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Education Restructuring: Fully Operational and Implemented

Letter from the President

Education Restructuring: Fully Operational and Implemented
By Bruce Schobel

After a long, but gratifying, six–year journey, the SOA's basic education restructuring is now fully implemented. The leadership, dedication and commitment of the oversight team composed of Stuart Klugman, Steve Eadie and Al Ford were instrumental in realizing the vision. Basic education (i.e., through FSA) now reflects a sound, solid continuum:

  1. Education validated through experience (e.g., university course work) in relevant subject areas.
  2. Five rigorous–primarily mathematical–multiple–choice preliminary examinations.
  3. Eight online modules and two assessments comprising the Fundamentals of Actuarial Practice (FAP) e–Learning course.
  4. An in–person Associateship Professionalism Course (APC).
  5. Two rigorous, specialty–track, written–answer FSA–level examinations.
  6. Three FSA–level e–Learning modules covering a range of technical topics and softer skills including decision–making and communications.
  7. An expanded in–person Fellowship Admissions Course (FAC), which focuses on professionalism and incorporates an oral presentation.

In 2001, the SOA Board appointed a task force to reevaluate the 2000 education system that had just been implemented. This was motivated mostly by strong reactions we received from actuarial employers, whose concerns regarding the need to update our educational system were endorsed and supported by a majority of Board members, myself included. Thus, redesign work began in earnest in mid–2002 to meet the needs of key stakeholder groups. The goals of the restructuring were:

  • Provide a syllabus that is more relevant to actuarial practice.
  • Prepare actuaries for the future.
  • Reduce "travel time" to the ASA and FSA designations.

During 2002–03, the Board, employers and the membership provided extensive input and direction. An exposure draft on the proposed redesign was released to the membership in August 2003. We received and thoughtfully considered over 100 comment letters, some from organizations representing hundreds of actuaries. The Board approved final specifications in March 2004.

To say that the restructuring was a massive undertaking is indeed an understatement. It involved cooperation, collaboration and hard work from hundreds of volunteers, SOA staff and consultants who thoroughly and efficiently assisted with e–Learning design and delivery. The goals were lofty, and to ensure a smooth transition, implementation was phased in over three years, 2005–07, and proceeded, for the most part, on schedule.

Communication among those working on the redesign and key constituencies was constant, and as a result, we made necessary changes along the way to achieve our goals, which did not change. Modifications included:

  • Tweaking the preliminary education syllabus to include material on financial economics.
  • Embarking on computer–based testing with instant results for Exam P (and expanded to Exam FM this year).
  • Reducing the number of FSA modules planned to be developed.
  • Extending several times (until October 31, 2007) the expiration date of "Professional Development" under the previous education system to enable candidates to complete their FSA requirements under that system.
  • Defining conversion rules that would be as fair and equitable as practical.
  • Designing and implementing a new credential: the Chartered Enterprise Risk Analyst (CERA).

Volunteers worked on the restructuring as members of task forces, working groups, steering committees, advisory groups, education committees, examination committees, module design and development committees, subject matter experts and reviewers. I was one of those busy volunteers, as providing a stellar education program for upcoming actuaries is of great importance to me.

New preliminary examinations were administered for the first time in 2005; the FAP course was completed in 2006; and new FSA–level exams and modules were introduced in 2007. The first new–style FAC will be in March. During the design, development and implementation phases, we faced many challenges. In addition to having grand goals, we set aggressive timelines and felt the frustration (and the candidates' frustration) of missing some target rollout dates for the FAP modules. Our volunteers, staff and contractors were stretched thin, and we experienced volunteer turnover. E–Learning represented a paradigm shift that involved a steep learning curve, as well as a substantial financial commitment to build a Web–based infrastructure. We often wondered if we would be able to pull it off. But we were motivated by the knowledge that we were doing the right thing, had clear goals and were backed by the Board and other volunteer leaders. Flexibility, persistence and a continuous–improvement mindset were key success factors, and we ultimately prevailed.

We believe that the education system now in place provides a relevant syllabus and prepares new actuaries to provide value to their employers. The education committees will continue to focus on preparing actuaries for the future through syllabus review and alignment with critical learning outcomes. Although reductions in travel time are not yet apparent, we know that increasing the frequency of Exams P and FM will move us in the right direction, as will the on–demand nature of the e–Learning modules and assessments. We anticipate that those pursuing actuarial careers will begin FAP while still in school and that this will also contribute to reducing travel time. Starting this year, we are making module content available to anyone for a nominal fee. This exposes students to the nature of actuarial work and enables them to make better–informed decisions about choosing an actuarial career.

We are committed to honoring the membership's clearly expressed desire to minimize changes to the SOA's education and examination system. We will, though, continue to evaluate the system's effectiveness and use a variety of data sources for informed decision–making and improvement. We will fine–tune as appropriate and keep the learning outcomes and reading materials up–to–date, while preserving the value of the ASA and FSA credentials and positioning the SOA to be the premier provider of actuarial knowledge and education in the world. We welcome, and expect, ongoing membership feedback.

In this issue of The Actuary, the spotlight is on the Education Department: the processes, the progress and the potential for future enhancements. I invite you to take some time to read about the department in detail–the new structure, the exams operation, e–Learning, the professional courses and the team who have dedicated themselves to achieving the department's goals and aspirations.

Thanks to everyone involved in creating the new system! We couldn't have done it without all of your time, expertise and hard work.

Bruce Schobel
SOA President