EMU students develop transparent financial reports for Michigan cities
A team of EMU graduate accounting students are partnering with municipalities throughout the state to create simple financial reports, boosting transparency and making it easier for residents to understand complex fiscal information.
The initiative started as a class project when accounting professor William LaGore realized his students could help cash-strapped Michigan communities by creating financial reports, fulfilling course objectives and giving students real-world experience and connections.
After a successful pilot project with communities such as Ypsilanti, Adrian and Wixom, the EMU College of Business used its academic entrepreneurship fund to allow students to continue creating reports for municipalities as a part-time job of sorts.
LaGore, who oversees the collaboration, said the project would continue next semester. He said students have worked with about 15 municipalities so far, including most recently the city of Novi and village of Birch Run.
“A lot of the governments I talked to are cutting staff. They would definitely not be able to do this on their own or even have the money to pay for it,” LaGore said. “We provide the service free of charge for them.”
Snyder and legislative Republicans created the program — which dangles dollars as an incentive to force municipalities to make reforms — as part of their general overhaul of the state’s budget earlier this year.
David Mielke, dean of EMU’s College of Business and an accounting professor, said the university’s collaboration with Michigan municipalities was an outgrowth of a meeting with state Treasurer Andy Dillon, budget director John Nixon and Richard Baird, a personal friend of the governor.
“This cooperative effort is an example of the type of partnering that can be fostered across the state,” Dillon said in a statement. “Not only can local communities benefit through transparency offered by such programs, this also provides real world learning experience for students.”
After the meeting in Lansing, EMU met with the Michigan Municipal League, which agreed to promote the service to its members.
“We really have as one of our primary goals to interact with the business community and that’s one of the strengths of the College of Business — to bring as much as we can from the real world into the classroom,” Mielke said.
Mary Jones, a graduate student who is working on the project, said the goal of the financial reports is to make it simple enough that “an everyday Joe Schmoe” can understand it.
The goal of the financial transparency reports is to show “what do we owe, what do we own,” Jones said.
Yijun Ren, another grad student who worked on the project, said the municipalities have been “really cooperative” and eager to get their reports assembled.
“The project was really empowering for us just knowing that these governments and townships were entrusting us,” said Hisham Alhakimi, another grad student who has worked on the project.
Jones said the project “gives us an advantage if we were to go into a CPA firm. We can say we have this background.”
Walter Kraft, EMU’s vice president of communications, said the project represented a great opportunity for students to contribute to the community and get real-world experience.
"You can just see the success students can have when you actually get out and work in an environment and make a difference,” he said. “They have something great to put on their resume. We’ve done something. We’re not just talking about theory in the classroom. We’re out there doing it.
“This person has a big step up over other people who come in for an interview because they have practical experience. That is a major emphasis for us as a university.”