Since the spring of 2019, Sophie Bergeron-Leblanc, CPA, CA, is a MSc graduate from HEC Montréal, specialized in professional accounting. Following the submission of her supervised project on the recruitment and retention of accounting students1, she gives us an interview on this expert’s mandate that is both concrete and rallying, which was realized with the collaboration of her project director Sophie Tessier, associate professor at HEC Montréal and team member of the CPA International Research Chair in Management Control.

Sophie Bergeron-Leblanc, MSc, CPA, CA

What is the main purpose of your supervised project?

My project addresses the problem of recruiting and retaining students in various university programs in accounting, namely certificates, bachelor’s degrees and the CPA professional training program.

Why did you choose this topic?

I have been working for the Quebec CPA Order since April 2017. The future of the accounting profession is one of the main issues for the CPA Order, considering the number of imminent retirements of several CPA managers. In order to know the trends, my superiors asked me to investigate and draw an overall picture of the number of registrations and graduates of bachelor’s degrees in accounting in Quebec. When carrying out my project, I acted as accounting student’s advisor in all Quebec universities. By talking to some students, I noticed that many graduates did not know all the career opportunities that would be available to them once the CPA title was obtained. In another perspective, some students decided to change their specialization, not to pursue their Specialized Graduate Diploma in Accounting or the CPA national program, as they did not identify with a certain CPA profile that was more prominently displayed at their university. This reality led me to question myself on the many reasons that can influence a student to change university programs along the way.

What are your main findings?

Since 2015, we have seen a decrease in enrollment of 6% in the bachelor’s degree program in accounting in Quebec, and a decrease of 10% in the certificate program. To analyze the situation, I conducted several interviews with students and university program managers. Here are some factors that may explain the declining popularity of the accounting programs:

  • Following the unification of accounting orders in 2012, obtaining the CPA designation requires the accomplishment of the Specialized Graduate Diploma in Accounting or the CPA national program. According to some, the profession has slowed access to some people who wanted to work after their bachelor’s degree and obtain the professional title at their own pace.
  • The difficulty of the bachelor’s degree and the Specialized Graduate Diploma in Accounting may discourage some students.
  • The auditor profile is put forward in several universities. Thus, students more interested in management and finance are moving towards other management areas.
  • Some students do not see the need to obtain the CPA designation, since it is not requested by their employer.

Do you have any advice on the retention and recruitment of accounting students?

In my project, I mention some recommendations that concern students, universities, CPA student committees, the various employers as well as the CPA Order. Our profession is rich and presents many career opportunities that are unfortunately not all known by students. It is the duty of each player to value all types of CPA profiles so that each student finds his/her way in the profession. We must all work in the same direction to ensure that the right messages are conveyed to the next generation of students, so that future CPA managers are sufficiently equipped to enter the business world.

Original title in French: Mandat d’expertise sur le recrutement et la rétention d’étudiants en sciences comptables