Accounting and business students have assisted the elderly, homeless, and working-poor communities for over 20 years by providing free income tax preparation and personal budget planning assistance. In these service-based experiential learning settings, students develop technical competencies and gain better understanding of diversity and government policy that affects those who are poor or do not have a mastery of the English language.
Tax clinics are conducted each tax season at different homeless and domestic violence shelters. Partnerships with the community include for-profit, nonprofit and governmental sectors. Student tax aides are usually accounting and business management majors who enroll in tax classes. They are tested for competency by their professor and the IRS. Intentional learning outcomes include technical skill development in doing a tax return, interviewing skills, research of tax law issues, collaborative working with other professionals, computer tax software application, and gaining a better understanding of diversity and government policy that affects those who are poor or who do not have a mastery of the English language.
The clinics are designed so that those acquiring services through the student tax assistance learn how to do their own taxes the next year and are eventually able to assist others. The persons assisted by the students become teachers of new students.
The main community partner conducts both needs assessments and administers quality assurance surveys to all acquirers of these services and consistently reports a high level of satisfaction. Records in earlier years indicate that this project has facilitated and aided individuals and families to receive $500,000 in otherwise non-claimed refunds. Over the lifetime of this collaborative work, over $2,000,000 has been recovered for eligible individuals and families.
Student tax aide work is evaluated by the clients, with there being no difference in satisfaction between student volunteers and the CPA and tax attorneys that are also providing these services.
Wayne Tanna is an Accounting Professor at Chaminade University Honolulu