Mayo High School freshman campaigns to get financial literacy into Minnesota's education standards
According to Tej Bhagra's survey results, only one out of four students have taken a financial class, but two-thirds of those who haven't showed a "strong desire" to do so.
ROCHESTER — Tej Bhagra was still in middle school when he started taking a class about financial markets, but it wasn't at his school. He sought it out.
Now a Mayo High School freshman, Bhagra is lobbying the state Legislature to incorporate financial literacy into the state education standards. He's been using his own research of Rochester's youth to make his case, which included the process of surveying more than 3,000 of his peers.
"I enrolled in an online course, The Mathematics of Volatile Markets, to enhance my knowledge of stocks, pyramid schemes, complex formulas and how the flow of money works within markets," Bhagra, now 15, wrote in a four-page summary of his research. "It struck me that I was the only student from the Midwest, and boys outnumbered girls four to one."
Taking that class led Bhagra to investigate the level of financial awareness among students like himself. He created an initial survey about financial literacy among students for a science project while he was in middle school.
He later expanded the survey, which led him to the opportunity of testifying about his results before the K-12 Education Finance Committee of the Minnesota of Representatives on Thursday, March 23.
According to his results, only one out of four students have taken a financial class, but two-thirds of those who haven't showed a "strong desire" to do so. He further reported that four out of five students want financial education.
Bhagra's research showed that student's also have a lack of knowledge about financial matters that directly affect them. In his presentation to the education finance committee, he reported that "nearly 80% of respondents were unaware of the interest rates in their savings accounts even though a majority (70%) had a savings account."
And yet, students' awareness of cryptocurrency was high, even if the actual ownership of crypocurrency was less than 5%.
"However, considering the young age of the survey population, this is a remarkable statistic showing how impressionable young people can buy speculative assets that are highly volatile," Bhagra wrote in the summary of his findings.
Although Bhagra may be unique among his peers in his campaign for financial literacy, his research comes in the wake of others throughout the state who have been advocates on the issue as well.
In the process of speaking before the Education Finance Committee, Bhagra connected with Julie Bunn, executive director of the Minnesota Council on Economic Education.
"I was extremely impressed with his methodology," said Bunn, who is a former legislator herself and holds a doctorate in economics. "And the design of his study, and the thoroughness and carefulness of his study for someone as young as him, particularly when he started it."
Bunn is involved with the Financial Literacy Coalition of Minnesota, which includes a wide variety of voices, like Bhagra's, advocating on the issue. According to the coalition, "only 7% of Minnesota high school students are guaranteed to take a personal finance course of at least one semester prior to graduation." The coalition also reported that "graduates of high schools with guaranteed financial education are 21% less likely to carry a balance on a credit card while in college."
Bhagra may have taken a class on finances while in middle school, but he was prompted to do so by listening to his father talk about finance. He was fortunate to have that voice at home mentoring him on the issue.
He realizes not every student has that guiding voice in their lives.
"There's this argument that parents should teach financial literacy to their kids at home," Bhagra told the Post Bulletin. "But if parents don't have their own financial literacy, how will they teach it to their kids?"