September 12, 2014

Actuarial math specialization starts next fall

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Some say being an actuary means having “the best job in the United States.” And now you can train for that career at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. 

Actuaries are the folks who plow through mountains of data and numbers, spotting trends and estimating probabilities, costs and savings. They work in many industries as well as for various governments. 

The Illinois Board of Higher Education recently gave SIU’s Department of Mathematics the nod to create a new specialization in actuarial mathematics within its existing Bachelor of Arts degree starting in fall 2015. Greg Budzban, professor and chair of the department, said the move is “a big deal for both the Department of Mathematics and university.” 

“We will be one of only three state institutions that offer a bachelor's degree or specialization in this area,” Budzban said. “Students will have evidence of their actuarial specialization on their transcripts, making them even more marketable in their field.” 

Budzban said the department began pursuing the new program last year, around the time an article appeared in the Wall Street Journal, citing a survey by, which identified the job as the best job in the country. 

“Our interest in developing the program really emerged from several sources,” Budzban said. “One of our faculty members, Professor David Olive, came to me with the idea of starting the specialization at roughly the same time as the article from the Wall Street Journal came out. These things, in addition to the flux in the insurance industry, indicated to me that this would be a growth field and an opportunity for new math majors at SIU.” 

The Department of Mathematics, which is part of the College of Science, offers Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees. It also offers Master of Arts, Master of Science and doctoral degrees in mathematics. 

The new specialization curriculum will include 50 semester hours, including 20 hours from four courses in actuarial areas. Five existing faculty members will be responsible for the specialization. 

Another factor in the IBHE approving the “reasonable and moderate extension” of the existing Bachelor of Arts program is SIU’s Morris Library, which it states “has more than enough library materials to support (the new specialization), as well as a designated science librarian to support students and faculty.” 

The IBHE approval letter also states jobs in the actuarial science and related fields will grow by about 20 percent in coming years. State and federal government labor statistics place the median salary for those with a bachelor’s degree in the field at more than $87,000 per year. 

With these trends, SIU officials expect an increase demand for such a program, Budzban said. And the university has a track record in the field already. 

“Probability and statistics have always been a strength of our department, and this provides us a way to market those strengths to new students,” Budzban said. “This new specialization fits SIU's mission of providing a quality education perfectly, since it will provide our students the high-quality computational and technical skills needed to thrive in one of the top careers in the country.”