What If MHC Students Headed “The Fed”?

Mount Holyoke competitors in the College Fed Challenge. Photo by Ly Nguyen ’15

Does just hearing the phrase “The Federal Reserve” make you drowsy? Then meet the Mount Holyoke women who competed in the national College Fed Challenge earlier this month. Nhat Nguyen FP’14 and juniors Nhung Dang, Shristi Ghimire, Ly Nguyen, and Talia Zhang love discussing monetary policy.

“It’s changed my life,” says Dang. “Just reading about macroeconomics can be boring, but I really got into it when we got together as a team. And now I get excited when I see something about the Fed in the news. I see how things are interconnected and I actually feel something when interest rates go up.”

The teammates used MHC faculty as resources when preparing for the competition, but this was largely a student-run effort. All summer, each student did self-assigned reading about U.S. monetary policy, and the group discussed their findings over Skype once a week. Back on campus this fall, the group got even more serious as they crafted their competition presentation.

At the Fed Challenge, which was held at the Federal Reserve Building in Boston, each of the 20 New England teams gave a 15-minute presentation that described current economic conditions, projected the U.S. economy’s future, and made specific recommendations for what “the Fed” should do to safeguard the nation’s economy. This was the students’ chance to act as if they, not Ben Bernanke, were chair of the Fed.

One of their recommendations, Nhat Nguyen explains, is to change the unemployment rate that would trigger a rise in interest rates. They favor setting the target rate at 6.8 percent rather than the current target of 6.5 percent, “because we have more confidence in the economy than the Fed does.”

MHC’s team placed second in their group of five competitors, which was better than expected for their first try against more experienced teams. And Zhang says they were proud to be the only all-female team competing, especially since so many teams were all male.

These women argue that monetary policy is something everyone should pay attention to.

“Studying the Fed’s actions right now is especially important because their decisions impact whether people will get jobs and be able to get loans for a house or to start a business,” Zhang says.

Dang adds, “We often joke among ourselves that the Fed doesn’t know what to do [about the economy’s woes]; we think they could learn from us.”

—By Emily Harrison Weir