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CPA State Requirement Analysis
"A Positive and Normative Comparative Analysis of the
CPA Requirements in the Different States"
Introduction
A profession is a discipline practiced by an individual that is
part of a social organization vital to our society.  Professions
that are important to our society have licenses that are
required in order to practice.  The license usually requires a
graduate degree, work experience and an exam that must
be passed.  The accounting profession is no different with
their Certified Public Accountants.   

The requirements to acquire and sustain a CPA license are
general across the United States, but there are explicit
differences in many of the states.  I will analyze the
similarities and differences across the United States and
explain why the requirements keep evolving.
Jurisdictions
There are 54 jurisdictions that license CPAs.  The 54 jurisdictions are the 50 United States, the
District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.  All 54 jurisdictions restrict
the use of the title “Certified Public Accountant” to those individuals that met the required criteria
and are registered with the state regulatory authority.  Also, each jurisdiction has their own
meaning for what services make up public accounting.  

NASBA
The National Association of State Boards of Accountancy serves as a forum to the 54 boards of
accountancy in the United States.  They overlook each state to ensure that each state has
appropriate standards for CPA certificates and licenses.  NASBA also sponsors numerous
programs and services that improve the effectiveness of its member boards (NASBA,
“Overview”).

Requirements
There are four general requirement categories for certificates and licenses.  They are general
qualifications, education, experience and examination.  

General Qualifications
General qualifications include age, citizenship and required in state residency, employment or
office.  The jurisdictions have four different options for age; 18, 19, 21 or no requirement.  21 of
the jurisdictions require the applicant to be at least 18 years of age, three require the applicant
to be at least 19, five require the person to be 21 and the other 25 do not have an age
requirement (AICPA, “CPA”).  

Four of the jurisdictions require the applicant to be a citizen; they are Alabama, Hawaii, Puerto
Rico and the Virgin Islands.  The reason why Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands require
the applicant to be a citizen is because these jurisdictions have high percentages of immigrants.  
By adding this extra step, the applicant becomes more a part of the area he is living in, and is
more likely to have concern for the public welfare.  

18 Jurisdictions require the applicant to have at least one of the three in state; residency,
employment or his / her office.  Out of the 18, ten require all three; they include Arkansas, Iowa,
Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island and Tennessee.  
Education
Education refers to the applicant’s collegiate history.  This includes the total number of credits, number of credits in
accounting, number of credits in business classes and graduate study.  More jurisdictions are moving towards a 150
credit hour requirement.  The 150 credit hour requirement is fairly new, Florida was the first to do it in 1983, but it
took ten years for the next jurisdiction, Tennessee, to follow suit.  The majority of the other jurisdictions followed
between 1997 and early 2001 (NASBA, “Current”).  The extra year of education improves not only the applicant’s
knowledge of accounting, but also allows for more time to prepare the individual to be an independent thinker and
emphasize skills and capacities that are necessary for lifelong learning.  By extending the credits to 150 hours, it was
also thought to make the CPA certificate more prestigious because it is now more difficult to achieve, and it improves
the talent pool of prospective CPAs.  

There are only thirteen jurisdictions left where you can obtain a CPA license with only having a 120 credit hour
baccalaureate degree.  But seven of the jurisdictions have adopted the 150 credit hour education requirement with
an effective date.  Michigan and Oklahoma adopt the 150 credit hour requirement in 2003, Arizona and New Mexico in
2004, Minnesota and Virginia in 2006 and New York in 2009.  Six are working on adopting a 150 credit hour
requirement; they include California, Colorado, Delaware, New Hampshire, Vermont and the Virgin Islands (AICPA,
“States”).  

But the 150 credit hour requirement is only as effective as the applicant makes it.  The applicant in many cases can
take any type of classes they want to earn the extra 30 credits necessary.  This means the applicant can take 30
credits of classes such as golf, weight lifting, physics, astronomy or any other class offered.  The applicant may also
wait for his final year to take the additional 30 credits.  This could negatively affect them if none of the classes are in
accounting.  They may forget much of what they had learned in accounting due to the one year break in accounting
courses.  

The 150 credit hour baccalaureate is not as effective as requiring a masters in either business administration or
accounting on top of the 120 credit hour baccalaureate.  The Masters of Accountancy usually requires 24 additional
credits in accounting with most of the credits being at the graduate level, and another six credits in business classes.  
The MBA requires a minimum of one accounting class at the graduate level, but the rest of the classes are in
business and will better serve the individual in the future as opposed to taking any types of classes the individual
wants to.  And if the MBA was the option, they can always specialize in accounting which will better serve them later in
their accounting career.

It is not necessarily beneficial to the accounting community to raise the number of credits to obtain a CPA unless the
additional 30 credits are being obtained in classes beneficial to the accounting profession.  For example, New Mexico
only requires 120 credit hours with 30 of the credits in accounting, while Louisiana requires 150 credit hours with 24
in accounting.  Although the Louisiana applicant has 30 more credits than the New Mexico applicant, the Louisiana
applicant has six fewer credits in accounting.  

What would be the most beneficial scenario is to make the requirement 120 credit hour baccalaureate with a masters
of at least 30 credit hours with the following scenario:   If the individual majored in accounting in his/her undergrad,
then they should obtain an MBA; but if his/her major was something different than accounting, then they should have
to complete a Masters of Accountancy.  This would ensure that an individual that had an accounting undergraduate
degree will get more advanced accounting classes in the MBA program.  It would also ensure that an individual that
had a non-accounting undergraduate degree would get an advanced graduate education in accounting.  But in a
perfect world, the applicant would have to get a Masters in Accountancy no matter what their undergraduate
education was in.  This would really make the accounting profession more similar to that of law and medicine.
Summary
The accounting profession has been increasing the
requirements for future CPAs in most of the jurisdictions.  
Many jurisdictions have increased the total number of
credits from 120 to 150, but in numerous jurisdictions the
number of credits in accounting classes have remained the
same.  Improvements have also been made to the CPA
exam which is the same in every jurisdiction.  The exam was
updated to a computer adaptive test as a joint project
between the AICPA, NASBA and Prometric Testing
Services.  The exam will be offered on more days and the
applicant will be able to take the exam up to four times a
year.

As more improvements are made to the requirements for
the CPA certificate and licensure, the accounting profession
becomes more prestigious.  The steps to become a CPA
are now starting to resemble the process of law and
medicine.  Increasing the standards also improves upon the
education of entering CPAs.