5  32  32  68.2  46  70.6
    Avg. Age
     27.3      27.4
     * (Out of 53 Jurisdictions)

    The total number of candidates fell, as did the number of new candidates, but that was expected because the 2011 number was inflated due to candidates motivated to take the first part before the 150- credit-hour requirement for licensing went into effect in 2012.  The dramatic increase in candidates in quarters three and four in 2011 (see chart below) seems to confirm that theory.

    candidate number chart

    A few other observations of note:
    • The number of candidates with advanced degrees rose slightly to 306 (9 percent) from 263 (6 percent) in 2011. It will be interesting to continue to track this as new graduates start to take the exam. Completing the 150-credit-hour requirement is needed to be licensed but not to sit for the exam, so it’s hard to say whether we’ll see a substantial increase in advanced degrees among exam candidates.
    • The pass rate for both first-time and returning exam takers is above the national average.
    • Pennsylvania’s stats are better than New Jersey, but we are trailing a bit behind New York and Ohio. I compare them because they are neighbor states, but the number of examinees varies greatly.
    Like the economy, this comeback is modest and fragile. The CPA community in Pennsylvania must not rest on its laurels and assume all is “back to normal” when it comes to the exam. The future of the profession depends on improving these numbers and keeping them strong.
  • Jan 21, 2013

    Want to Know for Sure if You Qualify to Sit for the CPA Exam?

    By Meg Killian, PICPA's Vice President of Member Relations
    Future exam candidates in Pennsylvania can now submit a pre-evaluation form to NASBA before they officially apply to take the CPA Exam. Forms are reviewed by NASBA staff to determine exam eligibility, and candidates are informed if they have deficiencies in their transcripts or if they are an eligible candidate in the state in which they plan to apply to sit for the exam.

    NASBA had been offering this service in nine other jurisdictions, and the PICPA worked with the Pennsylvania State Board to get it approved for use in Pennsylvania in 2012.

    Anyone is eligible to be pre-evaluated and have their transcripts reviewed to ensure they are going to meet all the education requirements to take the exam. The real benefit is for current students who have time to adjust their course load.

    You may be skeptical. Why would someone want to pay $50 to be approved to pay another $95 to submit their exam application? But they do. Kathleen E-Love, NASBA client services manager, says this service is used a lot by candidates in all available jurisdictions because “it allows CPA candidates to know of their eligibility prior to submitting an application and paying the registration fees. It allows them to make decisions and plan accordingly regarding their CPA endeavor.”

    It’s not so surprising. The PICPA team fields hundreds of calls each year from candidates who want exactly this kind of reassurance. We are still here to help and happy that we can now direct those callers to a resource that will give them real peace of mind.

    To begin the pre-evaluation process, please visit CPA Central. You must create a CPA Central user account before you can submit your pre-evaluation application online.
  • Dec 21, 2012

    State Board of Accountancy Adopts New Regulations

    By Mike Colgan, PICPA Executive Director and CEO
    New regulations related to continuing professional education (CPE) and minor violations of the Pennsylvania CPA Law were published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin on Dec. 1, 2012. This marks the official implementation of the required four hours of ethics training as part of the CPE requirement to renew your biennial license to practice. This four-hour ethics requirement was previously announced by the Pennsylvania State Board of Accountancy and communicated to our members. The PICPA has been preparing for this, and we’ve developed numerous options for you to obtain these credits.

    In addition to requiring ethics training as part of your 80-hour CPE license renewal requirement, the CPE regulations address several PICPA-driven initiatives. One is to allow the acceptance of CPE programs from non-Pennsylvania- or NASBA-approved sponsors if the program provider is approved in the state where it is headquartered, and that state is considered a mobility (substantially equivalent) state. Currently, only Hawaii is not approved as a mobility state. Many of our members who have had their CPE hours audited in the past may have had courses disallowed because the program provider was not approved by Pennsylvania or NASBA. The licensee would be fined and have to make up the deficient hours. With this new regulation, if the licensee took a course from a provider approved by a state board in any mobility state, the program will be accepted and the discipline averted.

    The Pennsylvania State Board’s disciplinary process for enforcing the statute and regulations will be streamlined with the implementation of new civil penalty regulations. Under authority of Act 48, the Board is able to issue citations for certain minor violations in accordance with a schedule of civil penalties. The published schedule of civil penalties includes minor CPE violations and unlicensed practice. The citation process, similar to a traffic ticket, will allow the State Board to focus more time on meaningful professional issues and less on disciplinary matters.

    Links to the new regulations are below:

    In a related manner, PICPA also supports a bill in the Pennsylvania legislature that would provide an expungement provision for minor disciplinary violations from the Pennsylvania licensee database. Currently any licensee who has been disciplined by the State Board has a notice of the disciplinary action in their online record, searchable by the public. Last session’s House Bill 646, introduced by Rep. Kate Harper, would allow a one-time expungement after a four-year period for minor violations of the CPA Law or regulations. This legislation will be reintroduced in the new legislative session in 2013, and we will keep you apprised of its progress.

    If you have any specific questions after reviewing these regulations, please feel free to respond to this post or contact me directly at mcolgan@picpa.org.
  • Nov 19, 2012

    Chocolate Chip CPE

    By Francesca Zampaglione, CPA, former PICPA Vice President, Professional Education

    Neiman Marcus recently used one of their retail catalogs to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. You may not have heard the story, so, allow me to paraphrase the rumor.

    chocolate chip cookie pictureStory has it that many years ago a father brought his daughter with him for a holiday shopping trip to Neiman Marcus. She wanted a cookie so he asked the clerk how much it was. He was told “250.” He assumed that meant $2.50, but what the Neiman’s employee actually “meant” was “$250.” The father was furious and expressed his discontent to the employee. The employee, in defense, responded, “But you get the recipe with it.” And there you have it; the father paid $250 for a cookie recipe, and said that he would give it to everyone that he knew for free so that he could “get them back.”

    Apparently, he did. I must have received this recipe five times over the past eight years with the same story attached.  We could poke many holes through this nasty rumor, but many people assumed the story to be a true one. Recently, Neiman’s took an interesting approach to this rumor, and decided to set the “story” straight. First of all, Neiman Marcus didn’t even sell cookies when this rumor started. They used this rumor, however, as a business opportunity.  The executive chef actually did create a special cookie recipe, and you can get it for free on their website.

    Here at the PICPA, our recipe doesn’t even relate to cookies, but to electronic materials. Like Neiman Marcus, we are the subject of persistent assumptions and rumors surrounding our decision to use e-materials in lieu of paper materials. This decision was not an easy one, by any stretch of the imagination. There were several variables to consider: we were relocating offices, and if we minimized the size of the production room, we could save $1 million of members’ money over the term of the lease, or $100,000 per year in rent; we were killing a lot of trees, literally, with close to 12 million paper copies per year; and, one of our major vendors decided that it was no longer going to print materials for us, or any other state CPA society. We had a tough decision to make, and fortunately a number of other state societies had already been offering e-materials and were willing to share their best practices and experiences.

    course attendee viewing tabletWe decided to move forward and offer e-materials for 100 percent of our courses, knowing full well that some people would not like this decision. We even went to the board for approval of  a new budget line item to smooth the transition from paper to e-materials through the  give-away of more than 150 e-readers (Kindle Fires and Nook Tablets) at all of our conferences and a number of our seminars. We had been testing e-materials for our conferences, and were ready to make the change across the board for all of our events.

    Now here’s where the “confusion” (i.e., assumptions, rumors, etc.) lies: with all of the “savings” from not printing materials, we must be keeping it. Not so fast. All of you have experienced the price hikes in gasoline and oil, and with the increase in food prices and everything else in our lives. Prices go up. Well, we have been able to use the paper savings to the benefit of our members by not increasing course prices. That includes the facilities where we host our CPE. Some have increased costs significantly; one location in particular increased food and beverage costs by 12 percent. This increase was not budgeted for, as it occurred during our fiscal year. Thankfully, we were saving money on paper, rent, and postage on hard-copy materials so we could continue to offer courses at the same prices as we have for the past several years.

    There you have it. Just like Neiman’s, we want to dispel the persistent rumors. We review your written comments from the course evaluations and listen to your calls in an effort to keep your PICPA CPE experience as good, or even better, as it ever was. I welcome your comments, for if it weren’t for you, we wouldn’t exist, nor would we be able to make our programs better.  For the record, my favorite cookie is, and always will be, the chocolate chip. The Toll House recipe is just fine with me; I don’t need a $250 recipe to put a smile on my face; just a good chocolate chipper to make my day.

  • Jun 29, 2012

    CPA Experience Requirement – Change Approved Unanimously in the House

    By Mike Colgan, PICPA Executive Director and CEO
    On Friday, June 29, 2012, the Pennsylvania House voted 199-0 to approve PICPA-supported amendments to the Pennsylvania CPA Statute to change the experience requirement necessary to become a CPA by eliminating the 25 percent attest requirement. The bill now moves on to the Pennsylvania Senate, where we hope to move this issue following their summer recess. PICPA now hopes that this change will be implemented during 2012. PICPA has FAQs posted on our website and you can follow the progress by subscribing to Legislative Update.
  • Jun 25, 2012

    State Board Announces Firm License Amnesty, Plus Other Disciplinary Issues

    By Mike Colgan, PICPA Executive Director and CEO

    Last week the Pennsylvania State Board of Accountancy put a special notice on its website that announced an amnesty program that provides unlicensed firms with an opportunity to voluntarily register for a firm license in accordance with the CPA Law. Beginning July 1, 2012, the Board will offer firms that have never been licensed an opportunity to voluntarily register and obtain licensure without discipline or monetary penalty.

    The Board thinks there is uncertainty, particularly among smaller firms, about the need to obtain a firm license from the Board. This move likely affects proprietors or smaller firms that have formed a corporate entity but never applied for a firm license. They may have mistakenly thought they could practice under their individual license. However, all accounting practices in Pennsylvania operating as a firm or “qualified association” as defined in Section 2 of the CPA Law need to be properly licensed with the Board. Only CPAs practicing as individuals outside of a corporate entity are able to practice public accounting based on their individual license. The CPA Law can be downloaded from the Board’s website.

    You should note that this amnesty program does not pertain to firms that previously held a firm license from the Board that has since lapsed. This “lapsed firm license” issue is a problem for CPAs who renewed their individual licenses at Dec. 31, 2011, but possibly did not renew their firm license. Please check with your firm administrator or staff responsible for renewing your firm license. Sometimes turnover on the staff causes firm license renewal to fall through the cracks. This violation — inadvertent practice without a firm license — is near the top of disciplinary actions that come before the Board.

    Amnesty applications will be available until Dec. 31, 2012, for firms that have never been, but have been required to be, licensed with the Board. You can obtain an application on the Board’s website.

    I hope that all CPAs are properly licensed and that this issue does not affect many of our members.

    In related news, House Bill 646 was approved last week by the Pennsylvania House by a vote of 197-0. This legislation, sponsored by Rep. Kate Harper, allows for a one-time expungement of minor disciplinary violations (CPE and inadvertent practice without a license) from a licensee’s disciplinary record on the LicensePA database available to the public. Currently, if a licensee has been disciplined by the Board for a minor CPE violation, for example, the licensee has a permanent disciplinary notation on the online record. This expungement language would allow a licensee to apply to have the disciplinary action removed from the record after a period of four years. The PICPA supports this legislation. The expungement language was originally part of our proposed changes to the CPA Law regarding attest experience (HB 2354), but it was removed because Harper’s bill covered all licensing boards in Pennsylvania.

    Finally, HB 2354 — PICPA-supported legislation to amend the CPA Law to eliminate the 25 percent attest-hour requirement to become licensed in Pennsylvania — is scheduled to be voted on June 26th in the House Professional Licensure Committee. It is moving in Harrisburg, and we will keep you posted.
    Update June 26, 2012: The committee unanimously reported Denlinger’s bill from committee. It now moves to the full house for consideration.

    If you have questions or need clarification on any of these matters, please let me know. Thanks for taking the time to provide the PICPA with feedback.


  • May 29, 2012

    Is It Finally Time to Revise the Experience Requirements to Become a CPA?

    By Mike Colgan, PICPA Executive Director and CEO

    Pennsylvania is one of only three states in the country to still require a specific amount of attest function experience for every CPA candidate. This can be a hardship. CPA candidates in industry, for example, may only receive credit for this requirement if they are working within an independent internal audit function. Twenty-six states to date have made changes to their requirements that allow for a broad-base of experience, as recommended in the Uniform Accountancy Act (UAA), a model CPA bill developed by the AICPA and NASBA (National Association of State Boards of Accountancy).

    Earlier this month, as a result of a recommendation made by the PICPA Statute Revision Task Force, Rep. Gordon Denlinger, CPA, introduced HB 2354 to amend the Pennsylvania CPA Statute. The primary goal of this legislation is to update the type of experience required to become a CPA in Pennsylvania. The legislation would not change the one-year experience requirement, but would eliminate the dated provision that requires 25 percent of that experience to be acquired within the attest function.

    One of my responsibilities with the PICPA over the years has been to be the liaison with the State Board of Accountancy. In that role I have attended many board meetings and been involved in the discussion to bring mobility and substantial equivalency to Pennsylvania. Mobility and substantial equivalency are key components of the UAA, and a broader experience requirement is included within the concept of substantial equivalency.

    Substantial equivalency contains basic criteria for becoming a CPA: 150 hours of education, including a bachelor’s degree; successful passage of the Uniform CPA Exam; at least one year general experience requirement verified by a licensee, which is broadly defined to accommodate experience in all fields of employment (public accounting, industry, government, education, etc.).

    The proposed requirement in Pennsylvania would allow experience that includes providing a service or advice involving the use of accounting, attest, compilation, management advisory, tax, or consulting skills, all of which would be verified by a licensee. The experience would be acceptable if it was gained through employment in government, industry, academia, or public practice.

    The attest experience requirement in the current Pennsylvania CPA Statute is too restrictive and does not reflect today’s environment for CPA services. Many opportunities exist for new accounting graduates within and outside of public accounting. The array of services provided by public accounting firms allows them to hire and use their staff more efficiently. CPA candidates moving directly into industry or government will now have a better opportunity to become licensed.

    Pennsylvania’s current restrictive requirement could be making some home-grown candidates relocate or get licensed in surrounding states that have already adopted the general experience requirement recommended in the UAA. The interest level in careers in accounting is at an all-time high, and we do not want to place our graduates at a disadvantage.

    I hope you support this proposed revision to the experience requirement in Pennsylvania, and please contact me with your thoughts. I look forward to hearing from you.

  • Mar 12, 2012

    Pennsylvania’s Not So Successful Candidates

    By Meg Killian, PICPA's Vice President of Member Relations
    You may or may not be aware that the education requirements to become a CPA in Pennsylvania recently changed. (I hope you are aware, because we’ve been spreading the word for more than two years!) Applicants now need 150 credit hours to obtain a CPA license. Because these new requirements just went into effect in 2012, we thought we’d see a record number of successful candidates in 2011. But we didn’t. To be fair, you only had to pass one part prior to December 31, 2011 to be grandfathered in to the old 120-hour requirement, so we may yet see an influx of passers as examinees continue to take parts in 2012. However, we do know there was a notable increase in examinees overall, but the pass rate was less than stellar when compared with previous years.  What happened?

    I think back to the 2006 Pennsylvania CPA Journal article penned by Andy Weidman, Are We Failing the Exam?, and his 2009 follow-up, Failing the Exam No More! In 2004 and 2005 successful candidate numbers were dismal for many reasons. One was the introduction of the computerized exam and multiple testing periods, and another was a perceived lack of emphasis on passing the exam at firms. Both articles tackled what firms were doing, or could be doing, to ensure success among their ranks. A steady growth in successful candidates in subsequent years seemed to indicate that things were improving…until 2011.

    Pennsylvania candidates chart
    There were 4,815 unique candidates in Pennsylvania in 2011, and the pass rate was 38.8 percent. This was down from 49.1 percent among 3,002 candidates in 2010. One promising trend was a remarkable increase in new candidates in the third and fourth quarters of 2011 compared with the same period in 2010. This seems to indicate that the awareness campaign about the new requirements was successful, prompting more people to get their first attempt in before the new requirements went into effect. The drop in pass rate is a bit alarming, and we want to make sure that firms are not once again shifting focus away from the CPA exam.

    Many think that kids have it easy these days. But the fact is that the CPA Exam is still hard, just as hard as when you took it. It may be on a computer in a temperature-controlled testing center with indoor plumbing. It may not be crammed into two and half days. It does, however, still require a great deal of dedication from the individuals and support from those around them to be successful…maybe even more so when consider all the distractions and challenges of the current work/life environment.

    I don’t want to generalize about generational trends; I know not everyone lived the classic nuclear family, even back in the day. But think back to when you took the exam…what else was going on in your life? Did you have a spouse or partner? Children? Were you in a two-income household? What was your workload like at your firm? Did you get time off to study? Did you get a reward or promotion when you were done? Were you connected 24/7 to everyone in your life – family, boss, clients – with little time to disconnect and focus on studying?

    These are some of the issues that current candidates are dealing with when trying to prepare and pass the CPA Exam.  Now tack on the added requirements of essentially another year of school, another year of tuition, and another year of not earning income as a CPA. Add the cost to take the exam, which has greatly increased – it’s now more than $1,000 to apply for all parts – and a review course and which is a few more thousand dollars.

    Don’t get me wrong. All of this is still worth it. The CPA credential continues to be highly regarded. CPAs earn more and have more job stability and they also can segue into many different professions with their experience working as a CPA.  Also, with the new requirements, a Pennsylvania CPA license is substantially equivalent to licenses in most other states, making it easier seek work and/or to serve clients across the country.

    We know many firms provide incentives and support to their CPA candidates, but are they doing enough? And are enough firms doing something? Some of the firms with the most successful candidates provide things such as bonuses and raises for passing, assistance with preparation and application costs, time off to study, decreased workload during a testing week, mentor or buddy programs, and setting exam passing as a goal for annual reviews.

    What is your firm doing to help your candidates? What are you doing if you are the supervisor of a candidate? Has your firm begun to consider new hiring, compensation, and promotion policies as they relate to the increased credit requirements?  The group of interns you’re interviewing now will probably be asking those questions as they consider their future employment options. Many of the tactics outlined in those2006 and 2009 articles still hold a lot of merit and as we enter into a period of another potential drop in candidates.

    I know PICPA will be looking closely at these numbers and trying to identify trends and areas we can address. Now is a great time for you to assess your firm’s policies and incentives to ensure the success of your own candidates.
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