Dan Geltrude is unequivocal about what’s in store for accounting firms. “It’s absolutely a gamechanger for the entire profession,” the CPA told NJBIZ. The gamechanger is a new pilot program, being tested in New Jersey, to create an alternative path to the 150 credits needed to be eligible for a Certified Public Accountant license.
This semester marked the start of a collaboration between Saint Peter’s University and PricewaterhouseCoopers under which six students who have completed 120 credits will have the opportunity to earn their final 30 credits through a paid internship or a “Work for Credit” program.
Geltrude was tapped by the New Jersey Board of Accountancy to lead a committee looking into whether an alternative path to 150 credits could be achieved. After initiating the idea during an October 2021 meeting, Geltrude spent months working on a solution to bring partners and stakeholders together. Those efforts culminated in a May vote by the board acknowledging that the “Work for Credit” program would fall into their regulations and would not require a regulatory change. That set the stage for the pilot program between Saint Peter’s and PwC.
The founder of Nutley’s Geltrude & Co., Geltrude regularly appears on national news programs as “America’s Accountant,” and checked in at No. 5 on NJBIZ’s 2022 Accounting Power 50. He has always felt that the 150-credit rule never made much sense since the final 30 credits do not even have to deal with accounting. He believes it created a needless barrier for entry into the field.
“Everybody saw the same thing,” Geltrude explained. “Everybody looked at this 150 and said, ‘it just doesn’t make sense.’”
He said his field is seeing a declining number of accounting majors and CPA exam candidates, leading to many firms outsourcing their work overseas, especially to India. That reality inspired Geltrude to lead the effort in connecting the different stakeholders, one that was initially met with some resistance.
“It’s because we got to the point where American firms are hiring abroad because there aren’t enough accountants here,” said Geltrude. “And I believe the 150-credit hour rule, the way it was constructed, was a contributor to that. So, it had to be fixed.”
And a lot of that resistance centered on the uniformity of the current guidelines. “But, to me, it was simply right versus wrong,” Geltrude explained. “And what we have in place is simply not right. And it had to be corrected, in my mind, at all costs. Once I was in, I was all in. I was not going to stop my efforts until I could come up with a solution.”
The work started with discussions at the national level with the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy, which expressed interest in a solution that would not negatively affect the equivalency between states while addressing the current challenges and concerns within the profession.
A collaboration was formed under which New Jersey would work with NASBA as the lead state to come up with a solution so that the rest of the states may be encouraged to adopt the solution that they can all follow. From there, Geltrude took the idea to Saint Peter’s University via Dr. Eileen Poiani, special assistant to the president and professor of mathematics, as well as a 150-credit hour committee member, to gauge the school’s interest. That was immediate, and eventually helped connect Saint Peter’s with PwC via fellow board member and 150-credit hour committee member Sara DeSmith, a partner at the firm.
In March, discussions began between Saint Peter’s and PwC, which eventually led to an agreement to create the “Work for Credit” pilot program that enables participants to receive their last 30 credit hours through paid, full-time work experience at PwC. Participants will simultaneously be enrolled at Saint Peter’s.
“This program aims to build high-value business skills in recent undergraduates while helping address the growing problem of college debt, an obstacle that may discourage students from entering the accounting field,” PwC US said in a statement. “We created this program as an alternative to traditional paths for completing 150-hour college credits with the aspiration to expand the pool of people who would consider the CPA career path.”
“We got really excited about the opportunity for this innovative and game-changing program,” said Mary Kate Naatus, dean of the Frank J. Guarini School of Business at Saint Peter’s. “We said, ‘well we want to be the university partner that gets this done in the pilot stage.’”
Naatus said the corporate buy-in from PwC was critical and that the firm quickly developed a framework for the program. The first version of the pilot involves six Saint Peter’s students. One of the reasons the school was selected is because of its diverse student body. Geltrude noted that the 150-credit threshold presents a significant challenge and barrier for those who lack financial means.
“I think in a profession like ours that is really striving for diversity, we had to come up with something that was not going to lower the bar, but to make it economically feasible for people, for these young students,” said Geltrude. “And what we’re hoping for is that as this gets adopted across New Jersey and across the country, it is going to help the profession diversify.”
“Dan Geltrude has been a thought leader on this topic forever trying to push for change and enhance diversity, and to attract more diverse people from a variety of backgrounds,” said Naatus. “And he sees the 30-credit rule as a barrier for, perhaps, lower-income students, many of whom tend to be from more diverse backgrounds racially and ethnically.”
“Potential accounting candidates are opting out not because they are incapable, but because the typical time and costs to earn the 150 credits required for CPA licensure can put this career path out of reach,” said PwC US.
The program started in September and will run through roughly May, mapped out around university semesters. The students are employed with PwC as associates and will be responsible for deliverables to both the school and the firm.
The program includes a unique model of applying concepts in accounting, tax, analytics, data science, project management, leadership, business, organizational behavior and strategy directly to work experiences. There will be no traditional classwork required for the program and PwC will pay the tuition associated with the credit hours.
“Our pilot provides a new path forward for aspiring accounting professionals and the industry as a whole,” PwC US said. “The CPA license is critical to upholding the quality and value of the profession and earning it can open the door to many different career opportunities. Amid recent declines in the number of accounting graduates, this program expands avenues to entry and is designed to help people build the fundamental skills needed to become a CPA.”
The students will also receive the opportunity to gain experience from a top-notch firm such as PwC with the potential of gaining employment even after the internship ends.
“We believe that getting onsite in the job with a partner like PwC, which does a great job of providing a very welcoming environment for students and for young professionals from diverse backgrounds, is a perfect fit between two organizations,” said Naatus.
While the program is in its infancy, it is creating a buzz throughout the accounting field, as well as in other states and universities. All the stakeholders involved want to see this program continue to grow and evolve and expect other states, universities and firms to form their own version of what is being tested out first right here in the Garden State.
“Ultimately, we want this to be a replicable model,” said Naatus. “It doesn’t mean we’re going to share every aspect of what we’ve done. But the only way for this to revolutionize the industry is if it spreads. If it spreads throughout the state. If it spreads nationally. Then we’ll always be able to say that we were one of the first ones on the ground on this pilot here.”
“We will continue to evaluate opportunities to expand this program, depending on our business needs, talent strategies and state licensing requirements,” said PwC US. “As we learn from our pilot program and participants, we will assess future plans for offering this or similar programs.”
“It’s very gratifying to know that we could get it to this point,” said Geltrude. “Now, we’re in proof of concept. We brought it here. The idea is actually playing out. So now we have to wait and see over the next year how it turns out for Saint Peter’s and PwC, and at the same time, how many firms and how many universities are going to create their own programs.”
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“We want to grow this program,” said Naatus. “It’s going to make a significant impact. The purpose of it is to expand and enhance diversity in the accounting industry. And I think it will do exactly that. It will enhance talent in the industry, and it will enhance thought leadership in the industry as well.”
“We hope to see continued innovation across the industry as we cultivate a profession that supports aspiring accounting professionals and is equipped to deliver bold solutions,” said PwC US.
Geltrude expects that, over time, this route will become the preferred path to 150 credit hours. “Ultimately, we want to have more CPAs and we want to have better CPAs,” he added. “If this is a method to get us there, it’s something that we need to continue to explore.”
Naatus cautioned, though, that since it is the first go-round, there will almost certainly be some growing pains.
“It’s a pilot project,” Naatus explained. “We’re learning as we’re going. We wanted to get it launched immediately so students could start benefiting from it. But I do think we’re probably going to learn some lessons along the way. So far so good.”
“What we’re hoping for, is knocking down these financial walls will level the playing field and allow people to be able to afford an accounting degree, and to be able to sit for the CPA exam,” said Geltrude. “I think it’s extraordinarily important.”
“Our goal is to support aspiring professionals, drive change across the industry and open new paths for everyone pursuing the profession,” said PwC US. “This innovative pilot introduces new options that support career flexibility and professional development.”
Naatus expressed gratitude to her faculty task force, including Lori Buza, chair of the accountancy and law department; Brigid D’Souza, assistant professor of accounting; and Philip Sookram, assistant professor of accounting, for developing the coursework as well as the PwC team for their efforts, and to Geltrude for approaching Saint Peter’s.
“I just want to highlight that we have the most talented, wonderful, deserving, resilient students. It’s all about them at the end of the day,” said Naatus. “I am super grateful to see our students soar.”b