McCombs business students act as Austin IRS

Libby Cohen

For 13 years, the McCombs School of Business has partnered with the advocacy group Foundation Communities to prepare tax returns for low-income families in Austin. 

Accounting Practicum is a two-part course that teaches students how to be low-income Internal Revenue Service preparers and sends them to six Austin tax centers to file returns. Each tax season, McCombs students make up around one-third of the volunteers for Foundation Communities.

UT alumna Frances Ferguson originally began Foundation Communities as an advocacy group for affordable housing. As the organization grew, it partnered with the IRS service called the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance which provides low income families with free tax preparation. Catenya McHenry, the media coordinator for McCombs, said that in 2006, professor Ross Jennings, the accounting department head at the time, suggested the course to offer students both a hands-on accounting experience and a volunteering opportunity.

In 2018, Foundation Communities helped families receive $34.6 million in tax returns. Jackie Blair Cuéllar, director of volunteer programs for Foundation Communities, said they are on par with years past for total tax refunds.

Cuéllar said the collaboration is beneficial to both the volunteers and the clients because it connects two demographic groups in Austin. 

“It helps bridge the gap between the community here in Austin with the University students,” Cuéllar said. “A lot of times we see it helps the students get out of their university bubble, come engage with community and learn about the low-income population here in Austin.” 

On the academic side, the course provides students with a simulation of a work day for a professional tax preparer. J. W. Kamas, accounting professor and lecturer of ACC 366P, said this course is exemplary to have on a resume.

“It is real life work experience,” Kamas said. “They have managers in the centers, they have to be face to face with people, they are actually helping people,” Kamas said. “I think employers look at it as a second internship.”

Business graduate student Fabiola Campos is currently enrolled in the course and said she primarily files taxes for minority families. 

“Most people didn’t finish high school and we see a lot of undocumented people also,” Campos said. 

As a member of the Hispanic community, Campos said she prepares returns in both Spanish and English and is thankful for this multi-faceted course.

“I feel grateful that I have the opportunity to go to school to learn about this and actually help people,” Campos said. “It is such a rewarding feeling.”