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What is a Continuing Professional Education?

M.C. Huguelet
M.C. Huguelet

Continuing professional education is the process by which a professional maintains and improves his qualifications, usually through class work, seminars, and independent study offered by a university or professional association. Professionals in many fields, such as lawyers, teachers, and physicians, can benefit from this type of sustained learning. In many cases, however, the term continuing professional education refers specifically to the learning credits which a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is required to earn on an ongoing basis in order to maintain his license. The rules for CPA license renewal, including the number of hours required and the subjects and methods by which they can be satisfied, vary by state.

Each state determines the number of continuing professional education hours required for CPA license renewal as well as the time period in which they must be satisfied. In most cases, this requirement is set at 80 hours during each two-year period or 120 hours during each three-year period. Many states also stipulate that at least 20 hours must be earned during each year of the qualifying period.

Woman with hand on her hip
Woman with hand on her hip

Generally, a CPA who wishes to renew his license must satisfy a portion of his continuing professional education requirements through coursework in specific subject areas. Many states require the study of ethics; Illinois CPAs, for instance, must dedicate four of every 120 hours to coursework in this area. Some states also require concentration on particular facets of the profession. For example, CPAs in Georgia must dedicate 16 of every 80 hours earned to the study of auditing and accounting.

Once his prescribed coursework has been satisfied, a CPA can study a number of subjects that will support his professional development. He may choose to keep abreast of trends in the financial world by taking classes in economics. If he would like to improve his communication skills, he might study technical writing or public speaking.

There are a number of ways in which a CPA can fulfill his continuing professional education requirements. Many CPAs opt to take classes through a local university or professional association. To ensure that all coursework will count toward license renewal requirements, it is important to verify that the chosen educational institution is state-approved.

CPAs who wish to satisfy their requirements outside of the classroom have several options. Many continuing professional education programs offer online classes. Most states also allow a certain proportion of licensing coursework to be fulfilled through independent study, although here candidates must usually provide evidence of study by completing a written examination. In some cases, writing articles or textbooks can count toward one’s requirements. Again, to ensure that all completed hours will be accepted, it is necessary to check state regulations.

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