CliftonLarsonAllen’s CLA Foundation has committed $1 million in grants to the National Association of Black Accountants to launch NABA’s new Pathway to College program, address human capital needs and create scholarships.

The grant, announced last week at NABA’s national convention in Hollywood, Florida, expands the company’s previous Top 10 commitment to the group. Last October, CLA announced that it would donate office space to NABA in Greenbelt, Maryland and other CLA locations and become a corporate sponsor of NABA with the goal of increase diversity, equity and inclusion in the accounting profession (see the story). NABA also received funding at last week’s conference from Deloitte and the Center for Audit Quality.

NABA’s Pathway to College program is designed to support the entry of Black high school, community college, and historically Black college and university students into the accounting and consulting profession, providing work experience along the way. In addition to supporting the Pathway to College program over the next five years, a portion of grant funds will be set aside to create a scholarship base. CLA also intends to offer paid internships to students throughout the five-year grant commitment. Internships will give students real-world work experience to help them become accounting professionals.

“CLA is very passionate about making a difference in our workforce and in the industry when it comes to welcoming more diverse talent, and we believe NABA’s vision will be an accelerator for CLA, as well as for industry,” CLA CEO Jennifer Leary Told accounting today. “We want to help build a strong NABA so we can help build a strong community of more black professionals in the accounting and finance industry. To do this, we welcomed them to our premises. We’ve flocked to NABA, and they’ve flocked to us across the country at various events in various geographies, so we felt it was appropriate to increase the partnership by running a five-year, $1 million grant. , which would go for two main things: First, human capital, to continue to build a strong NABA, so they can implement their vision. And the second concerns scholarships. We want to put the money in the hands of the students who want it and need it. We will also offer internships as part of this process.

NABA conference with (from left to right) Guylaine Saint Juste, president and CEO of NABA Inc., Jennifer Leary, CEO of CLA, and Hershel Frierson, chairman of the board of directors of NABA.

The program aims to increase the pool of young black accountants in the profession. “What we’re launching is a community college-to-college pathway,” said NABA President and CEO Guylaine Saint Juste. “We need to build the NABA infrastructure to be able to do the job. We have to hire people and we have to have the right technology. The money has to come from somewhere, so part of the grant will be for that, and the rest will really be for program costs. We know that community college students have very distinct needs. We know that at the community college the rate of homelessness is higher than elsewhere, with food insecurity and health insecurity. In fact, some community college people call it the three Hs: health, hunger, and shelter. Understanding that we are not a social service organization, but how do we create the availability of resources so that the community colleges that will partner with us have that? »

CLA and NABA hope to increase the number of students entering the accounting profession, especially black students, through internships.

“We’re seeing an increase in the number of internship opportunities we have across the country and the diversity of talent we’re attracting,” Leary said. “It’s remarkable, but I’m also very aware of the trends we’re seeing in this country with fewer students choosing accounting.”

The program will help young people transition from school to accounting firms like CLA. “The first time they take an accounting course and realize, oh, it’s hard, or the teacher doesn’t bring it to life, they have another way and another set of resources for them to are keen on it and we’re implementing it through scholarships,” Saint-Juste says. “We’re starting to break down the barriers to entry. which we call a high minority school, so that they then continue to be able to persist in getting that accounting degree.

The impact is unlikely to be immediate, but in the long run it could attract more students from diverse backgrounds to careers in accounting. “The decisions we make today will really have an impact, hopefully three and four years from now,” Leary said. “It’s not indicative of what we’re seeing right now at CLA. We’ve recruited 2,800 new hires in the past 12 months. CLA offices will only have two to three interns. Our largest site had 84 interns. It really runs the gamut. Finding great talent at this entry level is not the problem today, but we are very aware that it will be an ongoing problem in the future, which is why we give this grant, which is why we also focus on finding talent in new places and how a career in accounting and finance can be great for high school and community college students in particular. this grant will contribute to this.

Programs should begin to have more impact next year at CLA. “Right now we have a few programs in development, and 2023 will be when we launch those programs, but we’re actively developing a program for a high school internship in 2023 in a number of locations,” Leary said. “The way we create this internship experience is to ask the high school students themselves and their teachers, what attracts you to a profession, and how can we make sure our message resonates with that. band ? So rather than CLA trying to figure out what a great internship experience looks like based on our story, we open our eyes and ears wider, listen to the high school students themselves, and do our best to create a good experience, which we expect launch in summer 2023. »

Recruitment is only part of the problem, but retaining young black accountants is also an issue. “We know the pipeline is really low,” said Saint Juste. “There are many reasons. The part of the data that worries us even more is the retention of black people in the accounting profession. What we’re trying to do is not just broaden the appeal. We need to tackle retention so we’re going to test that. Thanks to Jen’s incredible support, along with Deloitte and the CAQ, we’ll learn a lot, and then the goal is to keep expanding this across the country and get the funding. I think that in four or five years, not only will we see more people entering the field, but we will have mastered the attrition effect. I think together with what we need to do to create a better workplace and a better culture and better representation and progression, at least from the entry point of the pipeline, it will be much more robust than it is not now. ”

“We have to hold people back,” added Saint Juste. “We already don’t have enough people expressing interest. At least let’s keep what we have and give them the best chance of success. That’s part of it.

NABA has also made its scholarships more accessible to prospective accounting students. “We have eliminated the idea of ​​the 3.5 GPA for the scholarship season,” said Saint Juste. “It was mind-blowing the backlash originally when I said we were going to lower the GPA for national scholarships from 3.5 to 2.2. People thought we were lowering our standards. Not at all. We’re just trying to change the way we measure people. Then magical things happen. We received 300 applications and of the 300 applications, 200 were complete. But that’s where the magic happened. Of the 200 who were full, 144 students had a GPA of 3.5 or higher. Fewer than 10 had a GPA below 3.0 and no one was below 2.8.

Just as many colleges and universities are removing the requirement for students to take the SAT to test their academic abilities, metrics like GPA may also need to be more flexible. “That’s the framing we have when we tell people how we measure talent in this country, we decide it’s a certain GPA and a certain test score,” said Saint Just. “We know that many black people have to work to succeed in their studies. People like my kids who go to school for four years and whose job it is to go to school, that’s not the majority of black people in America. We really need to look at talent, so we’re also looking at what else we learn from GPA and skills data. We’re touching that broadly and engaging broadly because part of the work that Jen and CAQ and Deloitte are funding, we also want to reach out to people who are in what I call “unarticulated degrees”: people who are in and out of general studies or those kind of fields. Would it be great if we could get them interested in accounting? Because now there is support. There are so many opportunities in the field, so we are looking widely and we are not going to stop.

The NABA conference last week drew a large pool of around 2,500 attendees. “It was great content and inspiring panels, with huge representation from major companies across the country, sending in their C-suite,” Leary said. “It was a really powerful event, and I left that event up. I think there’s so much great work being done within NABA, and I personally encourage business leaders to come through. more time to learn about NABA’s vision and how they can be a part of it The Center for Audit Quality, Deloitte and CLA have all given $1 million pledges in the past few months. for an organization like NABA. The atmosphere of this conference and the power of talent in this room was remarkable. We have a lot of talent. We just have to do our best to continue to attract them to accounting.