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A WSU financial literacy series teaches students they don't have to be Warren Buffet to invest

Even a student's budget offers investment opportunties.

Anasia Phillips
Anasia Phillips.
Contributed / Anasia Phillips
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WINONA — Most college students don’t see themselves as investors. How could they, you might ask? A dark shadow of college debt will likely overhang their post-graduate years like the Rock of Gibraltar.

Not so fast.

A new financial literacy series being offered at Winona State University is trying to mold a new mindset among students, particularly those of color. What keeps students from being part of the investor class is not money, but lack of awareness.

The message: You don’t have to be a billionaire Warren Buffet-type to be an investor, nor be rolling in dough to begin now.

The topics in the seminar-style series called Wealth Building Series explore everything from the basics of budgeting and credit and to the more rarefied realms of investing and entrepreneurship.

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The subjects of the series, which began in January and runs through April, were chosen based on student interviews with the school’s Student Senate’s Inclusive Excellence Committee.

The idea for the series came about from an unexpected discovery. Several students were talking with Jonathan Locust Jr., the school’s vice president for inclusion and diversity, in the WSU Diversity Center about the extraordinary rise of bitcoin to $60,000.

Before entering the halls of academia, Locust was once a banker. So when the students found out that Locust traded in cryptocurrencies and in the foreign exchange market, it piqued their interest. Students bombarded him with questions. Locust was struck by their fascination.

“I’m like, if there’s this many students asking me, there may be a larger appetite for it,” Locust said.

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Interviews with students revealed strong interest. What is the difference between a traditional IRA and a Roth IRA? How and when should we start investing? The subjects that burbled forth in these interviews formed the basis of the wealth series.

“We look to close gaps,” Locust said. “There are educational gaps in graduation rates, but there are also wealth gaps. You can, we believe, start to close those wealth gaps by giving financial literacy and information.”

The series is being offered in the school’s KEAP Center and online via Zoom. All the presenters are either faculty or administrators.

The series seeks to demystify certain areas of finance, as well as impart a mindset that no student is so impecunious that they can’t be an investor.

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Locust discusses subjects such as round-up apps. Buy a bottle of Pepsi, for example, for $1.80, and the app rounds up the transaction up to $2 with the balance going into pre-selected stocks.

Locust said the series encourages students to look for investment opportunities most students would consider beyond their means — such as in initial public offerings, where private companies offer shares to the public in a new stock issuance.

While many IPOs are too rich for most students’ budgets, there are some companies sufficiently beneath the radar that their IPOs trade at modest values.

“Maybe instead of getting two cheeseburgers, you get one. And you take the other $5 and buy $2 or $3 stocks,” Locus said.

Anasia Phillips, a WSU senior and equity and inclusive excellence chair of the Student Senate, said the information is useful for various reasons.

The older generation tends to be reticent when it comes to money matters. And now with inflation at historic highs and “things becoming way more expensive,” the subject of how to manage and invest money is timely.

“I think college students start from a low level of understanding,” Phillips said.

Phillips also finds herself at an intersection in life where financial issues are taking on greater urgency. She will graduate from college with an estimated $60,000 in college debt. After graduation, she and her boyfriend plan to move to Tennessee, where they have bought a house.

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“The series definitely benefited me, learning how to manage my money,” Phillips said. “Now that I have to worry about a mortgage, it (helped) me focus on where I’m spending too much money and where I need to save.”

Matthew Stolle has been a Post Bulletin reporter since 2000 and covered many of the beats that make up a newsroom. In his first several years, he covered K-12 education and higher education in Rochester before shifting to politics. He has also been a features writer. Today, Matt jumps from beat to beat, depending on what his editor and the Rochester area are producing in terms of news. Readers can reach Matthew at 507-281-7415 or mstolle@postbulletin.com.
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