Putting Wharton knowledge in high-school hands

The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania is going back to high school.

Not for remedial economics or to try to pass Phys. Ed., but as part of a mission to boost the financial literacy of students younger than its usual audience.

On Monday, the gold standard of business schools will launch a version of its Knowledge@Wharton website geared toward high school students and their teachers.

But it’s not merely a repackaging of the research round-ups, CEO interviews, and think pieces that have characterized Knowledge@Wharton since it went online in 1999. Managing director Robbie Shell said the objective for Knowledge@Wharton High School is to inform students that “business underlies everything they may want to do.”

Judging by what I watched and read on the new website last week, Shell and her team are on the right track. There are lots of videos, including interviews with young people describing how they’ve used business skills and started their own companies.

Whether students have dreams of becoming fashion designers, sports agents, or entrepreneurs, they “need to have greater familiarity with business and money,” Shell said.

For example, one article explains why the dollar amount typed onto your very first paycheck didn’t match the number you calculated by multiplying your hourly wage by the hours you’d worked. “What you earn is not what you keep,” Shell said.

And who doesn’t like a good stock-market game when you’re not actually losing your own money? The site, which Shell informally calls KWHS, will have a version of the Online Training and Investment Simulator game that will allow students to pick a portfolio and compete against other students.

One of the big hurdles to learning about business is deciphering its language. KWHS has a handy video glossary through which Wharton professors tell you what “net operating losses” are. Why surf over to Investopedia when you can have finance professor Vincent Glode explain what an “angel investor” is by using an example that high schoolers can definitely relate to — Justin Timberlake’s character in The Social Network?

“Opportunity cost” sounds abstract until you hear management professor Iwan Barankay offer up a great angst-inducing example of someone confronted with a choice: whether to go to a great party or go to a movie with someone special. The opportunity cost is the value of what you’re willing to give up when you choose one thing over another.

And for students who are label-conscious, it couldn’t hurt to learn about “brand relationship.” Marketing professor Cassie Mogilner describes how “repeated interactions” between you, the customer, and a brand, such as Apple, mimic the “love, connection, interdependence, intimacy, and commitment” between two people. Still want to be married to your iPhone?

There is a blizzard of websites aimed at business and investments. So many that I often find the conflicting advice and ideas they offer as confusing as the ever-changing notions about what’s good and bad for our health.

Knowledge@Wharton is counting on the strength of its own brand to help it attract the eyes of the YouTube generation. Given that the online operation has built its subscriber base to 1.7 million in 189 countries across all its platforms, I wouldn’t bet against the West Philadelphians.

After all, the price (free) is right.