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Western Alumni Boast State's Highest CPA Exam Pass Rate

October 11, 2018

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From the Summer 2018 issue of Western: The Magazine for Alumni of Western Illinois University


By Jodi Pospeschil MA '15

The Master of Accountancy program in Western Illinois University's College of Business and Technology (CBT) is preparing students to take the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam. Western graduates boasted the state's highest exam pass rate of any Illinois public university in 2017.

The statistics, compiled by the Illinois Board of Examiners, show WIU students passed the CPA exam at a rate of 70.67 percent. The pass rate is the highest among WIU students since 2012. The average 2017 pass rate among students from Illinois colleges and universities was 49.73 percent.

CBT Interim Dean John Elfrink said the CPA exam is one of the most rigorous professional tests, requiring a "solid educational background for success."

"In addition, it also tests skills needed in the accounting profession, such as communications, problem solving and computer and research abilities," said Elfrink. "On an individual level, hard work and perseverance is key to scoring well. With those factors in mind, we are very proud of our graduates. They deserve the credit for the superior pass rates our accounting program has experienced over a long period of time."
Elfrink said the department's curriculum adheres to guidelines recommended to the University by the CPA profession and members of the department's advisory board.
In an effort to further increase the number of students who take and pass the CPA exam at the end of the WIU Master of Accountancy program, the Department of Accounting and Finance has implemented the CPA Project. The application process for the first cohort of program scholars is now open and classes will begin for the Fall 2018 semester. The cohort will prepare for the CPA exam over their entire program and sit for all parts of the CPA exam during the final semester of their master's degree coursework.

Western's Department of Accounting and Finance initiated and secured the Illinois Board of Examiners' support to expand the provisional testing window in Illinois to 150 days. Subsequently, the Board of Examiners secured the state's approval in November 2017.

The CPA Project will be boosted by a grant from the Diversity Pipeline Project of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, which pays for up to three CPA Project Scholars, selected based on merit. Students from historically black colleges and universities, universities historically serving Hispanic students and universities historically serving Native American students are encouraged to apply for the WIU program.

"Our role is simply to act as facilitators and provide guidance to our students," said Elfrink. "The Master of Accountancy program—with an emphasis in public accounting—and preparation for the Certified Public Accountants exam support our mission. While we do not utilize the pass rate as the sole criteria of success in our program, we do celebrate our students' success with the CPA exam. We are most grateful that our alumni compliment the accounting program through their contributions to the accounting profession."

WIU alumnus Joe Ellison '13 had been a senior associate with RSM (formerly known as McGladrey) in Chicago for just over one year when he decided to "get serious" about pursuing certification in January 2017. Shortly after passing the CPA exams, Ellison left RSM for a manager position with LICCAR Certified Public Accountants in Chicago, where he focuses on Alternative Investment Partnership Tax Compliance.

Ellison credits his career successes and ability to sit for the CPA exam to WIU's curriculum and hands-on focus provided by faculty.

"Retired CPA exam questions were implemented into coursework as early as the first Intermediate Financial Accounting course, which was my sophomore year at WIU," said Ellison. "I distinctly remember being intimidated by those questions at first solely because of the letters ‘C-P-A' appearing in the book next to the retired exam questions and thinking I wasn't prepared for that level yet. Learning how to break down and comprehend what complex exam questions are asking and what steps to take to apply the appropriate concepts and theories learned were things taught very early."

While Ellison was a WIU sophomore, he said the CPA exams feel like a lifetime away.

"Looking back now, it feels like just yesterday that the professors were going above and beyond to show us how obtainable anything is when you put the appropriate time and effort in," he said. "I can remember Gregg Woodruff emphasizing in his tax course how it's not just about flying through each testlet before your allotted time runs out; it's about using every second of your allotted time to understand every question and answer to the best of your abilities. That's something that stuck with me through every practice exam I took during my Becker CPA review coursework."

For more information about WIU's Master of Accountancy program, or to apply, visit To see the CPA exam pass rates of all Illinois colleges and universities, visit

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