Accountancy grads rank atop state on CPA exam

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Graduates of NIU’s graduate program in accountancy had the top pass rate in the state on the CPA exam in 2014.

Students who graduated from NIU with master’s degrees in accountancy this spring have a tough act to follow.

Recently released data from the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy show that their predecessors in the class of 2014 posted the highest CPA exam pass rate for any graduate-level program in the state.

Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of the 125 students who earned master’s degrees in accountancy from NIU last year passed all four sections of that certification exam on their first try.

“That is an amazing accomplishment for those students, as well as a testament to the quality of our faculty and the program that they have developed,” says Jim Young, chair of the Department of Accountancy in the NIU College of Business.

Those earning bachelor’s degrees in accountancy from NIU also fared well last year, with 54 percent of them passing all four facets of the exam. Together, the combined performance of graduates from the two programs earned NIU the second best overall pass rate in the state, trailing only the University of Illinois.

The overall pass rate on the exam nationally, for all first-time takers, was 49 percent.

In retrospect, says Young, there was no hint that NIU’s master’s class of 2014 would perform so well on the exam. “We always attract a strong class, comprised of graduates from our own program and many of the other top programs across the country. This group fell right in line with that.”

Furthermore, he says, there was no new emphasis on preparing for the exam last year.

The 30-hour, one-year program followed a similar format that for the last two decades has earned it a spot in the top 10 to 20 graduate programs in the country, according to the Public Accounting Report’s annual survey of accountancy educators. Last year, Tax Talent ranked NIU’s graduate program ninth in the nation and its undergraduate program 11th.

Business concept: CPA on digital background“It’s not as if we ‘teach to the test,’ ” Young says. “We focus on critical thinking, communication and leadership in addition to accounting and business knowledge. The exam is the first career milestone for any CPA, but our goal is to prepare them for their career, not just the test.”

The program excels on both fronts.

While the 2014 results are difficult to beat, graduates of the program have a long history of outstanding performance on the exam.

Furthermore, NIU students graduating with master’s degrees in accountancy typically have multiple job offers. Many are recruited by the “Big Four” international accounting firms (PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, Ernst & Young and KPMG), with the rest typically finding positions at other prestigious international and national firms, including BDO, Grant Thornton, Crowe Horwath and McGladrey.

“The performance of our graduate students last year is amazing, but the best endorsement of the program is the fact that the best firms in the world compete to hire our graduates,” says Denise Schoenbachler, dean of the NIU College of Business. “That is a testament to the quality of the education our students receive, and the faculty who provide it.”

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