Corporate Finance & Governance | Training & CPE

Corporate talent shortage: Are colleges to blame?

CollegeThe struggle to recruit talented new CPAs has been well documented for a while, but now has tossed in a new wrinkle: The available talent sometimes hasn't been properly educated.

That's what some corporate CFOs are saying, anyway. According to author David McCann, some financial executives are complaining that the education today's accounting students receive is top-heavy with public-accounting issues like auditing, compliance and tax and severely lacking in areas like budgeting, forecasting, risk management and leadership.

"The need for changes in college curricula has grown more urgent because of the regulatory pressures placed on corporations by Sarbanes-Oxley, which has caused greater demand for, and thus a shortage of, accounting talent," McCann writes. "... An effective accounting curriculum would include coursework on business development and analysis, cost management, information management and performance management, according to (Caterpillar Inc. CFO David) Burritt."

In a followup article titled "The Long Arm of the Big Four," however, professors say it isn't so much that students aren't receiving the appropriate training. Rather, they say students tend to gravitate toward public accounting because of the massive -- and hugely effective -- recruiting efforts put forth by the Big Four and other large CPA firms.

"The Big Four accounting firms do the best job of recruiting undergraduates of any industry around," Chris Paisley, executive professor of accounting and finance at Santa Clara University, told McCann. "It's absolutely the case that if you're an accounting student, you have the opinion that if you take a job with anyone else you're somehow making a suboptimized decision."

Adds McCann: "Even the students who don't really want to go into public accounting may not see another option, says Richard Houston, professor of accounting at the University of Alabama. It's hard to match up students with jobs in industry because of corporations' small recruiting presence, he says."

What do you think? Does corporate America have a point about lopsided accounting education, or do companies just need to get better at recruiting?


Bill Sheridan