College Credit for Exams: a History

In the SOA, for decades there has been an argument for allowing actuarial science majors at special colleges to be able to get credit for exams (like they do in the UK… and many other countries don’t even have exams. You have to have a degree from specific schools)

It sounds like the SOA is having another go at this (see: SOA -- College Credit for Exams ) so I’m going to dig up the historical documents I amassed back in 2009/2010.

The oldest ones I found are from 1970:

1970 VOL. 22 PT. 2 NO. 64

CHAIRMAN PAUL T. ROTTER: In his presidential address in Boston
last year, Mr. Milliman gave the background reasons leading to the appointment of the ad hoc committee of the American Academy of Actuaries charged with studying the “Alternate Route.” Also at last year’s
Annual Meeting, Mr. Lancaster gave a report on the work of this committee. Since then, this subject has been discussed by the Education and
Examination Committee, the Advisory Committee on Education and
Examinations, the Joint Committee on Review of Education and Examinations, and other committees of the several actuarial bodies in Canada
and the United States. It has also been discussed in larger forums, such
as the Canadian Institute of Actuaries and several actuarial clubs.

MR. JULIUS VOGEL: As Paul indicated, I am in favor of the alternate
route. It seems to me that its adoption would serve the long-term good of
of the actuarial profession, and I would like to explain why.
To begin with, it is clear that Parts 1-5 of the life actuarial syllabus are
the fundamental mathematical basis of our profession and lend themselves
most naturally to being taught in college. What I am concerned about is
that on these basic and important subjects Our traditional self-study
syllabus may fall behind the best modern thinking and instruction that
might be found at some particular college or university.

Part 3–Finite Differences–provides another illustration. Freeman’s
book, which is the textbook for Part 3, is largely oriented to the problem
of using desk calculators efficiently in making actuarial calculations. But
for the last ten or fifteen years most extensive actuarial calculations have
been done on computers, so that Freeman is obviously out of date. However, the Education and Examination Committee has so far been unable
to substitute a computer-oriented textbook for Freeman. There are good
reasons for this. But at least one of the problems in finding a new book is
that most computer-oriented textbooks are premised on familiarity with
a programming language, such as FORTRAN. We have some students who
do uot know FORTRAN, as well as others who are full-time programmers
in :FORTRAN. We have to be fair to all of them, and it is difficult to find
a computer-oriented textbook that is substantially fair to all comers.

My point is that applications to actuarial science of matrices, or Laplace transforms, or Bayesian probability, or any one of a number of
mathematical techniques that I and others of my generation may know
only by name without a clear idea of what they mean, are most likely to
be thought of first in the colleges. It seems to me that the alternate route
would do much to encourage this kind of development of actuarial science. It would free a teacher to use new approaches in his class without
thereby penalizing his students by making it more difficult for them to
pass a traditional actuarial examination.

MR. PETER W. PLUMLEY: Julius has prescntcd his casc well for the
alternate route. Certainly there is much to be said in favor of this proposal. There are, however, also some troublesome questions which need to
be raised.
I think all of us would agree that it is highly desirable to encourage the
colleges to play a greater role in the education of the actuary. If our profession is to continue to thrive, it nmst do so by attracting new members
and by supplying them with the best possible actuarial education.
Let us carefully distinguish this, however, from the problem of determining whether a person is qualified to be admitted to membership in
the Society of Actuaries. We and those who have preceded us have earned
a justifiably high reputation. A reputation is more easily lost than regained, however. It is not sufficient to say that most actuaries have
learned their skills; we must be able to say that all have. Therefore, it
is only through the maintenance of uniformly high standards of admission that we are going to be able to continue to maintain our reputation.

MR. STEPHEN G. KELLISON: I am appearing today to present some of the arguments against the alternate route. I am afraid that this is a role in which most other actuarial professors would feel uncomfortable. I can assure you, however, that I am quite pleased to be able to participate on this panel in this capacity.

The first argument involves the question of maintaining professional standards which are both high and uniform. Even though this point is of > great importance, I will discuss it only briefly, since Pete has already discussed it in detail. There is no question that standards on actuarial examinations are higher than standards in college course work. Most students who are successful on Society examinations devote substantial effort above and beyond that required in college courses. This additional effort, resulting in a deeper understanding of the subject material, would undoubtedly diminish under the alternate route. Furthermore, university administrators and even faculties are not always as dedicated to the attainment and maintenance of high professional standards as most of you would presume.

The fourth argument against the alternate route is that there is an extreme shortage of actuarial programs and professors in North America, particularly in the United States. I question whether we have enough educational facilities at universities to handle effectively any significant transfer of the education and examination effort from the profession to the universities, either at the present time or in the near future.

In most actuarial programs one or two individual professors can often largely determine who does or does not get the necessary marks in course work and the degree required for the alternate route. This is placing a significant amount of power in the hands of one or two persons, since the result is going to be used for something as important as a student’s qualifying for professional standing.

The fifth area of my concern involves the impact that the alternate route would have on the universities. The proponents have stated that the alternate route would strengthen university programs, and this is probably true for the larger, well-established programs. It could, however, easily prove to have adverse effects on the newer or smaller programs.

The sixth and final argument is a counterargument to the concept that the alternate route is a natural evolution which would have the actuarial profession follow the same pattern other professions have followed. It is true that most other professions do provide for training and qualification through the university system. In considering this argument more deeply, however, there are several factors which should be kept in mind.
First of all, most other professions do not have an alternate route; university training is the only route. This splintering of ways to enter a profession leading to a duplication of effort and a double standard is not typical.
Second, most other professions have never had an examination system outside the universities which would even approach in caliber the present system for actuarial science. Thus the need to utilize the universities for other professions was more pressing.
Third, as previously mentioned, the number of actuaries actively engaged in teaching is very small. This creates unique problems for our profession which are not present for the larger professions with much more extensive university facilities. Not only does it create a problem for individual professors in objectively evaluating a student’s performance, but it creates a problem in evaluating a university’s accreditation every time there is a change of even one person on the faculty.

[I will have to come back, because I need to find what I backed up from the Actuarial Outpost, from the various threads there]

Still from the 1970 document – tables of surveys:

Paging @PhildeTruth

(I may have saved some of the key threads from the AO… but it will take time for me to dig out original docs)

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FEM (Future Education Methods) was announced as a concept by the SOA and CAS back in August 2009:

Attached as files

fem-faq from August 2009.pdf (105.2 KB) FEMletter from CIA CAS SOA August 2009.pdf (109.1 KB)

You can read the details from that to see how it differs from the current proposal.

You can see there was a similar proposal back in 1970, and there was something the Board of the SOA passed in the late 1980s… and there was a petition by SOA members against it, with a constitutional amendment for vote to rescind the 1980s program. “Only” 59% voted for the amendment, but the next Board rescinded the program anyway.

Then we have the 2009 situation.

The CIA implemented their own approach, which the SOA & CAS has handled in different ways so far.

The SOA has been sub-rosa accepting college credit for exams for some time, for people who had credit that way in the UK system.

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This forum software gets a bit bitchy if one person posts too many things in a row, so I will just be dropping this last thing here, from the late 1980s version of this program, which failed, as noted in the narrative above.

Attached as PDF, just in case. It’s the complete November 1988 issue of The Actuary.

act8811.pdf (2.6 MB)

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I didn’t go too deep into this thread. Is the part where the actuarial student thoroughly explained why FEM was a terrible idea included ?

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I’m not sure which of the many explanations you are referring to.

The original one, from 1970, by Kellison is excerpted above. Pretty much all the core objections he had still apply.

Okay, I found a timeline about the last full-fledged attempt in 2008-2009

(it’s good to keep notes) - no, there are no links to the original public announcements, and some I would have to dig up from the wayback machine. I may or may not have old AO posts, but we’ll drop that for now.

Future Education Methods Timeline: A Look Back

Developed 12.2009


The CIA formed a ‘Task Force to Recommend A Future Education Method/Model’ for their organization.


February 2008: CIA Task Force Issues Report

The CIA task force recommends the CIA adopt a university exam waiver and accreditation model as an alternative to the preliminary education portion of the current qualification process used by the CIA, CAS and SOA.

Early 2008: CAS/SOA task force formed

The CAS and SOA form a joint task force to consider implications of the CIA’s report and to make recommendations to their respective Boards about the report.

June: SOA Board of Directors Meeting

The SOA Board asked the CIA to delay implementation of their proposal. The SOA also asked the CIA inform their members about this idea and seek input.

October 18-19: SOA Board of Directors Meeting

The Board received an update on the CIA’s FEM concept. The update included the CIA’s decision to create a task force to form an accreditation committee. The CIA also authorized these groups to enter into a joint relationship with the CAS and SOA to seek participation in this project.

December: CIA Forms Accreditation Committee

The CIA forms the committee to develop a detailed workable model for FEM for use in Canada. The committee consisted of practitioners and academics from Canada. The CAS and SOA were invited to appoint representatives from each organization to this committee as observers.

December: Presidents Establish Joint Working Group

The working group is comprised of representatives from the CIA, CAS and SOA. Each organization has assigned two representatives. The working group’s charge is to examine and attempt to resolve issues that the CAS and SOA may have in relation to the CIA’s plan for a FEM concept/option.

December 23: Joint Working Group Conference Call

Following the conference call, CAS and SOA observers were asked to compile a short report outlining their organization’s concerns in advance of a January 9, 2009 face to face meeting.

In addition, the SOA and CAS have each assigned observer representatives to The CIA’s University Accreditation Committee.


January 9: Joint Working Group In-Person Meeting

The SOA and CAS observers share their concerns with the Joint Working Group.

March 16-17: SOA Board of Directors Meeting

The Joint Working Group gave an interim report at this meeting. The SOA BOD asked that the SOA observers become full members of the Joint Working Group.

Board motion: While no decisions were requested of the Board at this time, it provides the occasion for Board members to discuss and clarify any issues or concerns with the project and to provide a sense of direction to SOA representatives.

April: Joint Working Group Receives CIA Accreditation Committee draft proposal

The working group reviews the proposal and recommends to the three presidents to further explore the proposal. This includes the creation of a Joint Steering Committee to facilitate and coordinate member communication, establish a project plan, communicate with the three Boards and decide on the recommendation of the Accreditation Committee.

June: SOA Board of Directors Meeting

The Board endorsed SOA participation on the JSC to address the CIA’s FEM concept proposal. The JSC was charged with facilitating a coordinated joint communications effort. In addition the Board asked for the Accreditation Committee to be restructured to provide equal representation among the CAS, CIA and SOA and provide a balanced number of U.S. and Canadian Academics.

The Board asked the JSC to implement a communications effort as soon as possible to describe the proposal and provide opportunities for feedback. The Board would review a draft implementation plan and subsequent member feedback before making a final decision on the proposal.

June: Changes to Working Group; New Accreditation Committee Established

The Joint Working Group was disbanded and replaced with the Joint Steering Committee (JSC). The Joint Accreditation Committee (JAC) was established to formulate specifics of the FEM concept that would be workable in both the US and Canada.

The JAC is not bound by the specific details by the CIA’s Accreditation Committee.

July: SOA Member Announcement – June BOD Meeting Summary

SOA members were notified of the Board’s decision.

July 31: SOA Leadership Team Call

A SOA LT member asks that the JSC hold off on any communication about the FEM concept until after SOA Board elections are closed on Monday August 24. The elections open on August 3 and the SOA LT agrees to do this.

August 2: Actuarial Outpost

A SOA Board/LT member initiates dialogue on this discussion forum about the FEM concept prior to any official communication from the JSC or any of the organizations involved.

August 14: CAS, CIA and SOA Presidents Joint Communication issued – Communication to All Members

The three Presidents jointly issue the formal news of and request member feedback on a proposed FEM concept. The concept is explained, the proposed accreditation process is explained and member feedback is requested. All members are asked to submit feedback to a jointly shared email box. The comment period will close on September 10 in order to gather feedback for the organizations’ respective fall Board meetings. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) are also published in response to questions raised on the Actuarial Outpost discussion forum, (Signatories are Bykerk, Kollar and Howard)

Mid August: SOA News Today (August issue #2)

The above Presidents’ communication and FAQs are included in this issue.

September 3: JSC Communication and Additional FAQs – Communication to All Members

The JSC issues a blast email to members of all three organizations as a follow up to the August 14 Presidential Communication and also post an additional set of FAQs. This communication and FAQs are also posted on

Early September: SOA News Today (September issue #1)

The above JSC communication and additional FAQs are included in this issue.

September 10: Comment Period Closes

While the comment period has closed, the organizations are still collecting member, candidate and employer feedback.

September 18: JSC Update on FEM – Communication to All Members

CAS/CIA/SOA members are notified that the comment period has closed however feedback is still welcomed. Members are informed of next steps: Upcoming Fall Board meetings, JSC continues to meet, JAC will hold initial meeting and information will continue to be shared with the members.

September 22: SOA President Elect Communication to SOA members

McLaughlin sends a blast email to members thanking members for feedback, restates that the concept is in the exploration phase, explains the work of the JAC, references the upcoming SOA Board meeting, asks for continued feedback and announces the opportunity to discuss FEM at the SOA Annual Meeting.

October 1: The Actuary – Letter from the President, October/November issue

Bykerk’s final article as president makes a mention that the SOA is looking at ways to better use our academic partners including the controversial FEM. He notes that nothing has been decided and we will collect member feedback based upon factual information on the proposal. (Column written and submitted in August 2009)

October 24-25: SOA Board of Directors Meeting

The BOD agreed not to continue with the FEM concept in its current form. The Board asked the JSC/JAC to consider alternatives to the current concept. A task force was appointed to recommend enhanced communications with members on this subject.

October 25: SOA Member Announcement – October BOD Meeting Summary

SOA members were notified of the Board’s decision.

Late October: SOA News Today

The October issue #2 included the above announcement.

October 26: SOA Annual Meeting General Session Address (C. Bykerk)

Bykerk’s member address informed members on the outcome of the October BOD meeting.

October 27: SOA Annual Meeting 2010 Presidential Address (M. McLaughlin)

McLaughlin’s presidential address restated the outcome of the October BOD meeting.

October 28: Conversation with the 2010 President

McLaughlin’s presentation included slides that referenced the October BOD meeting decision on FEM and also provided opportunity for question and answer.

November 9: FEM Summary to Members

SOA members were provided with a summary of member, candidate and employer comments.

That was the timeline.

Here is the summary of comments:

Attached as PDF
fem-summary-110909.pdf (179.8 KB)

It’s only 6 pages, but here are some excerpts:

“This proposal would create an uneven playing field benefiting those who happen to
attend these accredited universities and those who could not. It would also remove
objective measures in place of subjective measures, which seems to be in direct
conflict with the very motto of the SOA: The work of science is to substitute facts for
appearances and demonstrations for impressions ­ Ruskin. Due to the subjective
nature, the credential would be devalued as consistency could not be assured. For
these reasons, I urge you to not pass the August 14th, 2009 proposal regarding
Future Educational Methods.”

  1. The current exam system is the most fair

Elements of fairness often cited were that the testing environment is controlled, grading is blind, and most important, every candidate takes essentially the same exam with the same grading and same pass mark. Each university exam will be different and it will be difficult to create an environment in which there is no pressure brought to bear on the instructor to give a passing grade.

3. The proposal will devalue the credential

There are several different ways in which this theme was explained. One is that there will be many more ASAs and that alone will lower the value because there will not be sufficient demand for the increased numbers. Another is that ASAs will not be equipped to pass the FSA exams, creating more career ASAs of lesser accomplishments. Without more exams, employers will have a harder time discriminating between applicants, and thus end up hiring many who will not be successful. A final view is that the ASA will be viewed as a minor add­on to the university degree and not as a credential that formerly implied practical experience.

There is often an assumption in this theme that those receiving exemptions will be inferior to those who have passed exams and thus the profession will be confronted by job seekers with more exams but lower abilities.

6. If the university course is good enough for an exemption, students can pass the exam anyway

Particularly with the increased frequency of exam administrations, there should be little delay between when a top student completes the course and passes the exam. Universities should stick to their role of preparing students to succeed.

Comments from Employers

There were some responses from employers representing the views of their firms.

Employer comments were consistent with those from members, including concerns
about consistency, maintenance of rigor, diminishment of value of the credential, no need to reduce travel time, and confusion of education and accreditation. One employer expressed the view there might be some benefit to the proposal, but they believed it should be applied very narrowly (top 10% of students), and preferred that a standard SOA exam be given (and the SOA grade that exam) to an examination created by a classroom professor.


It was GosuJohn that had the pretty thorough takedown discussing a European cheating scandal.

So is this a done deal? Can we vote in new leadership and get rid of this?

I recall being severely chastised, by the way, for declaring on AO that I wouldn’t vote for anyone who was a supporter of FEM.

Looks like I was correct to be concerned.

Alas, I didn’t grab that info when I was backing up AO threads.

Well, it was a “done deal” in 1988.

There are multiple ways any of this can be undone. I can share what was attempted in 1988.

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Chastised by whom?

Sorry, but you cannot bring up something like that without context.

In any case, there’s all sorts of critiques I can make for them AGAIN doing the exact same thing without actually checking what sort of reaction they may get.

Maybe it will be different this time, but if not, can we make a deal that they won’t try this particular thing again for 20 years? Please? I mean, it’s only been 50 years of the same objections. I think a 20-year break seems reasonable.

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I’m trying to recall. A supporter of a candidate who had previously backed FEM.


SOA elections have consequences.