Risk Management Education Takes Root on College Campuses

Hilary Tuttle


September 1, 2015

risk management college programs

Risk management programs are cropping up on campuses across the country, with fledgling programs in risk and insurance being introduced in business schools and more established departments further expanding to meet industry needs. As an emerging educational discipline, one of risk management’s biggest hurdles borrows from another business discipline: marketing.

At the University of Missouri’s Trulaske College of Business, Fred Travis has been grappling with the challenge of starting a new risk management and insurance program since being hired as its director in April 2014. Travis’s first class specifically on risk management and insurance was offered this past spring, drawing 14 students. This year, he has 25 students enrolled in the fall semester, another 30 are taking his corporate property and liability insurance course, and he anticipates 90 in the three courses being offered second semester. The university just approved the certificate program he and his colleagues have developed, which will offer the equivalent of a minor in risk management for students who take corporate finance, three risk management and insurance courses, and complete a risk management- or insurance-related internship.

“Since we’ve never had risk management courses and it would be very rare to have them at a high school level, our new intro class is one of their first exposures,” Travis said. “In fact, since it’s a new program and because we didn’t have all the formal approvals yet, we weren’t even in the course catalog or on the business school’s website. We have a website now, and this is the first year we will be an official program for the university and in the course guide, so that alone will help with awareness.”

The department also received a recent grant from the Spencer Educational Foundation and RIMS that Travis used to promote fundamental on-campus awareness of risk management as an education and career opportunity for students. On March 9, he hosted the university’s first annual Risk Management and Insurance Careers Day, featuring almost 40 executives from different parts of the industry. Despite predating the department’s official approval as a certificate program, the event drew 140 students. “We had twice as many students as I thought we would get,” Travis said. “Not only did they come and listen, but that’s why I have pretty full sessions coming up in the fall. I have 55 undergraduates this semester and that’s really huge—no one thought we were going to grow that fast.”

Fledgling programs are not the only ones challenged by a knowledge gap about the discipline. Marketing and awareness efforts still present one of the chief concerns for Kathleen McCullough, State Farm Insurance professor of risk management and insurance and associate dean of academic affairs and research at Florida State University, which has 135 undergraduate majors and about 50 online master’s degree students specializing in risk and insurance.

“We have recognized, like most risk management schools, that there’s a huge talent gap coming, so everyone is trying to gear up and get the best talent out there. One of the biggest challenges is attracting students to the industry,” McCullough said. “It’s a field they don’t think about, and they don’t really know what it is—especially commercial risk management and the commercial side of insurance.”

As a result, getting risk management integrated into the business school’s required curriculum has made a substantial impact in drawing students to the program. For the past few years, every business major has had to take a course called “Risk in Business and Society.” The class is designed to expose students to the impact that risk has on individuals, businesses and society as a whole, while surrounding them with a variety of guest speakers from different backgrounds to showcase the breadth of risk in the business world.

“It gets students thinking about that broader view of risk and risk management and it gets them to see the diversity of issues a risk manager or risk professional would deal with,” she explained. “Since we added that course, our major count has started to go up significantly because it’s allowed us to show students at a very early stage the diversity of risk-related careers.” Between 800 and 900 students will take the course this fall, and Florida State has seen a related uptick in interest in risk management, including as a second major or paired with other specialties like accounting, marketing or sales.

In fact, there is such demand for crossover between risk management and sales—both from students and broker and agent stakeholders—that the university has introduced a double major in risk management and sales to meet the need. Such practical concerns about fitting the available or emerging jobs in insurance and risk management and students’ concerns about finding jobs upon graduation have created something of a feedback loop, helping refine elements of the education program while also drawing more students to it.

The Insurance Industry Gets Involved

Interested parties throughout the insurance and risk management industries have become a critical component of the effort to grow university programs.

“We are increasing our efforts to really get the industry integrated into the program. We want to show students at all stages of the major the variety of career options out there, and also help employers see the benefits of hiring a risk management student,” McCullough said. “I think a lot of people in the generation ahead of our students or right before kind of fell into the business, and we’re trying to show that we have these bright, talented, motivated kids for whom this industry is their first choice—it’s not an accident that they’re here. So we’re working with the industry to get the right talent for the right jobs.”

The industry has notable representation on campus, participating in in-class expert panels, program sponsorship or scholarships, and recruitment efforts, and with students seeing their classmates graduate to job offers with competitive salaries. This persistent presence and the number and diversity of available jobs have drawn a record number of students.

“After the recession, a lot of this generation saw their parents struggle and are looking for solid careers in a stable industry. So they are excited when they find out about the diversity of careers that fit all kinds of personality types and skill sets that we have in an industry that is pretty recession-proof,” McCullough said.

Travis has found the same among his students. While the Spencer-RIMS grant money they received is also being used for brochures and other publicity on campus, Travis spent the bulk on the careers day. Given the impact the event has already demonstrated on his program’s growth, he plans to hold another in the spring, in addition to the I-Day that will be held on campus in collaboration with the local Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter (CPCU) society in September. “The fact that there are a lot of good jobs and some fairly exciting things to do in the business made a big difference, clearly,” Travis said.

Once they are in the door, Travis tries to keep them engaged with an emphasis on ERM as the future of risk management and on the critical importance of developing risk strategies as an integrated function. Showing them the discipline’s day-to-day applications also gets students to think about how universal risk can be. “I try to make assignments that impact their daily lives, like finding a risk around campus or in town, identifying and assessing it, and developing a mitigation plan,” he said.

The industry plays a role in the classroom as well. Funding is a universal struggle in higher education, but can be particularly challenging for emerging programs like risk and insurance. “Even though we are a state institution, they do not provide a very big percentage of the costs of running a program, so we need to find as many sources of funding as we can,” Travis explained. That relationship may even spur the program to faster growth. “To keep that going, we are going to have to continue to show a vision for bigger and better things in the future. The other side of that vision, which I think is very attractive to the industry, is that we are intending to produce more and more graduates who have a good grasp of the basics of insurance and risk management so that they are ready to go out and do work, often for our sponsors.”

McCullough’s program at FSU also has a number of corporate stakeholders, including sponsors for scholarships, grants and faculty positions. The input from these entities does impact the curriculum in some ways: broker and agent stakeholders looking for sales talent informed their sales double-major offering, while other recruiters who identified the need for analytical skills led to further emphasis on modeling. “They definitely have an impact and shape some of our curriculum in ways that help keep it current,” she explained. “We do not let the industry teach our classes or dictate curriculum, but we do talk to them about what their practical needs are.”

These partnerships also help promote awareness of opportunities within the industry that best fit students with different interests and skills. Rather than presenting any kind of conflicting special interests, she sees these relationships giving students practical opportunities. “They may be giving us money for something specific, like helping fund kids to go to certain kinds of conferences so they can get exposure to the surplus lines industry, for example,” she said. “That gives kids the opportunity to see the industry first-hand, talk to people in it, and find out if it’s the niche that is right for them. However, I will say that most firms really have the best interest of the students at heart and allow us flexibility to use the money for the purpose that will most help the students.”

Ultimately, McCullough believes that the wide range of risk management opportunities is a chief selling point for the program. “One of the reasons I’ve always been passionate about risk management as a degree is that, regardless of who you are as a person or what your skills are, you are going to find a great career in this industry,” she said. “A risk management degree really enables a student to get on a path to follow their passion quicker. When you develop the skills and tools and understanding of risk and insurance issues, it allows you to move forward in a bunch of different ways that you could be passionate about.”

Hilary Tuttle is managing editor of Risk Management.