The road to becoming a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) can be a long and challenging one. Unlike many other professional certifications that are open to anyone who passes an examination, state-based CPA requirements tend to set much higher standards. At a minimum, applicants must possess a bachelor’s degree with at least 150 credit hours and have at least a year of general accounting experience supervised by an active CPA in addition to passing a uniform exam and professional ethics for CPAs exam. Requirements vary by state, but even meeting them, newly established CPAs must begin thinking about earning credits for Continuing Professional Education (CPE). 

What Is the Purpose of CPE in Accounting? 

Many professionals must complete some form of ongoing education coursework to keep their license up to date. The basic idea behind such requirements is that it can be difficult for someone to follow new developments in the industry if they focus only on specific practice areas. There are also justifiable concerns that people who spend extended time not working in the field might not be aware of important changes should they decide to return in the future.  

Ongoing CPE requirements for CPA continuing education ensure that professionals stay updated about new industry rules, trends, and policies. Most states also require ongoing ethics and professionalism training as well, which reinforces good conduct and minimizes the risk of unpleasant legal issues. Continuing education is especially important for CPAs and Certified Management Accountants (CMAs) because even a minor change in the tax code or in financial reporting requirements could have massive implications for their clients. 

What Are CPE Requirements for Accounting? 

Since accounting licenses are issued by state authorities, each state establishes and maintains its own CPE requirements for CPA continuing education. Much like CLE guidelines for lawyers, accountants typically must complete a designated number of credit hours within a set time period. They also frequently stipulate that a portion of those credits must be dedicated to specific topics like ethics or technical study. 

The State of Florida, for instance, requires 80 CPE credits to be completed every 2 years. At least four of those credits must focus on ethics while another eight must be in accounting or auditing subjects. The State of Ohio, on the other hand, requires 120 hours to be completed every 3 years, with a minimum requirement of 20 hours each year. Only three total hours must be dedicated to ethics coursework. Neither state permits accountants to carry over excess credits from one two-year period to the next, although some states do allow this with some restrictions. Maryland, for instance, allows 80 credit hours to be carried over so long as they are not being used to satisfy the state’s ethics requirement. 

Earning and Documenting CPE Requirements 

Although each state sets its own CPE requirements, CPE courses and programs are available from a wide range of private education providers and professional accountancy associations. Most of these courses comply with the standards laid out in the Statement on Standards of Continuing Education Programs, which was developed in a joint venture between the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA) and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) to ensure CPE course quality. 

Since the burden of documenting CPA continuing education credits falls upon accountants themselves, the standards require CPE program sponsors to provide participants with an electronic or paper certificate of completion that includes important information such as the type of instruction content, the course delivery method, the number of credits earned, and all relevant identification or registration numbers (which can vary by state). This documentation should be provided within 60 days of course completion so that CPAs and CMAs can report their earned credits promptly. 

The standards also define what counts as a live program, which is important because state requirements are often very particular about how many CPE credits must be “live” instruction rather than static, on-demand content. In order of a course to be classified as “live,” it must have at least one element of engagement during each credit hour that relates to the course content. Several interactive elements meet this stipulation, including: 

  • Group discussion 
  • Polling questions 
  • Instructor-posed questions 

A real-time instructor must also be present while the program is presented. Participants must be able to interact with the instructor while the course is in progress. This applies to live broadcasts as well as prerecorded content. As long as a subject matter expert is on hand to facilitate the presentation, the course may be counted toward live credit requirements. 

Strategies for Delivering CPE Courses 

For accounting organizations looking to deliver CPE course content, it’s important to have the right technology platform in place that’s capable of issuing and tracking CPE credits as well as offering multiple learning options to members. One of the best ways to generate a large volume of learning resources quickly and relatively inexpensively is to work with subject matter experts to produce live webinars that can be rebroadcast at later dates while still qualifying for live CPE credit. 

Scheduling rebroadcasts of prerecorded content is convenient for learners with busy schedules and allows associations to rapidly turn around courses to offer interactive learning options without having to invest heavily in instructional design to build online classes. After multiple rebroadcasts, recorded content can be repurposed as an on-demand course or broken up into smaller “nano” sessions. An LMS platform designed from the ground up to facilitate interactions and engagement between presenters and learners makes it easy to develop and schedule a diverse calendar of learning content throughout the year. 

For many association members, tracking CPE credits is more difficult than it needs to be thanks to organizations that rely on outdated technology to deliver learning content. Ideally, they should be able to obtain documentation for earned credits as soon as they’ve completed courses and have that information readily accessible from one location to minimize complicated bookkeeping. Streamlining the process for issuing credits also creates a better overall learning experience that keeps members coming back for their continuing education needs. 

Improve the CPE credit experience with Freestone 

Freestone LMS features an intuitive interface that makes it easy for associations to set up and deliver engaging CPE course content. Thanks to the platform’s built-in presenter webcam and interactive tools like live Q&A chats and real-time polls, instructors can direct live learning sessions, stream in-person events, or host scheduled rebroadcasts without having to rely on multiple software systems. And when courses are completed, Freestone can issue the appropriate credit right away so members can document their progress and move on to the next learning topic. The LMS also integrates with leading AMS platforms to provide association staff with the data they need to build learning strategies that align with the professional development needs of their members. 

To learn more about how Freestone streamlines learning content delivery and simplifies how associations issue and track CPE credits, sign up today for a free guided demo. 

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