Investing In Education

At Stetson University, “George” students are making quite a name for themselves in the business of money management.

How would you feel about turning over your $3 million stock and bond portfolio to a group of college students?

What if you knew they had returns of 5.1 percent in bonds and 34 percent in stocks for 2013?

That group of students makes up the Roland George Investments Program (RGIP) at Stetson University. Fondly known as the “George students,” they major in finance and invest real money on a daily basis. Those 2013 returns are 5 percent higher than average for stocks and 15 percent higher than average for bonds.

And the success of the education program is not a fluke. Stetson students in the RGIP have placed first in a national competition of similar student-managed portfolios 10 out of 13 years. They took second place the other three years.

“George students know that they represent a proud 33-year tradition and a lifelong exclusive club, because of the long, consistent, winning record,” comments a proud K.C. Ma, Ph.D., C.F.A., professor of finance, Roland George Chair of Applied Investments, and director of the Sarah George Investments Institute.

To what does Ma attribute that consistent, winning record? You might guess preparation, training or experience—but you’d be wrong.

“Trust,” says Ma. “When students enter the program as seniors, they already have three years of training and classroom instruction, and they know what they’re doing. They know that they are dealing with real money—the university’s money—and if they make a mistake that could be a serious problem.”

But rather than apply onerous amounts of oversight by numerous committees, as some universities do with their student-managed portfolios, the students are entrusted to apply the same rules that any investment analyst would have to abide by in the real world.

“My job is chaperone,” Ma describes. “I make sure they follow the law. The students determine the policies for buying and selling, and elect trustees from among their peers. They select stocks and bonds, make their pitch to the trustees and then it’s voted up or down by their peers.”

Students are also assigned a stock to follow throughout the year and report back to the group. This level of trust ensures that students take ownership in the program, according to Ma, and the weight of that trust “plus technology, equipment and knowing the science of investing means they make better decisions.”

“The idea is to give the students the tools they need to be successful in a learning environment, so they can blend seamlessly into a financial investments firm when they graduate,” says Ma.