New licensing rules for CPAs spur colleges to revamp accounting programs

New educational requirements for certified public accountants will take effect in July 2014, and Vermont colleges are getting ready.

If approved, a new Certificate of Proficiency in Accounting at Johnson State College will be the only program in Vermont that prepares students for the CPA exam without requiring their enrollment in an undergraduate or master’s degree. St. Michael’s College is preparing supplemental courses for undergraduate accounting students and Champlain College is in the process of adapting to new licensure requirements, said Josh Partlow, chair of Vermont’s Board of Public Accountancy.

Vermont was one of the last states to adopt interstate equivalency standards for CPAs. Known as “mobility,” the concept makes it easier for CPAs to practice across state lines. Between 2009 and 2013, changes in state laws and rules started to be updated. The old set of licensure standards will be phased out in July 2014.

At that point, aspiring accountants must have 150 college credit hours, including 42 credit hours for accounting classes, and one year of experience under their belts — compared to 120 credit hours and two years of experience required now.

The only existing programs that satisfy the new rules entail master’s degrees — Castleton State College and the University of Vermont — offer masters of accountancy, and St. Michael’s allows students to top off their undergraduate accounting majors with a master’s degree in one year at four other schools.

Henrique Cezar, associate professor and chair of the Business and Economics Department at Johnson, is credited with creating the new certificate program there.

“I realized that if you want to get a CPA license, you’re not necessarily looking for a master’s degree,” Cezar said.

He’s established a course curriculum for the new certificate, which was given a preliminary thumbs-up by the state’s Board of Accountancy, he said. Now Cezar is pushing the program through committees at Johnson for final adoption, and working to make the program eligible for federal financial aid.

He said an enrollment of 10 students would turn a profit, but he’s hoping for 50 in the first year.

The coursework will be offered independent of the college’s standard undergraduate enrollment, but he said it also can be incorporated with any undergraduate major.

Parlow, who’s also a partner in the Vermont office of accounting and consulting firm Johnson Lambert LLP, indicated that the variety of programs Vermont colleges are designed to attract a diversity of students.

“I think they’re … trying to make that path available to people coming from different backgrounds,” he said.

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