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First Cohort in Pilot Program Offering Alternative Path to 150 Finishes up First Year

S.J. Steinhardt
Published Date:
Apr 18, 2024


The 38 students currently enrolled in the Experience, Earn & Learn (ELE) pilot program offered by the AICPA and the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) are finishing their first year, Accounting Today reported.

Launched in January, the ELE program provides an affordable way for accountants to complete the additional 30 academic credits to take them to the required 150 credit hours while earning a wage and gaining experience at a firm.

Recruited through their accounting firms, which must enroll in the program, the participants take asynchronous online courses through Tulane University's School of Professional Advancement. The program costs $150 per credit hour, meaning that the total tuition cost for a student needing all 30 credits would be less than $5,000.

"No single initiative will solve the profession's talent shortage," said Susan Coffey, the AICPA’s CEO of public accounting, in a news release. "But the ELE program demonstrates the kind of creativity, collaboration and follow-through we need to remove barriers to a successful and rewarding career in accounting. This is a true partnership of accounting firm innovators, academic leaders and motivated advocates for the profession."

One student who found the program to be affordable and flexible is Minnesotan Clinton Strobel, a senior accountant focusing on health care audits at Wipfli LLP, which he joined in 2017 as a consultant. He finished his bachelor's degree in accounting at Rasmussen University in 2018, then took a leave for seven months in 2023 to study for the CPA exam, which he passed.

Strobel anticipated completing his remaining 30 credits within 12 to 18 months. He told Accounting Today that the coursework is manageable. The online and asynchronous courses help him to meet the challenge of balancing long work hours and taking care of his two young children with his wife, who also works outside the home, he said.

Another staff accountant at Wipfli, Thomas MacGregor, graduated with 146 credits from St. Joseph's College in Maine, where he double-majored in finance and accounting. He has passed the CPA exam and is currently taking two courses this spring semester.

"The biggest thing is just being able to have an asynchronous format and not having to meet during the day for a class," he said in an interview. He found the professors to be flexible and reasonable with deadlines and late assignment submissions, considering that the students in the program simultaneously work full-time.

Stephen Sawyer, an associate at Cumberland Foreside, Me.-based McLeod Ascanio, is taking two courses through the ELE program this spring semester. He anticipates completing his remaining 17 credits by the end of this year.

A former Marine, Sawyer double majored in business management and accounting at the University of Southern Maine. He told Accounting Today that the program launched as he graduated and before he enrolled in a more costly master's program.

The program requires firms to give participants adequate time to complete the coursework, and his does, he said. "They're all CPAs,” he said. “They've all done what I'm doing. I'm working 70 hours a week because I like to work, but if I needed to go home right now and take a test, nobody would bat an eye. They all get it."