More than 300,000 accountants and auditors in the U.S. have left their jobs in the past two years, a 17% decline, and the dwindling number of college students coming into the field are not filling the gap.
The number of college students who completed a bachelor’s degree in accounting declined by nearly 9% to about 52,500 in 2020, down from almost 57,500 in 2012, according to the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants. Fewer students are also sitting for the CPA examination.
Young professionals in the 25- to 34-year-old range departed in high numbers starting in 2019, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Accounting’s grueling hours —70- and 80-hour weeks are common at the biggest public accounting firms before tax and audit deadlines — are part of the turnoff to those in that age group.
College graduates want to make more money up front than many accounting firms are paying — and they are finding it in other industries, according to professors. Expanded opportunities in the banking and technology sectors enable the top students to make significantly more in those rival fields, according to recruiters. As a result, experienced accountants in the 45- to 54-year-old range are also moving into jobs in finance and technology.
Despite the shortage of talent, the value of an accounting degree cannot be understated, especially for college graduates whose career goals are to someday run a business.