There’s an old saying: “Bad news sells.” Perhaps it explains why media outlets continually barrage us with personal finance sagas. Whether it’s stories on mortgage foreclosure, credit card abuse or even bankruptcy, there’s no lack of time devoted to financial woe in America. And while one can’t discount the harmful effects of a sluggish economy, high energy and health care costs, etc., it’s also clear Americans aren’t particularly skillful at saving and investing. Indeed, Global Finance magazine’s recent measurement of household savings shows the United States continuing to badly lag other industrialized nations.
Unfortunately, financial literacy initiatives are few and far in the United States. Yet a Brooklyn Park nonprofit has made economic education a staple for 35 years, enlightening Minnesota youth on business and investing concepts and helping shape Minnesota’s next crop of successful entrepreneurs.
BestPrep’s charter is to engage students in hands-on experiential activities aimed at making them aware of sound personal finance and business practices. The organization offers both primary and secondary school teachers a focused menu of programs, many of which help students better understand simple concepts like balancing a checkbook, credit card interest charges, opening savings/investing accounts and more. Networking and career counseling with business professionals is also a valuable benefit to students seeking advice on potential college choices and career options.
Here are the key programs helping Minnesota students become financially literate:
The Stock Market Game™ (SMG)
Teams of one to five students compete statewide by investing a virtual $100,000 in stocks or mutual funds. Building a portfolio emphasizes researching and evaluating publicly traded companies and understanding how relevant transaction costs, fees and interest influence their value on a daily basis. Correspondingly, participants gain a better understanding of how the economy works and how current events shape the stock market.
The game also promotes knowledge in math, language, social science and team-building while building confidence and self-esteem in the classroom. Many students actually become advisors to parents who are less literate in investing, and kitchen table discussions involve companies worthy of investment capital.
“I learned not to act too quickly and to do research before making a decision on buying or selling stocks. Sometimes being patient is best,” says Sean Erickson, a student at Glendale Elementary in Savage.
Nearly 15,000 Minnesota students participated in the SMG this past year. Many have also placed well in the national Invest Write competition, a contest where they compose essays on the lessons they learned playing the game.
Minnesota Business Venture
Business camp? It may sound nerdy, but this unique summer business immersion is quickly becoming a destination for future business leaders. High school students spend a week at Minnesota Business Venture (MBV) rubbing shoulders with successful business owners and execs, and learning key skills such as leadership, investing, marketing, interviewing, incorporating charitable giving, even how to form a company and write a business plan. Campers are also encouraged to team-build, network with experts and begin building resumes for college and beyond. Perhaps the most valuable benefit of the camp is keynote speakers who serve up motivation and insight, and how they built their own companies from scratch.
MBV is hosted at St. Cloud State University and St. John’s University, with General Mills, 3M and the Minnesota Twins and Wild among the participating companies. Past campers also return to share career success stories.
BestPrep’s newest campaign on financial education may be its most comprehensive in tackling financial literacy. With a goal of providing teachers access to professional volunteers not usually available in their schools, the program works with more than 175 financial representatives who give presentations focusing on topics such as money management, financial goal-setting, buying a car, credit, budgeting and investing. Many of these topics are also supported by PowerPoint presentations. The program helps ensure students are equipped with the information necessary to make sound financial decisions while shaping students’ understanding of money in their formative years.
Matching real-world experience to classroom activities is also the goal of Classroom Plus. Students are exposed to everyday challenges like balancing a checkbook, budgeting for monthly expenses, employing marketing strategies and gaining financial literacy. Volunteers from Minnesota companies share their experiences and lessons so students don’t make poor decisions, ultimately compromising their quality of life. The program has also been a welcome resource for teachers whose districts have cut back or eliminated business-related curriculum.
Bridging the academic and business worlds, eMentors provides access to volunteer mentors via email. Last year, more than 3,000 Minnesota students connected with working professionals through weekly communications aimed at helping youth better prepare for college and their careers. After a regulated email meeting, mentor and mentee are formally introduced in the mentor’s workplace. The program particularly benefits those seeking information on careers, educational coursework, potential job benefits/challenges, and networking contacts and financial issues.
Improving financial literacy is a cornerstone of BestPrep’s mission. And more than 55,000 students and teachers take advantage of the organization’s resources annually. “Many schools in this country are eliminating or cutting back their business education programs,” says Executive Director Bob Kaitz. “By spreading our message throughout Minnesota classrooms, we can do our part to ensure students make sound financial decisions throughout their lives.”