The accounting oligopoly: What's next for the Big Four?

Accounting firms are facing a significant staffing shortage.

Between the long hours, stressful deadlines and unflattering stereotype, more people are quitting the profession then going into it.

Instead, students straight out of college are choosing to pursue careers in related fields like investment banking, consulting or data analysis. The additional credit hours required to earn a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) license don’t help either.

To tap the next generation of number crunchers, The Deloitte Foundation, a national nonprofit that supports teaching, research and curriculum innovation in accounting and business, is trying a new strategy to address the talent pipeline problem — by appealing directly to teenagers.

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Together, Deloitte, Urban Assembly and Outlier.org, which works with schools to offer for-credit online college courses, are kicking off a dual enrollment pilot program in New York City.

Starting in the fall, some public high school juniors and seniors can take Intro to Financial Accounting and earn three college credits through the University of Pittsburgh, which they can then transfer to the college of their choice.

Although it’s been around for decades, dual enrollment has only recently started to catch on as a way to knock out some college credits while still in high school, according to a report by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, which showed a jump in the number of students completing coursework this way.

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Unlike Advanced Placement, these programs are not restricted to high school students on a specific — and often accelerated — academic track.

“I teach accounting through the lens of fraud and true crime to show students the side of this industry that is exciting and requires true grit and skill,” said Kelly Richmond Pope, an accounting professor at DePaul University and the course’s lead lecturer. 

The goal is to inspire more diverse students to consider accounting careers and to potentially replicate this model in school districts across the country, according to Outlier’s CEO Aaron Rasmussen.

“Being able to expose accounting in an exciting way, to a diverse audience, is going to help,” he said.

The profession’s lack of diversity is another reason the industry has failed to attract young talent, separate studies show.

To that point, just 2% of CPAs are Black and 5% are Hispanic despite significant job opportunities in the field, according to a recent AICPA Trends Report.

Accounting often ranks among the top jobs with the best future outlook and six-figure salaries, according to other reports.

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