Wharton course helps Philly file taxes

A new Wharton course serves low-income taxpayers and provides students with experiential learning.

On a Saturday morning in March, undergraduate students from Penn’s Wharton School reported to Ebenezer Temple Pentecostal Church in the Cobbs Creek neighborhood to assist community members with filing their income taxes. The church’s basement was filled with Philadelphians waiting to receive tax filing help.

“Finance is a really big part of a lot of people’s lives, and being able to help them with that is really impactful,” said first-year student Jessica Rosales, who is enrolled in the course, Accounting 2110: Tax Policy and Practice in Philadelphia.

Diego Resto helps a community member file their taxes.
Wharton student Diego Resto helps a community member file their taxes at Ebenezer Temple. Diego Resto helps a community member file their taxes at Ebenezer Temple.(Image: Pragya Singh)

The Academically Based Community Service (ABCS) course is offered through Wharton’s Accounting and Business Ethics & Public Policy departments and includes an academic component and a community service aspect. It is a collaboration with Penn’s Netter Center for Community Partnerships and the IRS’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, which provides free tax prep to people who make $64,000 or less, persons with disabilities, and limited-English-speaking taxpayers.

Wharton launched the tax policy course last year. A significant portion of the class is dedicated to in-the-field community service. Students receive a two-week training from VITA to become certified income-tax preparers. They then volunteer at least 40 hours throughout the semester at any of the 12 VITA sites in the city. The tax-prep locations are managed by the Philadelphia nonprofit Campaign for Working Families, which expects to file 42,000 tax returns in 2024.

The course, which integrates service with research, teaching, and learning, also includes guest lecturers who discuss academic and economic rationales behind tax structure. Several students from the inaugural class last spring were so inspired by their experience that they are trying to create ways for students to continue volunteering separately from the course. The group is looking into the feasibility of having a VITA site on campus because students noticed how many clients work at Penn but are spread out across different tax prep locations. Another idea they are exploring is creating a consistent cohort of student volunteers who aren’t in the course, similar to a student club, who get recertified by VITA every year and go to the existing locations around the city.

This story is by Sara Hoover. Read more at Wharton Stories.