Student investment managers raise nearly $96k for veteran classmates’ scholarships

Left: Jay Acosta, Master of Finance student and Gary B. Halley Veterans Scholarship recipient.
Right: The College of Business finance lab.

With more than $400,000 invested, the student-managed Veterans Fund offers a unique opportunity for College of Business Master of Finance students to put what they’ve learned in the classroom to use in the real-world. But the experience differs from the corporate world in a major way: Any returns the stock portfolio earns above inflation are withdrawn not as client profits, but as scholarships for veteran students.

Made possible by seed money from College of Business alumnus Gary Halley, ’60, the proactive approach of the student investment managers has led the fund to deliver an average return of 25.5% over the last three years, besting the S&P 500’s growth by 4.3%. Because of this performance, the Veterans Fund was able to withdrawal nearly $96,000 to award as scholarships in the 2021-2022 academic year.

“It allowed me the freedom to pursue my degree without the stress.”

– Jay Acosta, Master of Finance student and Gary B. Halley Veterans Scholarship recipient

Jay Acosta in uniform training

Supporting those who have served

One of this year’s Veterans Fund scholarship recipients is Jay Acosta, who left the Marines as a Corporal and earned his undergraduate degree from the College of Business before entering the Master of Finance program.

When Acosta enrolled at CSU, he first began study mechanical engineering with the goal of becoming a military officer after graduation.

However, after a difficult first semester, “I couldn’t wait any longer, so I just enlisted,” Acosta said.

He joined the Marines and served as a rifleman and weapons specialist, where he was attached with a special purpose expeditionary unit that focuses on countering narcotics trafficking and training foreign government forces.

“The Marines changed the way I approached my entire life,” Acosta said, “One of the core values of the Marine Corps – honor – changed how I thought about pursuing my education.

“Before, I never thought it was a big issue if I signed up for classes and didn’t do well in them,” he said. “I learned if you agree to do something you have to give it your best all of the time, otherwise you shouldn’t do it.”

So, when he decided to return to school and study real estate and finance in the College of Business, he gave it his all.

“He’s firing on all eight cylinders,” said Lee Sanning, director of the Everitt Real Estate Center and a finance and real estate instructor in the College of Business.

Lee Sanning portrait
Lee Sanning, director of the Everitt Real Estate Center

“I had Jay when he was an undergrad last year and he was a top performing student in that class, not just academically, but he has a dynamic personality and helps foster engagement in other students,” Sanning said.

“Most veterans, if they’ve served one or two tours, that automatically makes them older, not just in age but in experience,” said Sanning, who has worked with many veteran students over his nearly two decades as an educator.

Although Acosta figured he could find a way to fully pay for graduate school on his own, when he was awarded $15,000 from The Gary Halley Veterans Scholarship to attend the program, the calculus became simple.

“It allowed me the freedom to pursue my degree without the stress,” Acosta said.

A passion for real estate

As one of nine kids in his family, Jay Acosta was no stranger to tight quarters.

“I was the third oldest,” he said. “After the first couple years in the basement with my four brothers I was like, ‘This isn’t enough space, I need more space.’ That got me obsessed with houses and properties and the freedom of going wherever you want.”

“I started reading real estate books when I was 13, and once I found out it was a career, I knew it was something I would love to do,” said Acosta, whose passion eventually led him to the College of Business.

College is always a challenge, but balancing it against an active-duty career in the uniformed services made it even more challenging.

However, Acosta’s years of determination paid off when he graduated this year with his bachelor’s degree and soon after became a licensed real estate broker. Wanting to develop his new skills that would help him in his budding real estate career, he began eyeing the College’s Master of Finance program.

“Real estate is financial at its core,” said Acosta. “I’ll be able to use the fundamentals of finance to estimate returns better to make better deals, and if I can find a way to add in all these complex variables, I’ll be able to outperform other people in the industry.”

After graduation, Acosta has two goals for his real estate career: to earn enough income that he doesn’t have to worry about money and to find meaning in his work by giving back to people in need.

“I’ve always had a place to live, but knowing people who haven’t … I really want to go into low-income housing development,” Acosta said.

“Over 60% of people in Fort Collins are paying more than 30% of their income on housing, which HUD considers cost-burdened,” he said, citing statistics shared during the Everitt Real Estate Center’s recent 25th Annual Northern Colorado Real Estate Conference. “My ultimate goal is just to make sure everyone has a place to live in a sustainable way.”