Examining Minorities’ Perceptions of Accounting

By Clement C. Chen, Keith T. Jones, and D. David McIntyre

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The accounting profession has long grappled with accounting’s lack of popularity as a course of study for minorities. The AICPA has attempted to attract minorities into the profession, launching a program for that purpose in 1969 and offering financial incentives such as scholarships and fellowships. The numbers have gradually increased over the years, but there is still much work to be done. Despite the interest in attracting minorities, few studies have offered solid data on what, specifically, minority groups like or dislike about the field.

A recent survey of students enrolled in various business courses at a large southeastern university found that only 14 out of 185 accounting majors (7.5%) were minorities. Why do minority students not choose accounting? The results of the survey are surprising. Minorities actually found the first course more interesting than did nonminorities and generally had more positive perceptions of the course and the instructor. Although minorities perceived more hurdles to overcome in becoming a CPA, the 150-hour rule does not appear to be one of the primary hurdles. Minorities were significantly more confident in their own ability to perform accounting functions. Minorities placed more importance on such job characteristics as a dynamic environment, creativity stimulation, and the ability to work independently. It is noteworthy that a 1995 survey by Hermanson et al. found that African-American honor students did not view the nature of accounting work and the work environment favorably.

The authors’ research indicates that significant misperceptions remain about the accounting profession. These misperceptions may begin prior to entering college because the study also suggests that high school teachers and counselors are important influences on students’ choice of a major. If the profession is to appeal to the next generation, it must get its image across at the time when lasting impressions of career choices are being formed.

The Survey

To determine factors that may deter minority groups from entering the accounting field, the authors examined the students’ perceptions of and performance in the first two accounting courses, their levels of confidence in their accounting-related abilities, and attributes they considered important in their future employment. Exhibit 1 shows the mean responses for students’ perceptions of a number of characteristics related to the first accounting course, which at the participating school covers financial accounting principles. Students responded to the items on a scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). Because the focus of the study is on factors that might steer students away from accounting, only the respondents that did not indicate accounting as a major were included. Of 367 nonaccounting majors that indicated an ethnic category, 327 were white and 40 were minorities: 18 African-American, 14 Asian, three Hispanic, one Native-American, and four indicating “other.”

  • Minority respondents indicated they were more motivated than nonminorities to perform well in the first accounting course. In addition, they found the course more interesting and indicated more strongly that they learned a great deal from it. Minorities also indicated more strongly that they believed the first course would help them in their career. Minorities also found accounting significantly less boring than did nonminorities.

Consistent with the results in Exhibit 1, minority respondents indicated an overall more positive experience in the first two accounting courses (financial and managerial accounting principles) and rated the instructor more highly. What’s more, there was no significant difference in the average grade for the first course between minorities and nonminorities (3.1 vs. 3.0 GPA), nor in the grade, achieved or expected, for the second course.

Exhibit 2 shows the responses to several items assessing respondents’ confidence levels in performing a number of accounting-related tasks, on a scale from 0 (no confidence) to 10 (complete confidence).

Minority students indicated a relatively higher level of confidence in their general problem-solving abilities. More specific to accounting, minority respondents indicated a greater confidence in their ability to understand accounting concepts, to perform well in upper-level accounting courses, to apply accounting concepts on examinations, and to understand accounting better than their peers. Minority respondents even indicated more confidence in their ability to perform well as an accounting practitioner.

Exhibit 3 provides the results of questions designed to examine attributes desired in a job. Minorities more strongly indicated that they desire a job that challenges them intellectually, offers a dynamic atmosphere, encourages creativity, and allows them to work independently. All of the differences are statistically significant. As expected, minorities in this study did not differ significantly from nonminorities in rating the importance of such factors as initial and long-term earnings and job security.


Although more research is needed in order to more fully understand why minority groups are not sufficiently attracted to accounting to make it their chosen profession, this survey shows that there are a number of factors that apparently do not account for their choices. For instance, grades of minorities in early accounting courses do not appear to be lower, ruling out the possibility that this deters minorities from continuing in accounting. Minorities do not suffer from a comparative lack of motivation; in fact, they indicated they were more motivated in the first accounting course. They found the first course more interesting, and evaluated both the course and the instructor more favorably. Therefore, the first course does not appear to turn minority students away from the field. Additionally, these participants find accounting less “boring” than white students. Finally, minorities appear to be confident in their ability to perform as an accounting student or a practitioner.

Other results from the survey may provide insights into possible reasons that minorities are steered away from accounting. For instance, the influence of others was rated as significantly more important by minorities than by nonminorities in choosing a major. Interestingly, the “others” include high school teachers (respondents indicated teachers were instrumental in their choice of a major), but not professors, friends, or family members in the field.

The study also shows that minorities perceive significantly more hurdles to becoming a CPA. Participants were asked their level of agreement with the statement that there are “too many hurdles to qualifying as a CPA.” On a scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree), minorities’ mean response was 3.36, compared with a mean of 3.09 for nonminorities. Interestingly, the 150-hour rule does not appear to be a primary hurdle; only 10% of nonaccounting minorities were even aware of the rule when they chose their major. Furthermore, more than 80% of these respondents plan to attend graduate school anyway. What exactly the hurdles to becoming a CPA might be remains a mystery. Perhaps it is the perceived difficulty of the CPA examination itself.

Another important factor in minorities’ choice of a major is high school accounting courses. Of the 40 minority nonaccounting majors, only five indicated having had accounting in high school. Of the 14 minority accounting majors, 11 made their major choices before entering college, and nearly one-half of these had had high school accounting. Although this is a limited sample, it suggests the potential importance of early exposure to accounting.

The most likely explanation for this result may lie simply in limited perceptions of the profession. If minorities do indeed place a higher importance on such job factors as a dynamic environment, creativity, and the opportunity to work independently, they may perceive these ingredients as missing from the practice of accounting. As previously discussed, minorities indicate at least equal course performance, find accounting more interesting, and have more positive perceptions of early accounting courses and instructors than do nonminorities. Therefore, it would appear that they perceive the organizational culture of accounting to be less desirable than other fields. The study by Hermanson et al. revealed that African-Americans viewed the accounting profession positively in terms of financial rewards and job availability, but negatively in terms of the work environment and the nature of the work.

In attempting to attract minority students, perhaps the profession should focus on providing information as early as possible regarding the flexibility of career options available with an accounting degree. The results of this study indicate that such early exposure to accounting during precollegiate education may be a crucial factor in the eventual choice of a college major. Regardless of race, it seems imperative that attempts at early education focus on dispelling myths about the practice of accounting.

Clement C. Chen, PhD, CPA, is assistant professor of accounting at the University of Michigan—Flint. Keith T. Jones, PhD, CPA, is assistant professor of accounting at Eastern Kentucky University. D. David McIntyre, PhD, CMA, CPA, is assistant professor at the Stetson School of Business and Economics, Mercer University, Macon, Ga.




















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