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New IPFW math programs to benefit insurance industry

May 15th, 2017

By Doug LeDuc | Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly

A local university is about to help advance the development of northeast Indiana’s important insurance industry cluster in a major way.

Indiana University–Purdue University Fort Wayne will have a new bachelor of science in actuarial science program in place for its upcoming fall semester and a bachelor of science in data science and applied statistics program in place for its 2018–19 academic year.

“The vote taken by the Indiana Commission on Higher Education today to approve two new degrees is historic,” Eric Carl Link, dean of IPFW’s College of Arts and Sciences, said in a May 11 statement.

“These two new undergraduate degrees will directly support the needs of the strong insurance, health care, and advanced manufacturing sectors of the greater Fort Wayne metropolitan area.”

Peter Dragnev, a professor who chairs the university’s department of mathematical sciences, joined IPFW 20 years ago and the department has not seen an undergraduate degree added during his tenure.

“This is a very exciting time,” he said in an interview.

The programs are important to the area’s insurance industry because they will help improve the quality of local talent available to it and they will help keep local training on the leading edge of the industry’s professional standards.

Financial sector impact

The Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership called attention to the industry’s economic impact when it led the formation of the Northeast Indiana Specialty Insurers group in 2014.

At the time, the insurance industry employed 11,570 in northeast Indiana, including about 8,470 in Allen County. Dragnev said Fort Wayne currently has the fourth highest concentration of actuaries among metro areas in the country.

The industry’s employment in the region was projected to increase 4 percent during the next decade, according to a Northeast Indiana Works report prepared with help from the Community Research Institute and the Indiana Department of Workforce Development.

Occupational outlook data from U.S. Bureau of Labor of Labor Statistics projects a much sharper increase in demand during that 2014-2024 period for actuaries, at 18 percent, and for statisticians, at 34 percent.

“These degree programs respond to the needs of the insurance industry in northeast Indiana,” John Sampson, the regional partnership’s president and CEO, said in a statement. “In addition, the programs address a growing demand from regional employers for talent in the fields of predictive analytics and big data.

“Developing, attracting, and retaining talent within Fort Wayne and northeast Indiana is the driving strategy for growth of our regional economy. This approval is a big win for the region and the state.”

IPFW already has a bachelor of science in mathematics program with a concentration in actuarial science and it started working more closely with the area’s insurance industry around 2012 to improve that option.

Community effort

Founding NISI members included Pat Sullivan, Hylant Group executive vice president; Dan Weir, American Specialty Insurance; Joe Svitek, Ash Brokerage; Mark Robison, Brotherhood Mutual; Nancy Jordan and Del Campbell, Lincoln Financial Group, and Tim Smith, MedPro.

It also includes Eve-Lynn Clarke, University of Saint Francis; Ellen Cutter, Community Research Institute; Ashley Steenman, Greater Fort Wayne Inc.; and the partnership’s Sampson and Amy Hesting.

Area professionals helped the university “align its cirruculum to significant changes in the Society of Actuaries exam curriculum,” Dragnev said. This included adding new courses in financial mathematics, practical financial mathematics, and models of financial economics.

The Lincoln Financial Foundation helped fund that effort. And with help from Swiss Re, IPFW established an awards program providing financial rewards to students passing SOA exams.

The university also attracted Joe Francis, an actuarial educator of national prominence who had a financial mathematics textbook on the Society of Actuaries financial mathematics exam syllabus. The concentration’s enrollment of 17 grew substantially.

“We have invested significantly from the fall of 2013, gradually moving from a one (professional) exam program to a three-exam program and almost tripling the enrollment,” Dragnev said.

IPFW is on the society’s Universities and Colleges with Actuarial Programs list, which the insurance industry considers an important external validation of an actuarial program’s quality, he said.

High paying

As the university’s math degree with an actuarial concentration became more competitive, more of its students passed SOA exams and obtained insurance company internships, often leading to high-paying permanent jobs after graduation. The department’s web page says actuaries earn an average salary of $96,700.

“The actuarial profession has frequently been ranked as the best career in America, but northeast Indiana students have, until recently, had to leave the area to obtain coursework that prepared them for the profession,” Sullivan, NISI chairman, said in the statement announcing the programs. “Providing a major in actuarial science at IPFW will dramatically improve northeast Indiana residents’ access to these rewarding jobs.”

A standard university program consists of 40 courses for 120 credit hours. Curriculum development for IPFW’s two new math department programs began in 2015.

After receiving department-level approval, the programs and their curriculum required approval from IPFW’s College of Arts and Sciences, then its campus curriculum committee.

Then, it required approval from the provost office of Purdue University in West Lafayette, then the university’s board of trustees, and finally from the academic affairs and quality committee of the Indiana Commission of Higher Education.

“We worked for it. We worked hard for it, the entire department. I really have to thank my colleagues, in particularly Joe Francis and Yvonne Zubobic,” Dragnev said.

Developing the programs and obtaining approval for them was made possible, he said, through support from area legislators, economic development officials, community and industry leaders and particularly the IPFW Actuarial Board, which includes representatives of Lincoln, Swiss Re, MedPro and Conduent.