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Actuarial Science Program at Lebanon Valley College

Actuarial Science Program at Lebanon Valley College

By Bryan Hearsey, Ph.D. and ASA

Len asked me to put down some thoughts about supervising an actuarial program in a small school. My first observation is that specialization in education makes the task harder than when I took over the program at Lebanon Valley College over 20 years ago. Specialization in actuarial education expresses itself explicitly in the new actuarial examination sequence that began in May 2000. This new syllabus calls for a broader range of early actuarial education with explicit recognition of the central role of economics and finance in actuarial practice.

How does one attract students, develop employer relations, maintain alumni relations, get the necessary cooperation from other departments and colleagues in your own department? With increased demand for mathematically able students and an apparent under–supply of these students the task is formidable. So, why should one bother?

The most practical reason is that actuarial science can be a cornerstone for a successful undergraduate mathematics program in a small school. I have seen it happen. Coupling actuarial science with the interest in financial mathematics has great potential for faculty at small schools who do not want to simply be service departments. This does require a broader view of mathematics than has been traditional in many small departments. But if working with interested and interesting students is among your goals, this is one possible route.

After there is one (or better two or three) faculty member(s) interested in having an actuarial science program (concentration, minor, major, track), the next step is students. You need to cultivate good relations with your admissions department. I expect you will find that they will support a program that will attract strong students. But, you may have to be more active in recruiting than faculty are used to being.

At Lebanon Valley College, we attract from 10 to 15 students with expressed interest in actuarial science each year. We graduate from three to five students a year with the major in actuarial science. Nearly all those we attract for actuarial science and do not complete the actuarial science major do graduate from Lebanon Valley in the standard four years. They frequently major in computer science, math, accounting, business, or economics, but others find a variety of majors.

I participate in all college open house programs. I encourage the admissions department to invite all interested students to meet with me individually. I have five to ten such meetings a year with prospective students and their parents. I sometimes write follow–up letters or make phone calls. LVC attracts many of its actuarial students because of a long developed reputation for graduating strong actuarial students. We get almost no internal transfers because we have no strong quantitative programs outside the Department of Mathematical Sciences. At your school other programs prove to be a source for students. You have to raise them or steal them.

We have a very few full scholarships (two actuarial students have received such over the past five years), and we have no dedicated actuarial scholarship money to offer new students. The College does have a good financial aid program, and I generally avoid involvement in financial aid. For some schools there may well be local money for actuarial program development. Money and students (which translate into money) are two sources of pleasure for administrators. Entrepreneurial faculty may find corporate support for faculty development and scholarships for actuarial students.

Good employer relations follows naturally for a program which has quality graduates. Most employers of our graduates return for more. Even with our few graduates, some employers visit campus every year to interview for interns and full–time employees. The single most important factor in employer relations, and also the core of any successful actuarial program, is attracting and graduating students who can do the work and pass the actuarial examinations. You convince employers you have such students by having students pass exams while in school. We require this of our graduates. Such a requirement is not necessary, but it is a clear way for a small program at a lesser–known school to earn legitimacy.

How do you get colleagues in and out of your department to support you? I would not start a program without knowing that some such support exists. Others in your department need to be educated as to why such a program will benefit them. You will need those teaching probability to be sympathetic to the needs of actuarial students. Unless you have an exceptional business department, you will need curricular support for a mathematics of finance course within your department. You will need to work with colleagues in business and economics. They should be pleased to have a cohort of strong actuarial students in their courses. At LVC, present or former actuarial students make up better than half the population in upper level economics courses.

A major question for any actuarial program is finding prepared teachers. There are very few, and most of them will prefer a research–oriented opportunity. So, you either raise them or borrow them. At LVC, myself and other colleagues have learned the material necessary to support actuarial students. An alternative is to supplement your staff with individuals from business. We have no recent experience with this approach. My sense is that a strong program could use outside support, but cannot be built on that assumption. If you want to have a program in a math department, then someone in that department must really be committed and involved directly.

If you would like to discuss what it takes to get an actuarial program started, please feel free to contact me (hearsey@lvc.edu).

  • Bryan Hearsey, Ph.D. and ASA
  • Department of Mathematical Sciences
  • Lebanon Valley College, Annville, PA, 17003
  • ph: 717.867.6083, Fax: 717.867.6019
  • e-mail: hearsey@lvc.edu