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EY’s Latest Push for Diversity Targets College Affordability

Aug. 19, 2021, 12:00 PM

Ernst & Young LLP is looking to eliminate funding barriers and timing constraints that may keep accounting students, particularly minorities, from pursuing their CPA credentials, and will help subsidize college courses for its interns, the firm announced Thursday.

EY is joining competitors Deloitte LLP & PwC LLP in addressing the requirement that all CPA candidates take 150 hours of college credits, which the firms call an obstacle to hiring more diverse recruits. Nearly 60 of EY’s summer interns benefited from the new program, which aims to offer a more accessible, affordable path to meeting the education requirement, the firm said.

“The cost of these additional credit hours, the delay of entering into their career has created a disadvantage to some of our racially and ethnically diverse professionals as well as some of our professionals who might have come from a lower socio- economic situation,” said Ginnie Carlier, the firm’s vice chair for talent.

“We want to eliminate those barriers of entry and create an equitable solution for all of our professionals,” Carlier said in an interview.

The firm partnered with Hult International Business School, which also runs an MBA program for full-time EY staff, to offer the virtual classes in topics such as data visualization. Interns can choose to take 10, 15, or 20 credit hours at a cost of $1,500 to $2,500, depending on which package they choose.

EY has contributed $100,000 to help subsidize the cost of the courses. The program isn’t limited to minorities but is open to any undergraduate student on track to be CPA-eligible, the firm said.

Nearly half of the firm’s CPA-track professionals reported that they had pieced together those 150 hours through night classes and extra semesters, and often took on loans to pay for it. The rest met the education requirement by attending graduate school, Carlier said.

EY began talking with Hult about offering undergraduate level classes to interns earlier this year to both cover those credit hour gaps sooner and ensure students were taking relevant courses that would help their careers, she said.

The program is just one step to increase diversity among EY staff and accounting more broadly, the firm said.

PwC and Deloitte have previously announced similar efforts to help close the 30-hour gap between a traditional four-year degree and the additional credit hours required of CPA candidates.

The path to 150 hours can include internships, community college, advanced placement credits and master’s degrees—but that last option is costly and can delay the start of careers. At the same time, the profession is working on a redesign of the CPA exam intended to ensure future CPAs are prepared for an increasingly automated field.

But those efforts to future-proof the license have triggered warnings that the changes could only raise the hurdles for minority candidates, making it even harder to boost the number of Black and Hispanic CPAs and diversify the overwhelmingly white profession.

“I’m hopeful that this solution will continue to encourage the profession to come up with innovative ways that we can address this 150-hour requirement,” Carlier said, “so that there are opportunities for more inclusion and diversity.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Amanda Iacone in Washington at aiacone@bloombergtax.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jeff Harrington at jharrington@bloombergindustry.com; David Jolly at djolly@bloombergindustry.com; Vandana Mathur at vmathur@bloombergtax.com

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