Students from three Rio Grande Valley high schools had a chance to gain valuable financial literacy education this spring thanks to a generous grant provided by State Farm to The University of Texas-Pan American.
The PSJA North team of Oscar Escobar, Roxanne Vasquez and Meagan Ledesma took first place in the competition held in April at UTPA.
Juan Milan, a senior at Edcouch Elsa High School, said he didn't know much about financial literacy or how the economy works before he participated in the challenge.
"I learned about index funds, investing, saving - that's pretty cool. It has helped me because I just opened a checking account and it has helped me save money already," he said.
This is the first year that UTPA senior Alberto Arredondo has mentored students in the program. The finance and economics major worked with students from San Isidro High School. He feels participants in the program are getting the type of education that isn't normally taught in high school.
"I feel it is giving them a step ahead, an advantage over other people because they will be able to go out into the world and better shop for car loans, student loans, especially since most of them will be going to college next year," Arredondo said.
Arredondo said he also saw the program as a great way to give back.
"It is an opportunity to educate future generations, " he said.
The competition also included a College and Community Fair where representatives from UTPA and local businesses and financial institutions shared information with the students and parents about planning for college, careers and their financial future.
During the event, Dr. Teofilo Ozuna, dean of the UTPA's College of Business Administration, told the students how his parents, who had seven children and did not have a lot of money, taught him early about how to prioritize their spending. When he married, he said his wife taught him to save 10 percent of what they earned before spending any of it.
"Those lessons were good for me...to take care of your money. It is important for you to understand the mechanics and the value of money. Literacy of this type is very important," he said. "This challenge really helps you to learn about these issues."
State Farm Agent Christina Salas (BBA '00, M.Ed. '05) said her corporation feels it is important for students to learn at an early age about financial literacy.
"When they turn 18 they are going to start receiving credit card applications and it is very easy for them to start getting into debt. This program helps them to learn how to save money and not overextend themselves," Salas said.
State Farm recently provided another grant to UTPA for 2014-15 to continue the Financial Literacy Challenge into its fifth year.