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. The current partnership with Volunteer Legal Services Hawaii began in 1998. 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.
Currently tax clinics are conducted each tax season at eight different homeless transition shelters, two domestic violence shelters, and the only emergency homeless shelter on the island of Oahu. Partnerships with the community include for-profit, nonprofit and governmental sectors. The main partner since 1998 is Volunteer Legal Services Hawaii’s homeless shelter legal clinic program and nonprofit program.
Student tax aides are usually accounting and business management majors who enroll in tax classes. Preparation is both from the special tax training classes that occur before or at the very start of the spring semester. Other students are volunteers who have participated in prior years. Students are tested for competency by the 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 next year and are able to assist others to do something at some later time. The persons assisted by the students become teachers of the students. They teach the students their own kinds of wisdom, humility, and perseverance. And they teach the staff and students that they live only too close to the reality of their lives and but for a few breaks could be there as well.
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 for the past six 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.
Students report that significant learning and social awareness has occurred. Student perspectives have been validated by their reflections, both those assigned as a part of the class and reflections publicly documented by the news media. Many students return after graduation to assist. Another indicator of success is the number of students who have found employment with CPA firms soon after graduation.
Both the direct community application of the scholarship and academic presentations of this work by the principal faculty member have played a role in his promotions to full professor and acquiring tenure.
~Wayne Tanna (2003)
Student tax assistants find rewards go beyond refunds - Honolulu Advertiser
The Council of Independent Colleges Effective Practices Exchange