There has been an increase over time in integrating the academic experience of the classroom with real-world vocational involvement, particularly with the rise in student internships. A large number of college students now make career decisions and obtain permanent employment as a result of short work experiences with employers.

But perhaps an even more spectacular example of integrating classroom learning with real-world experiences comes from student investment groups operating at literally hundreds of American universities. These groups operate in different ways, but all have one thing in common: students are making investment decisions using real money. Let’s talk about three models: Penn State University, Michigan State University, and Ohio University.

At Penn State, a group of private investors provided funds for the student-led Penn State Investment Association to help run the Nitany Lion Fund, a hedge fund that now has some $7 million in investments. The members of the fund’s board of directors are senior investment leaders from the real world, including a Penn State investment officer.

The group invests in about 65 equities. It boasts a good record, with the fund growing from well under $3 million in 2005 to $7 million today. More important to the students, the real-world experience has helped them get jobs with prestigious investment firms that historically derive a large portion of their employees from elite Ivy League schools.