By Joseph P. Cunningham, CPA
For accounting students, tax season doesn’t run from January through April 15. Their tax season is more likely two semesters: one for individual taxation and one for corporate entities. PICPA’s Federal Taxation Committee wanted to share with members how students today are preparing for careers that may include taxation as an area of interest and what resources are now available to students. There certainly have been many changes since I was an undergraduate accounting student … for the better! Here are a few of the tools at their disposal.
Timely information – Students are no longer stuck if their textbook was printed in April and there is a subsequent tax law change after printing. Publishers are in contact with professors and students and notify them of changes and updates to new materials.
Course management systems (CMS) – Most textbooks now have a CMS, where homework, reading assignments, quizzes, examinations, and other resources are available online. Students and instructors can share assignments and monitor progress. Some students opt for just the CMS because the textbook is provided in an electronic format.
Tax preparation software – Leading tax software has been added to the course material. In class, professors can illustrate different outcomes based on slight adjustments in a scenario. A popular project using tax software is “What business formation should I adopt – sole proprietor, S corporation, C corporation, or partnerships?” Students complete tax returns for those types of entities to determine which outcome produces the lowest (or highest) tax liability. This has been a great addition!
Internship/cooperative education experience (co-op) – Students in tax class may also have an internship or a co-op job at a CPA firm during the semester where they apply valued skills learned in class to real situations and clients. They get valuable time management skills and become client-focused. Also, some return with job offers in hand. We require one internship per student, but encourage students to take a second one.
Community service – Completing an individual taxation course in the fall semester is a great opportunity to place students into a VITA or AARP income tax preparation program. Students spend winter break completing online training, an ethics module, and an examination. When tax preparation season opens, students step up and prepare federal, state, and municipal tax returns as a community service. Community members enjoy interacting with students, and students receive valuable experience in tax return preparation. This has become a great service-learning opportunity.
Original research – Students put together original teaching cases based on IRS criminal investigations. They find a criminal case, research it, and discuss how the fraud was perpetrated, what laws were broken, how the fraud/crime could have been detected, and a discussion of ethical and legal issues. These projects have been presented at regional and national academic conferences and submitted for publication in academic journals.
Today’s taxation class is not the same as it was 20 or 30 years ago. Technology and educational opportunities make today’s accounting graduate better prepared for a dynamic work environment. The graduate has better tools (software and immediate access to tax resources) and experience serving clients.
Joseph P. Cunningham, CPA, is an associate professor and director of the master of accounting program at Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pa. He brings to the classroom 30 years of public practice and industry experience.