University of Georgia
The University of Georgia’s Financial Planning program won the inaugural CFP® Board and Foundation for Financial Planning Pro Bono Award. The financial planning program offers two experiential learning opportunities in which hundreds of students have participated: the ASPIRE Clinic practicum and the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) practicum. Together, these two programs have helped thousands of low- to moderate-income individuals and families since their inception over a decade ago.
The ASPIRE Clinic serves the University of Georgia and the surrounding area of Athens, GA and, among other services, offers pro bono financial planning and counseling to underserved groups, provided bystudents studying to be financial planning professionals. ASPIRE’s financial services aim to serve those in the community who need fiduciary-based advice but do not have access to an independent financial planner. In 2018, 57% of the clients ASPIRE served reported an income of less than $30,000. The Clinic’s service providers are students who choose to enroll in an experiential learning course experience. Financial planning students get a chance to help clients with a wide variety of financial concerns and questions – from managing debt and student loans and improving budgeting and saving, to preparing financially for a new child or buying a home.
One of the ways ASPIRE is most helpful to both clients and students-in-training is through facilitating inter-disciplinary work and collaboration. For example, couples come in to the clinic frequently needing both a financial and a relationship perspective, and students are able to work together in these situations to better serve these needs and to also elevate their own learning.
The VITA program provides low-to-moderate households throughout the state of Georgia with in-person and virtual tax preparation, filing, and “second-look” services. Clients receive personalized follow-up letters discussing specific opportunities for improvement regarding their tax situation, employee benefits, or general financial situation as discussed with the tax preparer.
Since 2006, more than 700 undergraduate and graduate students have provided more than 8,300 households with one-on-one assistance relating to income tax questions, tax return preparation, and filing services. This experiential learning service has helped low-to-moderate income households claim over $13 million in refunds while saving them millions of dollars in filing fees. Students routinely have the opportunity to discuss important financial planning tools with their clients such as Health Savings Account, Flexible Spending Accounts, IRAs, and retirement plan contributions. “One of the most gratifying aspects of the VITA program is to learn that alumni have continued to volunteer in some way with VITA, or other pro bono initiatives, after they have entered into the profession,” said Dr. Lance Palmer, head of UGA’s VITA program.
Both programs enrich the learning environment for students and help a population that most likely would not be able to access these services if not provided on a pro bono basis. These programs are charting the way for other universities and organizations to more effectively serve their communities while providing cutting-edge experiential-learning opportunities for their students.
“One of the most gratifying aspects of the VITA program is to learn that alumni have continued to volunteer in some way with VITA, or other pro bono initiatives, after they have entered into the profession”
-Dr. Lance Palmer, head of UGA’s VITA program