At 27, COAP program continues to win over the next generation

By:
ALONZA ROBERTSON
Published Date:
Sep 26, 2014

They came from every corner of New York state—the 250 high school juniors who participated in this year’s Career Opportunities in the Accounting Profession (COAP) program—and they came with a shared goal: to get a firsthand glimpse of life in the profession. But, like scores of students before them, they left with more than they could have imagined.

A free, five-day summer program for 11th graders, COAP was created by the NYSSCPA and its Foundation for Accounting Education (FAE) to introduce young people to the profession, with a special emphasis on students from minority groups historically underrepresented in the field.

Now in its 27th year, COAP has offered more than 3,000 high school students the chance to learn about business-career opportunities and have direct interaction with CPAs. Participants are also eligible for a college scholarship that provides $2,000 per year for up to five years for students studying accounting at a college or university in New York, with the goal of becoming a CPA.

As one measure of the program’s success, in a survey of 50 COAP participants that the Society conducted last year, nearly 80 percent of respondents said they have gone on to college or planned to attend college, and more than 75 percent reported that COAP had influenced their choice of college major. Nearly all participants agreed, though, that the program gave them a greater appreciation of the role of accountants and CPAs in the business world.

For Buffalo Chapter President Thomas  M. Burns, the program is key to the Society’s efforts to attract a wider range of voices to the accounting world, as the face of the country changes.

“It’s very important for our profession to keep up-to-date with what’s happening with the rest of the U.S. population,” he said. “We definitely need to diversify.”

This summer, COAP programs were held at 11 different public and private universities, including Adelphi University; the Rochester Institute of Technology; Long Island University; the State University of New York (SUNY) at New Paltz, Albany, Buffalo and Oswego; Pace University; St. John’s University (Staten Island and Queens campuses); and Westchester Community College. Each program included a tailored curriculum of business and personal-development courses. In addition to the classroom sessions, participants also visited corporations, accounting firms and government agencies.

For some students, it was their first experience away from home. For others, it was their first time sharing a dormitory room.  For all, it was an eye-opening introduction to college and the world of accounting.

For example, participants in the St. John’s University Staten Island COAP program toured the Manhattan offices of Joseph Borrino, the CFO of Roc Nation, LLC, an entertainment company founded by rapper Jay-Z.

Borrino told students that being a CPA is about much more than crunching numbers—it’s about helping to manage budgets, execute business plans and build relationships, he said. (And there were two other great perks in Borrino’s case: a relaxed dress code and opportunities to attend Yankee games with Jay-Z and his superstar wife Beyoncé.)

Meanwhile, students who attended the COAP program at SUNY’s University at Buffalo got to visit New Era Cap Company, an apparel company that produces baseball caps for the Yankees and other sports teams. New Era CPAs also emphasized that their jobs went well beyond pushing paper or adding sums—a message that resonated with students. Upon the group’s return to the Buffalo campus, Ann Burstein Cohen, a Buffalo Chapter member who has led the COAP program for the last nine years, took a quick poll. “How many of you want to pursue a career in accounting?” she asked. Every hand in the room shot up.

At COAP programs around the state, many of the students experienced college life for the first time by living in a residence hall. (Two programs, SUNY New Paltz and Westchester Community College, were commuter programs, however, in which students participated during the day but spent nights at home.) At first, dealing with communal bathrooms and getting their first taste of college cafeteria food was a bit unsettling for some.

At the University at Albany program, Alex Metz, the NYSSCPA’s manager of membership and chapter engagement and a volunteer COAP counselor, said that one student found the experience so difficult that he privately asked to be sent home. 

“He didn’t like staying in a dorm where he had to share a bedroom, bathroom and shower,” Metz said. “He didn’t like waking up early and he thought the food on campus was terrible. I told him that he could take all the AP or IB high school classes he wanted, but nothing was going to truly prepare him for college like the COAP program.

“Twenty minutes later I saw him running around the dorm’s hallway laughing and high-fiving his buddies,” Metz continued. “And he ended up completing the program. COAP isn’t just about learning about accounting opportunities; it’s about learning how to embrace all of the character-building things that college will teach you—whether you are ready for it or not.”

arobertson@nysscpa.org

Additional reporting by Diane Abela, Christa Chance, Lelia Dickenson, Xio Fox, Meenu Jacob, Alex Metz, Tekecha Morgan, Sandia Raghubir, Anna Rakovsky, Jeff Slipek and Sarah Young. For more on COAP, visit nysscpa.org/ futurecpas.com.

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