April 2012

Collaboration in Actuarial Science Programs in Northeast Ohio

By Tom Wakefield

The tough economic times have exacted their toll on universities and colleges across the United States. To take advantage of the strengths of the individual institutions and to pool limited resources among institutions of higher learning, the colleges and universities in Northeastern Ohio and Western Pennsylvania have sought collaboration in their actuarial science programs. Led by the large public universities of Cleveland State, Kent State, the University of Akron, and Youngstown State, as well as Case Western Reserve University, the objectives of the collaboration include sharing coursework in actuarial science, establishing joint programs, and participating in outreach activities.

The goal of sharing resources and developing relationships to make the individual universities’ actuarial science programs stronger motivated the initial discussions regarding collaboration. As we individually assess our actuarial science programs, we find that we rarely have enough students to justify offering courses in life contingencies, financial mathematics, and actuarial models. Each institution has its own strengths, which would benefit students and faculty at the other institutions. For example, Kent State has a campus in Twinsburg, Ohio, which is a facility centrally located for the universities and colleges participating in this collaboration as well as faculty who have frequently taught advanced actuarial science courses. Hopefully, by sharing our resources, we could offer the aforementioned courses on a regular basis to a larger audience at a centrally located facility such as Twinsburg, perhaps with some distance education component. In addition, it is hoped that VEE courses could be offered through such a facility.

A long term goal of the collaboration would be to offer joint degrees, particularly at the graduate level, for students interested in actuarial science. It is envisioned that such a degree would include coursework that emphasizes the expanding role of the actuary in the areas of enterprise risk management and data mining, modeling, and simulation. Again, the universities do not have the resources to offer such a diverse program individually, but may do so by sharing resources. As we begin our work in designing and advocating for such a degree, we seek input from actuaries as to what they believe would work best for such a program. The bureaucracy and procedure for establishing a joint degree is quite involved, but we are optimistic that with patience and time, such a program could be developed. Most students do not become aware of actuarial science and the benefits of a career as an actuary until late in their undergraduate education, therefore such a degree program would be especially attractive to these students and professionals who seek education in fields relevant to actuarial science as they pass exams and follow the pathway to membership into the SOA.

Our third major objective in collaboration involves outreach to the community. It is our hope that the universities could sponsor joint colloquia in actuarial science, invite speakers, and advertise to the wider community. To increase awareness of actuarial science and the benefits of a career in actuarial science, another goal of the consortium is to increase outreach to area high school students. Youngstown State annually offers a high school MathFest, which is a day for local high school juniors and seniors to visit YSU and participate in a day filled with math workshops, activities, and contests. At last year’s MathFest, the Actuarial Foundation sponsored a workshop by an actuary who spoke about the profession and presented problems to the students similar to those faced by actuaries. The Actuarial Foundation also offered its Project Math Minds, a contest in actuarial modeling for high school students, to those students participating in the workshop. A number of students completed the project and gained exposure to actuarial modeling.

As an early career faculty member, the meetings and discussions regarding the collaboration have been especially beneficial to me. I have enjoyed becoming acquainted with colleagues from other institutions, learning how other universities and colleges structure their actuarial science programs, and interacting with professional actuaries and consultants on these projects.

We certainly welcome any and all comments or suggestions as we look to make this collaboration stronger and more beneficial to the students and companies in our region.

Thomas P. Wakefield, PhD, ASA, is assistant professor of mathematics in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, Ohio. He can be reached at tpwakefield@ysu.edu.