Client Load for Student Tax Clinic Increases Significantly, Tax Refunds Top $350,000

A student at the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Clinic helps a client

Students in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance clinic helped 377 members of the community this year -- a 50-percent increase. Here Jaime Smith helps a client. (Photo/Jahan Ramezani)

Written by March 29, 2024

Cal Poly accounting students assisted 377 members of the community with their taxes this year – a 50-percent increase from 2023 – according to the university’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance clinic.

“The vast majority of these clients received refunds,” said Ryan Hudson, a business administration student who handles media relations for VITA. “There were $347,000 in total refunds generated at our site.”

Accounting seniors host the free clinic on campus each Saturday for seven weeks, beginning in February. As part of their senior project, the students assist locals who earn less than $67,000 a year on their individual tax returns.

“All returns are then reviewed by both a student reviewer and a CPA reviewer, who works as a full-time tax professional,” Hudson said.

A student assists a client with their taxes

Accounting students work with VITA as part of their senior project. Here Eli Roth, middle, assists a client. (Photo/Jahan Ramezani)

This year’s VITA program was led by faculty members Trisha Daughtrey and Steven Danowitz

Through the clinic, members of the community receive assistance and advice on numerous tax issues, including deductions for small business owners, reporting multiple incomes and deductions for children, tuition and rent. Meanwhile, students gain real-world experience, working 6-hour shifts with actual clients.

“The students learn to be professional and respectful of clients, particularly regarding individual finances, which is a sensitive topic,” Hudson said.

Students are trained through a prerequisite course, Federal Taxation for Individuals, 12 hours of in-class instruction specific to VITA, an advanced IRS exam certification and more.

During the quarter students keep a log of their VITA experience, Danowitz said.

Students work at a volunteer tax clnic

Students working at VITA gain real-world experience while having a positive impact on the community. Kelly Coulson is on the left and Mei Ryan is on the right. (Photo/Jahan Ramezani)

“The most common first entry relates that students feel anxious about the responsibility involved in preparing clients’ tax returns,” he said. “By their second day preparing returns, the anxiety has abated, and they are excited about their ability to help our clients.”

Students cap off their work with a reflection paper.

“The most common sentiment expressed across the 60 students participating this year was that VITA was the best course they’ve taken at Cal Poly and truly exemplifies the Learn by Doing motto,” Danowitz said.


By supporting the Orfalea College of Business, you can help students have a positive impact on society, just like the students involved with VITA.

Give Now

Check out the latest news and features from the Orfalea College of Business.

Visit the Newsroom