Generally speaking, the AICPA requires its members to complete continuing education in skill areas that relate to the accounting profession. However, the sorts of skills necessary to perform well as a certified public accountant span a variety of areas. Because of this, the organization considers twenty different categories valid for CPE credit. These NASBA fields of study range from general accounting all the way to non-technical areas such as personal development. But not all state accounting boards accept CPE credit from every category in the approved NASBA fields of study. So, before diving into continuing education, individual CPAs need to check out their state requirements.
If you’re already aware of your location’s continuing education rules, there’s no reason to delay further. Here are more details on the twenty NASBA fields of study for CPE.
Breaking Down the NASBA Fields of Study
Before getting to the meat of each category, it might be helpful to separate the NASBA fields of study into two distinct groups. The first table represents technical fields while the second groups the non-technical areas. However, in the full list of NASBA fields of study, each category falls alphabetically. So, refer to the tables to confirm whether they are technical or non-technical in nature.
Technical Fields of Study
|Accounting (Governmental)||Management Services|
|Auditing (Governmental)||Specialized Knowledge|
Non-Technical Fields of Study
|Behavioral Ethics||Personal Development|
|Business Management & Organization||Personnel/Human Resources|
|Communications and Marketing||Production|
|Computer Software & Applications|
Generally, the accounting field of study refers to a variety of principles and procedures related to accounting and financial reporting. These activities might include preparation, maintenance, analysis, or verification of records. However, these categories do not represent the sole extent of the accounting field as listed in NASBA’s guide. General accounting, research, services for small businesses, forensic accounting as well as other subject areas classify for accounting CPE credit.
Similarly to general accounting, governmental accounting denotes the same types of procedures carried out in service to a federal entity. These sorts of activities also include preparation, maintenance, analysis, and verification of financial reports. However, the subject areas differ slightly from that of general accounting. They include governmental forensic accounting, general governmental reporting as well as specialized reporting topics.
NASBA fields of study related to auditing encompass a variety of activities required when performing a systematic, independent examination. Of course, these activities should naturally relate to data, statements, records, operations, and performances of a particular company or entity. Furthermore, subject areas for auditing CPE opportunities include planning and supervision, forensic analysis and supervisions. However, these three areas are not exhaustive. So, if unsure of the correct activity designation, CPAs should refer to the full NASBA Fields of Study guide.
Governmental auditing typically refers to similar activities and procedures as those described under the general auditing heading. However, similarly to governmental accounting, they refer to audits performed upon a federal entity. Subject areas under this heading might include forensic analysis related to an agency or contract, GASB standards of state and local government, as well as other pertinent areas.
Overall, behavioral ethics describes a more ambiguous set of topics that, while related to business, delve into the personal as well. For example, ethical decision making is included as a potential catch-all category. However, other possible areas range from ethical practice within business to personal ethics. So, this field of study encompasses a specific yet wide array of subjects ensconced within the larger topic of ethics.
Of the NASBA fields of study, business law might represent one of the most straight-forward. At least, in terms of which subjects fall into this area. Overall, it has to do with the U.S. legal system, naturally as it relates to business and, more specifically, accounting practices. Some potential topics of interest in this area include employment laws, tax issues, and collection laws. But this is not exhaustive, and many other subjects could potentially fall within this field.
Business Management & Organization
Of course, while some public accountants work for larger corporations, others run and manage their own firms. So, it makes sense for AICPA members to receive training in topics related to business management. Subjects within this realm of education might include various tasks and practices of public accounting administration. For example, collections, professional liability insurance, and even succession planning. But overall, learning activities designed to enhance organizational management could potentially fit well here.
Communications and Marketing
Regardless the industry or organization someone works within, communication is vital. And competency in different forms of communication cannot be overlooked, especially for members of the AICPA. That’s why one of the NASBA fields of study incorporates aspects of written and verbal communication. The Communication and Marketing category further breaks down into subjects such as interviewing techniques, social media, and business writing. So, forms of continuing education which deal largely with these or similar areas likely apply to this field.
Computer Software & Applications
In today’s modern business world, performing accounting functions without a computer is nearly impossible. And by default, that means having at least basic skills with software and applications are essential to performance. Courses designed around basic, how-to type skills apply to this field of study. However, other courses which focus on specific accounting applications and software likely fall within the scope of other subjects. Instead, this non-technical category focuses largely on more generic computer skills and programs. This might include Microsoft Word, Excel, or other essential software.
Generally, of the NASBA fields of study, Economics covers all those related to micro- and macro-economics, money, banking, and public finance. Subtopics included here might include, but are not limited to, pricing, supply and demand, and economic growth, as well as others.
Typically, subjects in Finance relate to financial management at an organizational level rather than personal or purely public. For example, buying and selling businesses, as well as any asset management and analysis included. Although, that only details one potential topic of interest in this field. Quantitative analysis, foreign operations and other potential areas of interest might also fall within the scope of Finance, as depicted in the NASBA Fields of Study guide.
As opposed to simple software and application literacy, information technology represents a different set of computer processes and tech. Cyber security, networking, programming, and a host of other specific subjects fall within this educational designation. However, applications of information technology in accounting, auditing, or tax practice should instead fall into those specific NASBA fields of study. This technical category is designated for more general applications of these subjects.
Business processes such as project management, performance management, and others are most easily represented in this field. However, it should not be confused with Business Management & Organization. The previous is a non-technical area while Management Services are technical. They might further include cash and treasury management or enterprise risk management. However, other unlisted topics might also fall within the scope of this area.
Of the NASBA fields of study, personal development is perhaps the most ambiguous. However, that doesn’t make it uneasy to discern. Several potential categories included under this heading include career planning, leadership, or time management. Basically, anything which goes toward the development of personal or career ambitions could fit here. And it’s important to know that of the different fields, this is probably the one which the most accounting boards opt not to allow for CPE credit.
As could be surmised, those subjects which relate to hiring processes, equity, and other areas of Human Resources fall squarely into this field of study. The overall scope of the category is somewhat broad, encompassing a variety of topics. However, they largely lead back to the overarching topic of personnel and management practices.
Another non-technical study field, Production deals with specific processes largely related to manufacturing. However, some included topics could apply equally well to other industries. For example, scheduling, inventory control, and standards for pay. Operations management, inventory management, and supply operations make up three primary categories under this heading.
While Behavioral Ethics relates largely to individual conduct in the workplace and personal dealings, regulatory ethics deals more with larger bodies. As such, subjects in this NASBA field largely deal with conduct as it relates to licensing bodies and other governing entities. Noted by the Fields of Study guide, an ethical framework is necessary for navigating through professional dilemmas. Some topics included here include malpractice, conflict of interest, and state rules and regulations. However, there are many other areas of interest associated with Regulatory Ethics.
This category is essentially a catch-all for accepted topics which don’t fit into other NASBA fields of study. This might include specialized knowledge for industries such as non-profit organizations, health care, gaming, and others. And subtopics included within are those such as PCI compliance, valuation services, and HIPAA compliance.
This field of study relates directly to business statistics, quantitative analysis and subjects in probability. Subtopics which fall into the scope of this field’s authority are those such as linear models, hypothesis testing, and variance analysis. However, as with the other NASBA fields of study, there are many other potential topics not listed which fit well under this heading.
Overall, the Taxes field of study covers a wide range of different topics, all related to tax compliance and planning. Potential subjects which fall underneath this heading include real estate taxation, tax research, international taxation, and a host of others.
Concluding Thoughts On NASBA Fields of Study
Obviously, as noted within many of these fields, there are hundreds of subtopics that could be listed. But the purpose of this article was not to list each and every possible topic. Doing so would be incredibly difficult and extremely tedious to search through. Rather, the impetus was to highlight the many different categories for CPE available to members of the AICPA. And furthermore, to shed a small amount of light on what can be expected within each field of study.
As a provider of online continuing education courses for CPAs, VTR Learning is well familiar with the various designations. In fact, our courses cover more than a few of the areas.
So, if you’re looking for a provider with a variety of material in an array of different formats, we’ve got you covered. You can find everything from business simulation to eBooks in our CPA CPE shop. So, be sure to check it out now to knock out some of your CPE.
Article written by Braden Norwood
Last updated March 23, 2023