Jerry Kopel

Accounting Education

By Jerry Kopel

November 7, 2009

It is hard enough for students in higher education to pay present costs, but the Dept. of Regulatory Agencies' 2009 Sunset review is recommending an increase in number of hours in class for students planning to become certified public accountants. But no one provides information on actual additional costs.

The increase from 120 credit hours to 150 credit hours is being pushed by the Certified Public Accountants Board and its national association. They tried in 1999 and DORA said "no" with good reasons. They tried in 2004 and DORA said "no" with more good reasons. But in 2009, DORA said "yes" as long as the starting date for taking additional 30 hours of credit doesn't occur until after July 1, 2015.

This is bad news for future students without the money to pay for five years of class as supposed to present four years in higher education. One reason for the increase is that only two states, Colorado and California, still only require 120 hours of higher education with a concentration on accounting classes to become a CPA.

The National Association of State Boards of Accountant concedes that "there is no significant meaningful difference between 120 and 150 credit hours as to exam pass rates." In fact under current standards Colorado students outdo the average of the rest of the nation in passing the written tests.

Colorado is one of 45 states to allow CPAs from other states to practice at times in Colorado (without having a Colorado license) and without notice to the CPA board, but subject to the second state's (Colorado's) regulations.

In its 1999 report DORA presented research showing that adding 30 credit hours to the standard would create artificial scarcity (based on reducing the number of graduates) "allowing licensees to charge higher prices for their service."

Also in 1999, the director of accounting programs at CU-Denver claimed that adding 30 semester hours to the standard would add about $25,000 in 1999 dollars to the cost of each graduate's tuition. How much that would be in 2015 is anyone's guess. Even if we don't consider that deepening cuts to higher education funding already have stretched faculties thin, there is also the fact that no state school on the Western Slope offers a graduate degree in accounting.

Should Colorado consider remaining an "island of 120 credit hours for CPAs?"
On one hand, it makes CPAs who graduate in Colorado subject to more regulation if they work in other states. However, on the other hand, stated DORA:

"Non-U.S. Colorado licensed CPAs (from around the world) are engaged in international commerce. By extension, then, so too, is Colorado. As the U.S. and Colorado economies continue to become more global in nature, it is reasonable to conclude that the increasing amount of accounting work will flow across national borders.

"By requiring only 120 credit hours of education, Colorado could attract an increasing number of highly qualified accountants from other nations. The Colorado economy, too could witness greater internationalization, and the state could become a hub of international finance and deal making."

(Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House.)

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