As an accounting professor at Mount Saint Mary College, the author teaches a graduate accounting research course. Students in this capstone seminar are all working towards their master’s in business administration and interested in becoming CPAs. As part of the course, the students shared perspectives regarding the accounting profession that reflect the views of many of their peers. They explored both academic and professional research, investigated current topics like IFRS and sustainability accounting, reviewed CPA exam questions, and focused on their writing skills. This article shares their views on the value of the CPA license and the priorities of today’s millennial accounting students as they prepare to become the professionals of tomorrow.

The Value of the CPA License

According to Christopher Hecht, “Having the CPA license will give me greater flexibility; not having the CPA can make accounting a dead-end job.” Derrick Moran, who also works as a staff auditor at PKF O’Connor Davies, pointed out that being a licensed public accountant comes with greater credibility and greater expectations. He further stated that the “public” in “public accounting” means that auditors have an obligation to protect the community by helping to keep the financial industry transparent and stable. Reinforcing that point, Danielle Soto noted that “CPAs need a stronger moral compass, and the greater responsibility comes at a price.” That price is often dealing with the stress associated with working longer hours with greater workloads.

Another consideration for students is the cost-benefit analysis of obtaining the license. In 2008, New York State revised its licensing requirements to mandate that students fulfill 150 credit hours in order to sit for the CPA exam. Colleges and universities in New York responded by marketing BS/MBA five-year programs whereby accounting students could complete the requirement with a graduate degree.

From the Millennial perspective, a flexible schedule would not impede the effective performance of work.

The first group of students subject to this new five-year requirement in New York State graduated with their MBAs as recently as 2014. It remains to be seen how the actual cost of an additional year of tuition for graduate studies, as well as opportunity cost of possibly postponing full-time work for another year, will impact potential accounting students. Although it may be difficult to quantify how many students opt out due to the cost of the 150-hour requirement, students currently enrolled in accounting programs remain motivated to get their license. Their perception, which research supports, is that they can expect to earn significantly more over the course of their careers with the license. At this point, the master’s has become the new undergraduate degree.

Millennials and Work-Life Balance

According to studies published by the AICPA, Millennials have a different perspective on how they live and how they work, ranking the balance between work and family as their main priority. Ryan Ciancanelli made the point that “young professionals of the Millennial generation want a job that can promote a healthy work-life balance, and the accounting profession makes it very difficult to reinforce this balance.”

The work-life balance in public accounting is indeed a challenge, and the subject of many studies that consider how professionals manage the workload demands of the busy season while still allowing time for family and personal responsibilities. Alternate work arrangements, such as flexible hours or working from home, seem to be a potential solution.

From the Millennial perspective, a flexible schedule would not impede the effective performance of work. Moreover, whether the computer or technology an accountant uses is located at home or in the office is not the main indictor of efficiency for Millennials, which may conflict with perceptions in the workplace. Research indicates that alternative work arrangements are not uniformly supported and are often perceived as having a lower viability, especially by larger CPA firms, which may equate worker visibility with productivity.

Interestingly, students today do not expect longevity at a single firm; Millennials tend to view their jobs as stepping stones for advancement or other employment opportunities. This places firms in the more challenging position of having to create a business environment that will both attract and retain younger professionals.

Student Perspective on Professional Support

Over the course of the semester, the graduate students reflected on the various accounting courses that they had taken at both the undergraduate and graduate levels to determine how the curriculum could be modified to better prepare them for the real world. Because many of the students already had work experience, it was surprising to hear that, instead of revising the curriculum, they recommended that employers provide effective training.

Robert Lakhman made the point that “theory is important, but it takes time to put theory into practice; there will always be a learning curve on any job.” Derrick Moran, who entered the accounting profession after a stint in the military, shared compelling stories of his initial struggle to work conscientiously in an environment where the focus was on completing the accounting assignment with the least investment of oversight or support.

Overall, the students felt that they would benefit the most—and it would be more cost effective over the long run—if employers provided mentors or held training workshops for new professionals. Furthermore, accounting professors need to structure courses in ways to further develop the written and verbal communication skills that students will need in the workplace. This may include assignments involving presentations, team collaborations, and the drafting of effective business e-mail communication.

Millennials and the Future of the Profession

The Internet and social media have had a great impact on business operations and marketing. For the Millennials, however, these technologies have always been the norm. Business may have to conform to their views, instead of the other way around.

The AICPA recognizes the different expectations of millennials and the focus on corporate social responsibility in general through its support of the global initiatives to implement sustainability accounting and reporting for firms. Millennials are the future of the accounting profession, but to properly engage them, a different assessment of work productivity is needed. Quality work can be accomplished even with alternative work arrangements, and Millennials can shine while striving for the balance that they seek.

Tracey J. Niemotko, JD, CPA, CFE is chair of the school of business and a professor of accounting at Mount Saint Mary College, Newburgh, N.Y.