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In 2009, the University of Houston Downtown, one of four Texas universities in the University of Houston System, launched its Insurance and Risk Management Center, offering an AACSB-accredited Bachelor in Business Administration degree program with a major in Insurance and Risk Management.

Averaging 29 years of age, UHD’s over 14,000 students typically have almost a decade of work experience. 70% are the first in their family to earn a degree, 75% are married and 75% work full time. Many students’ goal in attaining a college degree is to trade their current job for a career position with upward mobility. By enrolling, they demonstrate their willingness to dedicate time, effort and finances now for future career opportunities. In general, the program’s students are self-motivated mature young adults, focused on their pursuit of career-related education and opportunities. These unique college student demographics drove important choices in the development of the overall program.

For the IRM Center director, the founders recruited attorney and fundraiser Wendall Braniff, who developed an Advisory Council composed of industry leaders to assure that the academic program produces graduates with the knowledge, skills and abilities to meet the ever-changing challenges of the insurance and risk management industry.

Through consultation with Council members, a curriculum was developed including courses in property, casualty, life, health, benefits, and risk management. Partnerships were formed with The Institutes, The National Alliance for Insurance Education and Research, and The American College so that students could simultaneously earn a degree while completing industry-respected professional designations. In 2013, Pamela Hurley, PhD, joined as a full time faculty member. By 2014, the complete IRM major became available to undergraduate degree and post-baccalaureate students through UHD’s distance-learning program, making UHD’s one of the first AACSB-accredited bachelor degrees in insurance and risk management offered through a distance-learning program. In the program’s first five years, UHD IRM courses have had nearly 800 enrollments. Since its first graduating class in 2011, UHD has awarded forty BBA degrees to insurance and risk management majors.

From the program’s inception, its Advisory Council has played a vital role in funding and developing the program. Representing agencies, carriers, wholesalers, risk managers, associations, and consultants the 30-member Council was recruited from the founders and other high-level industry professionals to fund operations and scholarships, create internships and employment opportunities, and provide other industry support and resources to the Center and its students. Matt Sasso, Houston-Austin branch vice president of CNA Insurance, serves as chair, and Tim Brady, chairman of Brady Chapman Holland, joined as vice-chair of the Advisory Council and chair of its important Development Committee. By 2014, more than $185,000 had been awarded to students.

The Myron Steves Directorship Endowment, created in 2012 on the occasion of its honoree’s 100th birthday, recognizes centenarian Myron F. Steves for his contributions to insurance education, ethics, and professionalism. In 2013, Fred de Roode, chairman and CEO of PPC Loan, provided funding to establish the Faculty Excellence Fund, ensuring competitive salaries and research and publication funding for IRM faculty. In October of that year, the Dean family and Dean & Draper employees and affiliates funded the Bob Dean Memorial Fund, honoring Bob Dean in recognition of his leadership and passionate support for insurance education. By 2014, $1 million had been contributed and pledged to the program by the industry.

Through the Advisory Council’s and other efforts, student internships have been developed with over thirty companies including AIG, Bass Underwriters, Burns & Wilcox, Capstone Consulting, Columbia Lloyds, Comerica Bank, Cravens Warren, Dean & Draper, DNV Petroleum Services, El Paso Corporation, Farmers, Gallagher, GM Financial, HCC Holdings, IMS/London America, Kilpatrick Companies, Lockton, Metro National, Myron Steves,, New York Life, RPS/Leicht, Silver Eagle Distributors, State Farm, Travelers, United Fire Group, USI, Willis, with some of these having multiple students in internships. Many of these led to full time permanent positions.

By the end of 2013–14 academic year, IRM majors had completed forty-two industry internships and IRM students and graduates had secured forty-one full time insurance and risk management career positions, half of those resulting from internships within the companies.

Two pertinent facts will continue to make risk management and insurance a viable degree and career path for today’s university students:

  • employment growth in insurance agencies will increase by 21.9% from 2010–2020, creating 90,200 new and 94,200 replacement jobs, totaling 184,400 new career opportunities in the industry (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2013)
  • the insurance industry estimated salary average of $67,400 within the first 5 years, ranked as the third highest-paid career by the Houston Chronicle (August 8, 2013, "Most profitable degrees aren’t always the most popular," L.M. Sixel).

The UHD IRM Center ultimately aims to develop a nationally-recognized program that recruits students worldwide and produces a reliable pipeline of well-educated, experienced graduates to fill the talent gap and help to meet the long-term needs of the insurance and risk management industry.

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