Higher Education

9 Critical Issues Facing Higher Education

Financial pressures and societal changes are challenging university risk managers like never before.
By: | June 7, 2018 • 3 min read

With the very necessity of a four-year degree in question in many circles, higher education risk managers face a litany of risks including institutional financial solvency, massive class actions due to concussion injury suffered by football and hockey players and the risk that minors or other at-risk populations will suffer injuries on college campuses.


The recent $500 million settlement between Michigan State and the hundreds of young female gymnasts victimized by Dr. Larry Nassar is seen as a bellweather event that signals more massive settlements are coming, involving colleges and universities which fail to protect their students from sexual assault or other forms of abuse.

The award in the Nassar case dwarfs the $109 million settlement that Penn State reached with victims of former football coach Jerry Sandusky. Sexual assault is just one of 9 critical issues facing higher education risk managers.

1) Financial Solvency

The recent bankruptcy declaration by Mount Ada College in Massachusetts could be the canary in the coal mine. Higher education risk managers are starting to question whether schools are paying enough attention to market factors such as the increasing cost of attracting and retaining students, a rising income and wealth disparity that makes college unaffordable for so many.

2) Athletic Concussion Injury

It’s not just the NFL and the NHL facing lawsuits from dozens of former players who claim  playing sports left them with degenerative brain injuries.

More than 100 personal injury class action lawsuits have been filed against the NCAA, claiming that universities and university athletic associations were way too late in establishing protocols for managing and treating athletic head injuries. The settlements in these cases could easily run into the hundreds of millions.

3) Sexual Assault

When they came out, the allegations were almost too awful to believe, but even after a $500 million settlement with Michigan State University over the actions of disgraced athletic physician Larry Nassar, now we know that more settlements are on the way.

USC has been rocked by a scandal that took down the University’s president. In this environment, it’s only a matter of time before the lid is blown on yet another case where an employee of an academic institution is found to have abused their position of power.

4) Gender Equality Issues

Campuses are hotbeds for controversies over gender issues such as equal rights for LGBT students, equal pay for female professors and whether female athletes are accorded the same privileges as male athletes as they should be under Title IX. As the professional and social cultures in the United States continue to evolve, watch for the #MeToo movement and other awareness building campaigns to unearth more disparities and abuses, and more multi-million dollar settlements.

5) Gradual but Dangerous Erosion of the Belief in Higher Education’s Value

There is an increasing tide of anti-intellectual rhetoric about how college is unnecessary and not worthwhile.


This is accompanied by a decrease in the number of people willing to invest their money and time in a college education. Culturally, we are seeing a wave of dogma and simplistic slogans that are crowding out evidence-based research and the open inquiry that a college educational environment cultivates.

6) Campus Crisis Readiness

As the mass shootings at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University illustrated, university campuses are not immune from the wave of shooting sprees that have terrorized workplaces and academic institutions for decades. In addition to mass shootings, universities face liability, reputational harm and property damage from severe storms, hazardous material releases and student protests.


Additional risks:

7) Cyber

8) Minors on Campus

9) Special Events and Conference Management

Sources include the University Risk Management and Insurance Association; Cornell University; Gallagher;  Zachary Gifford, Director, Systemwide Risk Management, the California State Universities; Jack Hampton, a Professor of Business at Saint Peter’s University, and Paula Vene Smith, director of the Purposeful Risk Management Project and a professor at Grinnell College.

Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Risk Management

The Profession: Curt Gross

This director of risk management sees cyber, IP and reputation risks as evolving threats, but more formal education may make emerging risk professionals better prepared.
By: | June 1, 2018 • 4 min read

R&I: What was your first job?

My first non-professional job was working at Burger King in high school. I learned some valuable life lessons there.

R&I: How did you come to work in risk management?

After taking some accounting classes in high school, I originally thought I wanted to be an accountant. After working on a few Widgets Inc. projects in college, I figured out that wasn’t what I really wanted to do. Risk management found me. The rest is history. Looking back, I am pleased with how things worked out.

R&I: What is the risk management community doing right?


I think we do a nice job on post graduate education. I think the ARM and CPCU designations give credibility to the profession. Plus, formal college risk management degrees are becoming more popular these days. I know The University of Akron just launched a new risk management bachelor’s program in the fall of 2017 within the business school.

R&I: What could the risk management community be doing a better job of?

I think we could do a better job with streamlining certificates of insurance or, better yet, evaluating if they are even necessary. It just seems to me that there is a significant amount of time and expense around generating certificates. There has to be a more efficient way.

R&I: What was the best location and year for the RIMS conference and why?

Selfishly, I prefer a destination with a direct flight when possible. RIMS does a nice job of selecting various locations throughout the country. It is a big job to successfully pull off a conference of that size.

Curt Gross, Director of Risk Management, Parker Hannifin Corp.

R&I: What’s been the biggest change in the risk management and insurance industry since you’ve been in it?

Definitely the change in nontraditional property & casualty exposures such as intellectual property and reputational risk. Those exposures existed way back when but in different ways. As computer networks become more and more connected and news travels at a more rapid pace, it just amplifies these types of exposures. Sometimes we have to think like the perpetrator, which can be difficult to do.

R&I: What emerging commercial risk most concerns you?

I hate to sound cliché — it’s quite the buzz these days — but I would have to say cyber. It’s such a complex risk involving nontraditional players and motives. Definitely a challenging exposure to get your arms around. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll really know the true exposure until there is more claim development.

R&I: What insurance carrier do you have the highest opinion of?


Our captive insurance company. I’ve been fortunate to work for several companies with a captive, each one with a different operating objective. I view a captive as an essential tool for a successful risk management program.

R&I: Who is your mentor and why?

I can’t point to just one. I have and continue to be lucky to work for really good managers throughout my career. Each one has taken the time and interest to develop me as a professional. I certainly haven’t arrived yet and welcome feedback to continue to try to be the best I can be every day.

R&I: What have you accomplished that you are proudest of?

I would like to think I have and continue to bring meaningful value to my company. However, I would have to say my family is my proudest accomplishment.

R&I: What is your favorite book or movie?

Favorite movie is definitely “Good Will Hunting.”

R&I: What’s the best restaurant you’ve ever eaten at?

Tough question to narrow down. If my wife ran a restaurant, it would be hers. We try to have dinner as a family as much as possible. If I had to pick one restaurant though, I would say Fire Food & Drink in Cleveland, Ohio. Chef Katz is a culinary genius.

R&I: What is the most unusual/interesting place you have ever visited?

The Grand Canyon. It is just so vast. A close second is Stonehenge.

R&I: What is the riskiest activity you ever engaged in?


A few, actually. Up until a few years ago, I owned a sport bike (motorcycle). Of course, I wore the proper gear, took a safety course and read a motorcycle safety book. Also, I have taken a few laps in a NASCAR [race car] around Daytona International Speedway at 180 mph. Most recently, trying to ride my daughter’s skateboard.

R&I: If the world has a modern hero, who is it and why?

The Dalai Lama. A world full of compassion, tolerance and patience and free of discrimination, racism and violence, while perhaps idealistic, sounds like a wonderful place to me.

R&I: What about this work do you find the most fulfilling or rewarding?

I really enjoy the company I work for and my role, because I get the opportunity to work with various functions. For example, while mostly finance, I get to interact with legal, human resources, employee health and safety, to name a few.

R&I: What do your friends and family think you do?

I asked my son. He said, “Risk management and insurance.” (He’s had the benefit of bring-your-kid-to-work day.)

Katie Dwyer is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]