Insurance Industry Partners with University

Firms, industry group and UM commit to expand, diversify talent pipeline

Regular risk management and insurance career fairs give UM students and potential employers chances to meet and exchange information. The university’s risk management and insurance program, which has been recognized as a Global Center of Insurance Excellence, is partnering with insurance firms and the Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers to launch a new program to train students from historically Black colleges and universities for careers in the insurance field. Photo by Kevin Bain/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi has launched a new insurance certificate program to provide students from historically Black colleges and universities in Mississippi with training, networks and experience to enter a field ripe with job opportunities.

The new initiative, set to kick off in the fall 2023 semester, is fueled by a partnership with industry and the Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers, or CIAB.

Housed within the School of Business Administration‘s risk management and insurance, or RMI, program and its new Center for Insurance Transformation, the 10-week online insurance certificate program and subsequent internships could change the industry and the lives of participants by helping to create a more diverse workforce.

Funding from the founding partners will support industry efforts to raise awareness of careers in insurance and develop a larger, more diverse workplace pipeline that better represents its customer base, UM Chancellor Glenn Boyce said.

“Our risk management and insurance program has rightly earned a strong reputation for developing a pipeline of future industry leaders,” Boyce said. “We now are focusing on our new Center for Insurance Transformation to produce solutions that address the growing talent shortage in this vital industry while introducing excellent career opportunities to HBCU students.

“We are grateful for the support of founding partners and the council, who have provided the generous resources necessary to offer this rigorous program at no cost to participants. Students will be educated and mentored to take advantage of rewarding jobs available in the insurance industry.”

The founding partners include Arthur Gallagher & Co., of Rolling Meadows, Illinois; Brown & Riding Insurance Services Co., of Dallas; Cadence Insurance, of Tupelo; McGriff Insurance Services, of Charlotte, North Carolina; and Ross & Yerger Inc., of Jackson. The CIAB worked with Ole Miss faculty over the past year to format the program, and The Council Foundation and founding partners have provided $1 million in funding to launch this initiative.

The Council Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit created by the CIAB to attract diverse talent to the insurance industry.

“The Certificate in Risk Management and Insurance makes the wonderful career opportunities in risk management and insurance available to a more diverse group of students,” said Andre Liebenberg, the Gwenette P. and Jack W. Robertson Chair of Insurance and professor of finance. “Our founding partners are essential to the success of this program and to the Center for Insurance Transformation, which was created to coordinate the certificate program and several other new initiatives.

Stakeholders in the new UM insurance certificate program gather in the Lyceum to celebrate the kickoff of the program, which will train students from historically Black colleges and universities for careers in the insurance field. Photo by Eva Luter/University Development

“The mission of the CIT is to transform lives and the insurance industry. As a result of the founding partners’ financial commitments, we can remove all barriers for students to take the certificate program, attend professional development events and experience life-changing internship opportunities.”

Besides financing the launch of the certificate program and providing paid internships for graduates, the participating companies are providing mentorship and other support for students, Liebenberg said. They also will help recruit students and serve as guest speakers.

Over the next 15 years, 50% of the current insurance workforce will retire, leaving more than 400,000 open positions unfilled, while less than 25% of the industry is under the age of 35, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s “The America Works Report.”

“We are committed to growing and supporting a diverse talent pool for the insurance industry,” said Aimee Kilpatrick, chief operating officer and executive vice president of Cadence Insurance. “As the first program of its kind, and one that delivers best-in-class insurance education to students in their home universities, Ole Miss is taking an important and much-needed step in sharing the story of our industry and its opportunities with students across Mississippi’s strong network of HBCUs and community colleges.

“By supporting the Ole Miss Center for Insurance Transformation, we are able to invest in students in Mississippi and introduce them to this thriving industry.”

University risk management and insurance programs are meeting just 10%-15% of the industry’s needs, analysts estimate.

“To cover the talent gap, we need to hire three young insurance professionals for each one that is currently employed, but only 4% of millennials have an interest in working in our industry,” said Ken Crerar, president and CEO of the CIAB. “Internships are a vital recruitment tool and we’re honored to be a part of an initiative that will clear obstacles for students at HBCUs and give them the well-deserved opportunity to pursue insurance careers.”

Ole Miss and its industry partners plan to fund spots for 60 students, or 20 annually, as the initial cohorts of the three-year startup program. The course will be hosted during the fall semester, with students attending class two hours per week: one hour on demand and one hour live online.

Partner firms can engage with students during the live virtual meetings, and students will attend an exclusive on-campus event for founding partners to network with and recruit the students.

Jeff Rodriguez, president and CEO of Brown & Riding, initially proposed the idea of teaching risk management and insurance courses to students at HBCUs and helped connect Liebenberg to the CIAB and other industry leaders he felt would be interested in supporting the effort. He said his company’s support stemmed from the belief that the initiative holds great potential to help participants find rewarding careers.

“When my kids were very little, I would take them to the park and they would see the older kids on the swings and want to join in,” he said. “They couldn’t quite get the momentum going at that age, but if I gave them just a little push or help, they would get rolling and do it on their own.

“Sometimes somebody just needs a little boost and you’d be surprised at what people are capable of achieving.”

Ross & Yerger is a founding partner of the CIT and the was first organization to sign onto the initiative.

“This is important work not only for us at Ross & Yerger but also for the entire state of Mississippi,” said Dudley D. Wooley, the firm’s CEO and COO. “One of the biggest challenges we face, and we’re certainly not alone, is talent: identifying, recruiting and developing people.

“This initiative will raise awareness about careers in insurance and diversify the talent pool. It’s no secret that minorities are under-represented in the insurance industry. We want our workforce to better reflect our community, and the work of the CIT will help us all achieve that goal.”

Once the startup program is completed, the next step is to permanently fund the center and expand the certificate program, Liebenberg said.

“The idea of the certificate program was an answer to prayer, and I believe that it will make a real impact on students’ lives,” he said. “I hope that the graduates of our program will go on to be industry leaders and that our program will serve as a blueprint for others throughout the country.”

Each student will complete a paid summer internship to allow them to increase their insurance industry exposure and develop skill sets, said Hughes Miller, the university’s director of industry engagement. Depending on the location of the internship, a travel and relocation stipend may be provided.

“In addition, a mentor will be assigned to each student during his or her internship to promote and ensure a positive work experience,” he said.

Upon accepting a job offer with an employer partner, students are guaranteed enrollment in the council’s Insurance Professional School, a nine-month curriculum that leads to certification as an accredited professional in risk and insurance, a benchmark for knowledge and skills needed for success in the industry.

The university’s RMI program is one of the oldest in the U.S. and has been recognized as a Global Center of Insurance Excellence.

The university strives to be a resource and partner for industry though mutually beneficial relationships. To learn more about the university’s industry engagement initiative, contact Hughes Miller at and 662-915-2885 or visit