By C. Aileen Blaine
Though Youngstown State University continues the process of downsizing the number of computer labs available on campus, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program will remain.
Raymond Shaffer, director for the master of accountancy program, has been involved with the VITA program at YSU for roughly 30 years, since the days of paper-and-pencil tax forms.
“Back then … everything was done by hand — forms and everything. It was a small program, but it was effective,” Shaffer said. “Over the years, it’s transitioned.”
Now, the tax preparers enter codes using software on computers located in the Williamson Hall computer labs. Closing these labs means the volunteers will have to use loaned laptops since personal devices aren’t permitted for clients’ tax preparation.
In the university’s efforts to cut costs, the original number of computer labs is being reduced by two-thirds, from over 100 to just over 30. The location of the labs on campus can be found through the IT services website.
The program’s impacts reach beyond the community alone. It also provides hands-on experience for the student volunteers and the option to earn internship credits toward their degrees. The volunteers complete more than 30 hours of training and must pass IRS certifications.
“We want to make sure that students get what they need and that other programs — like the VITA program — still have facilities and are still able to function,” Shaffer said. “The program’s such a great service to the community and to the students.”
YSU isn’t the only place offering free income tax assistance. United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley also provide tax preparation services through the VITA program.
A common theme of the misunderstandings and whispered rumors has been broken communication between university administrators and the faculty within the colleges. According to Shaffer, some students and faculty were unsure of whether the VITA program would remain on campus.
“I think there’s a lot of miscommunication, and that’s usually the case,” Shaffer said. “[The university] is trying to downsize the labs, and it comes down to costs.”
Initially, there were concerns that closing labs would limit how many community members could use the VITA program’s services. As the university’s location is the only one able to provide services for international students, Shaffer said it’s crucial the program remains readily available to students on campus.
“In some of our better years, we’ve served over 600 people,” Shaffer said. “It’s a great learning experience for the students. They get hands-on learning and can say they get to work with real people and real tax returns.”
Until further notice, the program is expected to look much the same when the taxman comes next year.
“I don’t think there should be any major changes or effects on the program,” Shaffer said. “We should be able to function and carry on in a fairly normal way.”