This year, Austin Community College District (ACC) hosted the inaugural Prosper Tax Center in the ACCelerator at Highland Campus to provide free tax preparation assistance to hundreds of Central Texans and paid job-training opportunities to ACC students.

The goal for the site, which opened in February 2024, was 250 returns. By the time the site shut down for the tax season on Wednesday, April 15, the team had prepared 421 tax returns. 

“That’s phenomenal for a first-year site of our size,” says Karen Serna, Student Financial Wellness and Financial Aid Outreach Director. “Additionally, taxpayers contributed $63,227 of their refunds towards savings—that means they used form 8888 to split their refund and send a portion to savings.”  

Serna estimates that about half of the users were affiliated with ACC—either current students or faculty/staff—while the other half were members of the broader community.

“What was particularly fun to see was the connection many community users had to ACC. It was common to find that they were family members of our students. I especially enjoyed seeing students bringing in their parents and other relatives to get their taxes done. It highlighted the sense of community that defines ACC,” says Serna.

The college partnered on this initiative with Foundation Communities’ Prosper Tax Help program team, which has provided free tax preparation in the Austin area for over 20 years. Their team of volunteers and staff with deep expertise—including retired accountants, ex-IRS employees, and former and current accounting professors—provided training to the ACC students hired to support the site.

Student Employment Opportunities

“One of the most rewarding moments for me personally was when we introduced the employment opportunity to our students. I was anxious about how the students would receive this opportunity,” says Serna. “The response exceeded my expectations, which was a clear indication that our students are eagerly seeking on-campus employment that aligns with their area of study and provides them with real-world experience.”

113 students applied for the 11 positions. 

“60 of those applicants were business or accounting majors, which speaks volumes about the relevance of this program to their academic and professional growth,” says Serna.

The students received training from the Prosper Tax Help training team and had to pass several IRS certification exams. They learned to navigate tax issues, collaborating closely among themselves. 

Often, a Prosper Tax Help staff member would be present at the site to ensure quality control and offer ongoing training, which enhanced the students’ skills and confidence. Whenever the students encountered obstacles, they could reach out to Prosper Tax Help’s training and leadership teams for guidance. 

Key to Success

Serna attributes the collaboration and level of engagement across various college departments and with our community partner as vital to the success of the initiative:

“The success of our tax help site is attributed to the remarkable collaboration across various departments and with our community partner. The planning involved numerous stakeholders within Austin Community College, including colleagues from Instruction, College Relations & Marketing, ACC GROW, the ACCelerators, Student Affairs Communications, and notably, our external partner, Foundation Communities. This was truly a team effort; everyone contributed.”

As for next steps, the teams will gather feedback and document challenges and successes over the next couple of months. ACC will meet with Foundation Communities in May to discuss the feasibility of a site next year.