UM-Dearborn earns nationwide recognition for exceptional mathematics program

June 10, 2024

The formula of active learning, dedicated professors and student success leads to a new actuarial science society honor.

Photos of actuarial math students in spring 2024
Students in the actuarial math program brainstorm solutions together. Photo/Julianne Lindsey

There is only one collegiate math program in the state that’s accredited by America's two leading actuarial societies  — and it’s right here at UM-Dearborn.

The UM-Dearborn Actuarial Mathematics program — a campus major that has a core curriculum of mathematics, statistics, economics and finance courses — earned the seal of approval from the Casualty Actuarial Society and the Society of Actuaries, acknowledging it as a strategically designed program that actively guides students towards attaining the qualifications of an actuary associate.

Mathematics Associate Professor Mike Dabkowski
Mathematics Associate Professor Mike Dabkowski

The campus’ actuarial mathematics major, which had SOA recognition for years, earned the CAS University Recognition Program honor in May, which evaluates universities around the world. Other institutions on the 2024 CAS list include Penn State, Temple University, University of New South Wales Sydney, Boston University, University of Toronto and Arizona State.

Mathematics Associate Professor Mike Dabkowski said this is an important milestone for the university. “There are two major career pathways in actuarial science and now we are officially recognized for having an exceptional program and being student-centered for both,” he said, noting the CAS path focuses exclusively on property and casualty risks; the SOA path focuses on life insurance, health insurance, pensions and retirement. “The mission of the university is to give our students the tools and skills they need to succeed after graduation. This is the seal of approval to say we are doing just that.”

The accolades sound great — but what does an actuary actually do? Dabkowski described the position as providing a safety net for an organization. Actuaries assess financial risks in various sectors, such as insurance, investments, pensions and environmental sustainability, and they develop models to predict and manage future events, even under uncertain circumstances. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, it’s a great job to have. The median pay for actuaries is $120,000 per year, and employment of actuaries is projected to grow 23% by the end of the decade, much faster than the average for all occupations.

This credential, which lists UM-Dearborn at the bronze tier, gives students access to CAS exam resources, provides avenues for actuarial conference attendance, shares job opportunities and more. Mathematics Associate Professor Mahesh Agarwal — who said the university was evaluated based on course topics, faculty involvement with CAS, student achievement and exam prep — said the university is already striving for silver.

Mahesh Agarwal
Mathematics Associate Professor Mahesh Agarwal

“Our strength is that we are a small program with individualized attention that combines the resources of U-M,” said Agarwal, who mentioned that Dearborn Wolverines attend the UM-Ann Arbor Actuarial Career Expo, which attracts large companies from around the world. “It is wonderful to have organizations vouching for the quality of our program. But, for the CAS recognition, we are not stopping at bronze level. We are getting more alumni engaged and students are forming an actuarial society on campus. We are actively progressing and working towards fulfilling the criteria for the silver designation. We view achieving the bronze level as an initial milestone in our journey.”

Prep for actuarial exams in part of the evaluation. And exams are not easy, Agarwal said. On average, the effective pass rate for the first actuarial exam is 46%. UM-Dearborn's first exam pass rate is 20-plus percentage points higher at 67%.

Alum Autumn Tashman, Class of 2023, passed both the first exam (probability) and the second one (financial mathematics) on the first try while she was a student. “To help me understand the concepts, Professor Dabkowski and Professor Agarwal began twice weekly study sessions with me six months prior to taking the first exam,” said Tashman, who went the CAS route for her career. “They even reached out to me right before the exam to help me calm down — I was so stressed — and I think that helped me have better focus.”

Alum Autumn Tashman, Class of 2023
Autumn Tashman

Tashman is now an associate actuarial analyst at Ally Financial in Detroit. She heard about Ally Financial job opportunities through the UM-Ann Arbor Actuarial Career Expo, which she learned about from her UM-Dearborn professors. She’s currently preparing for her next exam — and even though she is no longer a student, Dabkowski met with her over Zoom last week to do a material overview. “The professors I’ve had at UM-Dearborn are the best and I credit them for where I am today,” she said.

Have questions about the actuarial science career field or the program? Dabkowski and Agerwal said they look forward to talking with parents, prospective students and anyone who would like more information. You can reach them at [email protected] and [email protected]. Learn more about the CAS University Recognition Program

Story by Sarah Tuxbury.