The CIA University Accreditation Program: In Data We Trust


By Joseph Gabriel, FCIA

My tenure as staff actuary, education for the CIA is approaching the two-year mark, and it has been a tremendous experience so far. The University Accreditation Program (UAP) is one of the main projects I work on, and in my January 2015 article, I emphasized that thoroughness is the foundation of the program. UAP provides students with the option of receiving credit from the CIA for some preliminary examinations of the Society of Actuaries (SOA), based on achieving the required grade in each accredited university course, as set by the CIA.

Rigorous Objectives

When the program was developed in 2011 and launched in universities for September 2012, the governing policy and objectives were quite rigorous and called for a full program review at the three-year mark to evaluate whether the objectives of UAP were being met. This first principles review was undertaken by four subcommittees of the Accreditation Committee, which focused on the following areas: awareness and promotion, policy and objectives, and monitoring and administration. The fourth group merged the work of the three subcommittees and drafted the report on the findings and recommendations that has been presented in final version to the CIA Education and Eligibility Council.

As an actuary, I often remind myself of a famous quote by Sherlock Holmes from A Scandal in Bohemia: "It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data." I had the pleasure of leading the Monitoring and Administration Subcommittee, which collected, analyzed, and reported on one of the most important elements that could help theorize on UAP: data.

Data Collection and Analysis

Data collection and analysis is an integral part of the constant monitoring of UAP. Data is gathered each term for each accredited course at every university. Information such as the number of students registered, the number of students who completed the course, the number of students who achieved the required credit grade set by the CIA, and the overall course average grades are gathered. Prepared by the course instructor, the information is first certified by the accreditation actuary (a Fellow in each university who liaises with the university and the CIA), and subsequently validated each year through the external examiner process.

This data collection serves several purposes: to verify student grades, to monitor UAP credit grade achievement by the candidates across universities, to compare predicted versus actual proportions of candidates attaining the credit grades for each university course, and to compare these proportions to corresponding professional exam passing rates. The data also enables the CIA to estimate the utilization of UAP credit versus the potential number of credits that could have been requested over the analyzed three-year period. This was challenging, as individual candidate data is not available to depict an exact representation. Instead, we used a model to produce estimates of the UAP utilization and of the actual proportion of candidates achieving exam credit grade, considering that up to four university courses are required to qualify for a single exam credit. In total, broad data on more than 300 accredited university courses were collected as part of the analysis.

How Many Students Achieve the Required Grade?

For each professional exam, by academic year and university, we took the lowest percentage of all courses used in the credit requirement for the exam to calculate an estimate of the percentage of students meeting the credit grade. Note that this minimal percentage represents an upper bound of the actual value. We used the same approach to estimate the potential number of students meeting the requirement for credit.

We found that on average, the proportion of students achieving the required credit grade was 45 percent for a single accredited university course, which was in line with the CIA’s preliminary estimate of 46 percent.

One key design feature of UAP is that candidates must meet the grade set by the CIA for each course mapped to a particular SOA exam. Given that up to four university courses are required to qualify for a single exam credit, this feature resulted in an overall average of 37 percent of candidates meeting the requirement per exam. Compared with the corresponding professional exams, the SOA and Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS) average overall passing percentage during the same period for the same exams was approximately 46 percent. Statistically speaking, the data reveals that, on average, the proportion of candidates achieving the credit requirements under UAP is lower than the proportion of candidates passing the exams. This is one of the most significant conclusions of the data review: contrary to some opinions, exam credits under UAP are difficult to achieve.

This conclusion also confirmed the appropriateness of the required grades for each accredited course: given that the proportion of students meeting the required grade per course is generally well aligned with initial CIA estimates, and that average proportions achieving credit requirements compares well with professional exam average pass rates, there is no evidence suggesting that the required grades should be adjusted at this time; however, the CIA will continue to closely monitor these results.

We also conducted an analysis of the actual grades for the candidates who received exam credits from the CIA, by comparing their grades for each accredited course against the grade requirement to receive credit. On average, UAP candidates exceed the requirement by about 9 percentage points, which suggests that UAP candidates, on average, not only meet the minimal requirements, but exceed them by a fair margin, attesting to the quality of their academic profile.

UAP: an Evolution in Canadian Actuarial Education

As UAP is a young program marking the evolution of actuarial education in Canada, the utilization of the program by candidates would no doubt represent an insightful element to analyze. To date, the program has granted over 200 exam credits. A classic back-of-the-envelope rough estimate based on average course size, proportion at credit grade per exam, number of universities, and possible number of credits per cohort of candidates, yielded a utilization rate of about 10 percent. The more refined estimate, based on the method briefly described above, ended up being 7.3 percent. In simple terms, granted credits under the CIA UAP could have been about fourteen times what they were. This utilization may seem low; however, the following thoughts may provide insight on these results.

First, UAP is a brand-new program; it has existed only since September 2012. Second, a usage rate in the vicinity of 10 percent after such a short period is encouraging, considering that actuarial qualification in the U.S. and Canada has strictly been exam based for over a century—it can be a challenge to change perceptions. And last but not least, candidates who feel that they need to pursue SOA credentials opt to follow the traditional examination route and forego applying for credit from the CIA.

Fortunately, the American Academy of Actuaries (AAA) does recognize the FCIA obtained through UAP for the purposes of achieving the Member of the American Academy of Actuaries (MAAA) designation which is required to practice as an actuary in the U.S. And candidates pursuing a P&C career also have their UAP credits recognized by the CAS towards the Associate of the Casualty Actuarial Society (ACAS) and Fellow of the Casualty Actuarial Society (FCAS) designations. The UK Institute and Faculty of Actuaries and the Actuaries Institute of Australia also accept the CIA UAP credits through mutual recognition agreements at the associate and fellowship levels. Therefore, there are many viable options for UAP candidates who wish to hold more than one actuarial designation.

But beyond numbers and statistics, proportions of candidates passing exams or qualifying for credits, the first and foremost objective of UAP is achieving excellence and maintaining the highest standards in actuarial education. Actuarial education in universities is constantly evolving, incorporating cutting-edge methods and technology such as case study computer-based individual examinations. The CIA UAP exposes candidates to the latest developments and innovations in actuarial education, which can only represent a strong advantage for the candidates and their future employers.

Through its first principles review and the external examiner findings each year, the CIA is confident that UAP is producing quality candidates, and is encouraged by the use of the program given its short existence. With data supporting these findings, as per our friend Sherlock Holmes, it is safe to theorize that UAP is established on solid ground and well on track for advancing the highest standards in actuarial education.

Joseph Gabriel, FCIA, is staff actuary, education, at the CIA Head Office.

Canadian Institute of Actuaries/Institut canadien des actuaires