In 1896, three men passed the first Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam: Joseph Hardcastle, William H. Jasper and Edward C. Charles. These individuals are credited as the first to be issued CPA certificates under the first CPA licensing law. However, it would be decades and hundreds of issued certificates later before an African American would become a certified CPA. In fact, 2021 marks only the 100th anniversary of the first African American CPA: John W. Cromwell Jr.
Cromwell came from a long line of extraordinary individuals. His father was the chief examiner for the U.S. Post Office, as well as an attorney, teacher and political activist. His older sister, Otelia, was the first African American to graduate from Smith College and later earned her Ph.D. in English from Yale University. Cromwell was just as accomplished, graduating with honors from Dartmouth in 1906, as well as winning the Thayer Prize in Mathematics. He earned a master’s degree a year later and decided to return home to Washington, D.C.
However, once graduating, Cromwell found it hard to fulfill his dream of becoming a CPA. To become a CPA, Cromwell had to work for a CPA, and no firms were interested in hiring him. So, Cromwell took a position teaching mathematics at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, one of the most prestigious African American high schools in the country at the time.
Things started to look up in 1921 for Cromwell when New Hampshire passed legislation enabling CPA candidates to obtain their license without experience. Cromwell made his way to New Hampshire and passed the examination, 15 years after graduating from college. Once certified, Cromwell almost exclusively worked within the African American community, serving churches, funeral homes, lawyers and restaurants. He also continued to teach high school classes while practicing accountancy. In 1930, he became Comptroller of Howard University, a historically African American university in Cromwell’s hometown.
NSBCPA Launches a CPA Exam Review Program for Black Accounting Students
Although Cromwell opened the door for other African Americans to follow in his footsteps and earn their CPA certifications, he was remarkably the only African American CPA in Washington D.C. for 40 years after earning his license. In fact, it took 44 years for the total number of African American CPAs to reach 100. Today, still less than 1% of CPAs are Black, with only about 5,000 African American CPAs in practice. Fortunately, the National Society of Black CPAs (NSBCPA) is looking to change that troubling statistic.
In honor of John W. Cromwell Jr. and his 100th anniversary, the NSBCPA is launching a first of its kind CPA Exam Review Program for Black Accounting Students: NSBCPA CPA Breakthrough.
“In 2021, we embark upon the 100th Anniversary of the first Black CPA, John Cromwell, Jr.,” said Shannon Nash, Chair NSBCPA. “Less than 1% of the CPAs in the United States are Black—and that has not changed in 40 years. If we do not do something now, then when?”
The virtual review program encompasses study methods and material that are meant to enhance the skills of aspiring African American CPAs. This includes, but is not limited to, placement assessments, pre-recorded sessions with African American professors and CPAs, weekly CPA exam review sessions led by African American CPAs and weekly study sessions. Students will also be assigned a CPA mentor to guide them through the program and will receive application and test fee support.
The NSBCPA is also sponsoring a conference commemorating the 100th anniversary of the first Black CPA from June 3-5, 2021 in Washington, D.C. Aspiring and credited African American CPAs can meet with hiring managers to advance their careers.
Robert F. Smith Supports NSBCPA CPA Breakthrough Program
The review program itself has garnered attention and support from organizations like the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) Foundation. Additionally, it has received financial compensation from entrepreneur and philanthropist Robert F. Smith. As a champion of expanding educational and career opportunities for African Americans and members of other underrepresented groups, Smith jumped on the chance to support the program. In December 2020, Smith donated $1 million to NSBCPA, a game-changing sum in terms of financing its groundbreaking initiative.
“Raising Black representation in the financial workforce doesn’t just put more Black people in high-quality jobs. It helps build opportunity and wealth over generations while promoting financial literacy that is so crucial to achieving prosperity,” said Smith in regard to the initiative. “Representation matters, and this program will help aspiring accountants see that they belong in this field.”
Learn more about the NSCAPA CPA Breakthrough exam review program or sign up for the initiative.