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An evaluation of a university-based, pro-bono tax services program for low-income taxpayers

The purpose of this study was to examine whether accounting students who provide pro bono representation to low-income taxpayers facing a dispute with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) experience significant increases in motivation to offer pro bono representation of low-income taxpayers in the future and whether these students perceive an enhanced proficiency in relevant accounting clinical skills. The design for this study was a pretest/posttest, quasi-experimental research model. The treatment group (n=45) was comprised of accounting students enrolled in a service learning senior-level accounting course (federal tax procedure) where students are expected to represent low-income taxpayers facing a dispute with the IRS. The control group (n=33) was comprised of accounting students enrolled in a senior-level accounting elective course with no service learning component. Independent samples t-test and ANCOVAs were run, comparing treatment group students and control group students, based on posttest answers to questions regarding motivations for involvement in volunteer activities (while controlling for pretest scores). Results indicated that the treatment group reported significantly higher self-perceived competence in providing tax dispute resolution services than the control group. While results indicated that the students in the service learning project seemed to have gained competence in working with low-income taxpayers in tax dispute resolutions, as well as perceived enhanced proficiency in relevant key clinical skills, no significant differences between the two groups on any of the motivations to volunteer at posttest, after controlling for pretest scores, were detected. No significant differences were found between the two groups with regard to attitudes for helping others at posttest, after controlling for pretest scores. Furthermore, no significant differences were found between the two groups regarding self-efficacy toward service at posttest, after controlling for pretest scores. The results make a significant contribution to the literature by illustrating that mere exposure to a service learning experience in the context of tax dispute resolution does not necessarily cause students to experience significant gains in motivation to offer pro bono representation of low-income taxpayers in the future. Keywords: Pro bono tax services, service learning, self-efficacy, motivation to serve low-income taxpayers

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