Continued Professional Education (CPE), also known as Continuing Education (CE), refers to the educational requirements that licensed CPAs are required to fulfil in order to be eligible to renew their CPA license. This is required by most states, with each state having their own CPE stipulations. Some specify the exact courses you need to participate in, while others leave it more loose ended. They also vary in the number of credits required per year, as well as in how many need to be met overall. Below we have provided a breakdown of what CPE is, how it works and what qualifies as CPE, as well as other relevant factors.
What is the difference between a college/semester hour credit and a continuing education credit?
A college credit is a standardization method that is used to measure the amount of academic hours dedicated to a college or university course or program. Typically, a college course will award 3-credits per 15-week semester. On the other hand, CPE hours are measured in either 50-minute or 60-minute increments. They cannot be used to measure academic credit. There is no need for test or exam-taking, and they are therefore much easier to acquire than credit hours.
There are many ways to earn CPE. Some examples include courses, lectures, presentations and writing articles for publications. However, boards will still require some guidelines as to what is considered acceptable or not, as well as how these hours should be recorded and submitted. More information regarding the state CPE requirements can be found on both the state board websites, and on the NASBA’s website. We have also provided a brief outline of these requirements on each of our CPA state requirement pages.
What are the CPA CPE requirements per state?
As we have already mentioned, each state has its own set of requirements and guidelines. CPE is required based on either an annual, biennial or triennial cycle. This usually equates to 40 hours of CPE per year, even if the full amount is not required per year. So, for an annual cycle there would be a 40 CPE hour requirement, 80 CPE for a biennial cycle and 120 CPE for a triennial cycle. For states that have biennial and triennial cycles, they often require that at least 20 CPE be reported annually. Most states, including those that do not have an Ethics exam requirement for licensure, will require that some of these hours be focused on Ethics courses. This generally averages 2 CPE hours of Ethics per year and will sometimes be specified as having a state-specific or sponsor-specific requirement.
What types of courses are accepted for CPE for CPAs?
State requirements will vary on this point as well. Therefore, we have just provided a the more typical examples of what is considered as acceptable ‘technical’ subjects pertaining to CPA CPE hours:
- Accounting (General or governmental)
- Auditing (General or governmental)
- Behavioral Ethics
- Business Law
- Business Management & Organization (including practice development)
- Communications and Marketing
- Computer Software and Applications
- Information Technology
- Management Services
- Personal Development (e.g., principle-centered leadership, career planning, time management)
- Regulatory Ethics
- Specialized Knowledge
Possible accepted methods of accruing CPE
- College courses
- NASBA or AICPA’s sponsored CPE programs and courses
- Self-study courses
- Online courses and group-learning programs (usually require that the sponsor takes attendance, keeps records for a certain number of years after the fact, and that they issue certificates to all participants)
- Published works, such as journal articles and books
- Teaching and lecturing
- Nano-learning classes
- Firm conferences and presentations
- Blended programs
How is CPE calculated for CPA courses?
CPE Is usually either awarded as one CPE hour for every 50 minutes of course time, or as one CPE hour for one full hour, depending on the state. These are some other typical CPE calculations that may be offered by states:
- Instruction received at accredited colleges or universities:
- Per semester system credit hour = 15 CPE hours
- Per quarter system credit hour = 10 CPE hours
- Per noncredit class hour = 1 CPE hour
- Credit for nano-learning courses is usually awarded as one-tenth of a CPE hour, if nano courses are accepted by the board
- Lecturing time is usually awarded as 2 CPE hours per actual class hour with no repeat awards unless the class is substantially different from the first
- State boards will often award CPE in half-hour increments after the first hour of CPE has been earned for a particular class
State boards will often only allow for a certain percentage of the overall CPE to be earned via a specified method, such as a certain percentage of CPE being earned through technical subjects pertaining to auditing, accounting and attestation, while others are more lenient, leaving it to an open-ended ‘area that contributes to the CPA’s professional understanding and capabilities’ or similar.
As an example, Arizona’s state board stipulates the following restrictions:
- CPE Lecturer or Discussion Leader (max. 40 hours)
- Publishing Books or Articles (max. 20 hours)
- Computer courses (max. 20 hours)
- Nano-learning courses (max. 4 hours)
- Excess hours cannot be carried over to the next period
On the other hand, many boards will allow for a certain number of excess CPE hours to be caried over towards the next cycle. So too, some boards may have no cap for earning credits by any method, while others may not allow for any credit to be earned by nano-learning courses or published works at all.
What are the CPE requirements for inactive CPA license holders?
Most states allow for license holders to transition their license from ‘active’ to ‘inactive’ status. This allows them to retain their CPA license without needing to fulfill the CPE requirements for the cycle and the renewal fee is often less than for an active license. However, the license holder will not be permitted to practice as a CPA until their license is reverted to active status again. This usually entails meeting certain CPE reporting conditions and some others that may differ from a typical license renewal application. Typically, this CPE requirement will be 120 CPE hours earned within the three years prior to applying for license reactivation including 4 CPE hours of ethics. This sometimes applies even in states that do not require Ethics courses as part of their normal renewal conditions.
It is also important to note that very rarely there is either no option to transition to ‘inactive’ status or even an inactive license renewal will require a certain number of CPE to be reported. An example of this is Puerto Rico which stipulates that 120 CPE be reported over a triennial period for active license holders and 90 CPE for inactive license holder. However, inactive license holders in Puerto Rico are also allowed to practice certain aspects of public accountancy that other inactive license holders are usually not allowed to be involved in.
Exceptions to fulfilling CPE requirements
Under certain circumstances, the state board may exempt an applicant from fulfilling their CPE when submitting their application for renewal. These are:
Inactive license holders
Applicants who plan on practicing private accounting, to take a break from practicing accountancy altogether or those who plan to practice in another state are usually allowed the option to switch their license status to ‘inactive.’ This (generally) allows the license holder to maintain their CPA license without the need to fulfill CPE requirements or needing to pay the full renewal fee. However, as always there are exceptions to this, as there are states that do not allow for this option and others that do stipulate reduced CPE requirements.
Oftentimes CPA licenses who move to another state and acquire a reciprocal license in that state will be exempt from fulfilling the CPE requirements of the original issuing state provided that they fulfill those of the current state in which they are practicing. But if that state has no CPE requirement then they will need to meet those of the original issuing state’s.
Many states will allow exemptions under extenuating circumstances such as military service, illness or similar. Many states also permit extensions in response to the COVD pandemic.
Can you earn CPE through online college courses?
As with everything to do with CPA licensure, it depends on the state. Most states recognize college courses that are accredited through a board-recognized accrediting agency for CPE, and will usually award CPE hours at a rate of 15 CPE per semester hour of credit earned, or 10 CPE per quarte hour earned. So too, they will often recognize online courses provided that they are run by a qualified profession who records attendance and issues certificates of participation at the end of the session. Therefore, there is a good chance that accredited online college courses such as those offered by CpaCredits.com will be recognized towards fulfilling the CPE requirements of the accountancy board. However, as always, it is best to confirm this beforehand.