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In The Public Eye: How Do Colleges and Universities Attract Students in a Crowded Market?

By Alliant Specialty

The landscape for student health insurance has undergone major consolidation over the years, making the options for higher education health plans limited. Join Carleen Patterson as she welcomes Kevin McCarroll from Alliant Student Health, to discuss the benefits of student health insurance. The duo discusses the incentives for domestic and international students during the recruitment process, as well as what differentiates Alliant from other student health programs.

Intro (00:00):
Welcome to the Alliant In the Public Eye Podcast, a show dedicated to exploring risk management topics and challenges faced by today's public sector leaders. Here is your host, Carleen Patterson.

Carleen Patterson (00:17):
Hi everyone, and welcome back to another episode of "In the Public Eye" podcast series. It's been a while I know, but we are happy to be up and running again with our podcast series, and I'm thrilled today to welcome Kevin McCarroll, who is with the Alliant Student Health Insurance Program team. Thank you very much for joining us, Kevin.

Kevin McCarroll (00:37):
Thanks Carleen. I'm excited to be on.

Carleen Patterson (00:39):
Before we get started, do you want to tell us a little bit about yourself and when you joined Alliant, and a little bit about your experience working with student health?

Kevin McCarroll (00:49):
Yeah, I'm Kevin McCarroll, Vice President for Alliant Student Health. I've been in the industry for just over 10 years. I am located in Napa, California. I joined Alliant in October of 2023, and we've been off to the races since. I think we were a great fit to round out the education practice here at the firm.

Carleen Patterson (01:09):
Great. Well we are thrilled to have you working a lot with colleges and universities. I know that they have very unique needs and very unique exposures. This is one area that I'm glad to say that we have you as an expert in. How has this market evolved since you got in the business and even over the last few months?

Kevin McCarroll (01:32):
Short answer is a lot over the years. Our team is fortunate enough to have about 75 years of collective experience. And when I started in the business just about 11, 12 years ago, there were handfuls of brokers that offered student health insurance products across the country. And there was a lot of carriers in the market as well. We've seen a great deal of consolidation over the years. Brokers buying brokers, carriers dropping in and out of the student health space, which has presented its own challenges. The biggest was, as of recent, there really were only two players in the student health market from a brokerage standpoint. And it turned into a take it or leave it approach from a service standpoint. As you just said, Carleen, every institution is different. They all have their unique needs. So a one size fits all approach does not fit our market. And when the market drastically consolidated, we had limited carriers and limited brokers. Schools just really wanted more options to be honest. We saw the opportunity to join Alliant's Education Team and get back to the basics and start simplifying the process for students and staff again. And I think we really have a good message to share with our clients now.

Carleen Patterson (02:42):
Talking about getting back to the basics, I guess that's a great lead into one of the first questions that I have, which is, okay, I've got college age students, I'm always checking those boxes and giving health insurance for my kids, but why are colleges and universities offering student health plans?

Kevin McCarroll (03:00):
That's a great question. For one, education and student involvement affects the university's bottom line. They want kids enrolled. They want kids to be active in student activities, clubs, focusing on their education. And that really gets derailed if they are faced with sickness, illness, injuries or whatnot. Finding care in the U.S. healthcare system is extremely difficult and complicated. You have a lot of options, and a lot of schools see it as a value add to have their own plan to offer to students. And when you have a young demographic of college age kids, you can get really aggressive with the types of benefits and pricing you can offer because the young and healthy are typically taking up that population. For mom and dad who have employer plans, sometimes it's more advantageous to use a student health insurance product because as I said, the benefits are richer, the pricing is more competitive when compared to their dependent rates at their current employer. So all in all, a lot of institutions see it as a valuable add, in some cases even a recruiting tool for students from overseas. And at the end of the day, keeps students healthy enrolled in class, so they can focus on what matters most, which is their college education.

Carleen Patterson (04:14):
So you mentioned students that are overseas. So the student health plans doesn't matter if you are domestic or international, or how do those programs differ?

Kevin McCarroll (04:24):
So our business is really segmented in two buckets. You have an international student population, which is a huge revenue stream for all universities, whether you're a private community college, large state school institution. There is a big recruitment push for pulling kids from other countries to attend schools in the states. They want them to be healthy throughout their experience. They do not want their educational journey coming from another country and into a campus, that maybe they haven't even seen before, to be derailed because of their overall health. So that's one component. The other component is offering a program to all students. And a lot of the times domestic kids, as I mentioned before, they have more options as far as what they can enroll into, but a lot of times they can opt in or out. But the international kids, it's a big revenue stream. And colleges see that, and they use it as a recruiting tool, but they want to make sure that when they get here that they're insured so they can focus on what matters most. What, like I said before, is their whole collegiate experience.

Carleen Patterson (05:28):
Okay. That makes a lot of sense because working with the international students, and you're right, it's a huge part of the success of any university. So having something that's competitive like that, that they can offer is a great value add, comparing the different offerings and the different schools.

Kevin McCarroll (05:46):
And I think I'd add too that there's a few differences when you start offering plans to domestic students born here in the states. It's got more similarities to like an employee benefit plan, meaning you're using ACA compliant benefits. You are using the big box carriers like the United Healthcare's, the Aetna's, the Anthem's, the Blue's across the country. And you have international only groups because they aren't technically U.S. citizens, you have more options, offshore carriers, you can get more creative with the plan designs, have more capital limitations internally on the plan. So that's a big component. International kids typically have more options from a benefit standpoint when compared to kids from the U.S.

Carleen Patterson (06:28):
You've been at Alliant since October. What really differentiates not only what we do for our university clients and the students who are participating in the program, but also our approach to student health in general?

Kevin McCarroll (06:44):
I think it's twofold. I think the Alliant team, like no other, has a deep experience from all platforms with colleges and universities from property casualty to employee benefits. And you look across the board, everyone really has their hand in higher education in some sense. I think that really separates the firm in general from our competitors. I think everyone has always wanted to be in higher education, but hasn't really had the success as we have seen at Alliant. And I think the student health practice really brings it full circle. As far as changing the market, when we started talking, our value proposition starts with doing what's best for the client. We work for the university. We are not biased to any insurance carrier. We listen to their needs. We want to make sure that we place the right plan and price with that said university. That is the first and foremost position that we take, and that's really why we came to the firm because I think that message is similar across the board.

We work for our clients. We want what's best for them. From a student health experience, we just want to simplify it again. I think it's gotten way too complex over the years. Like I said, I think the U.S. healthcare system is complicated enough for all of us to really navigate. When you start talking about college age students, let alone kids from all over the globe, trying to find a doctor on a Saturday morning because they don't feel well, it's a heavy task for them. And it's an intimidating task as well. So we want to simplify it, get back to the basics, as far as the experience of enrollment, where students go to find a provider. We take great pride in educating our students and making sure we're on campus when they need us, whether it's new student orientations, returning student orientations, student affairs. Getting back to the basics and just really trying to not complicate things for the students as they already are is really kind of where our approach starts.

Carleen Patterson (08:36):
You know, I guess that's the Alliant way, and it really aligns with what we do as a firm for our clients. So Kevin, do you have a team with you? How deep is the experience and the expertise within your group?

Kevin McCarroll (08:50):
We have around collectively 75 years of experience. Our Director and Senior Vice President, Michael Babore, has about 25 of that. I have probably 11 myself. We have three other account managers that are working more or less the day-to-day interactions with our school administrators. We have a new producer hire that just started on the East Coast. So we are growing. We're getting a lot of support internally. The Alliant team has a deep reach into higher education. We're hoping to really validate that from our angle to just bring our offerings full circle.

Carleen Patterson (09:25):
Well, perfect. We are looking forward to working with you and bringing your expertise not only to our existing clients, but opening doors and having some additional conversations with other higher education institutions around the country. So welcome to the team, Kevin, and we're looking forward to working with you.

Kevin McCarroll (09:43):
Thanks Carleen. Likewise.

Carleen Patterson (09:45):
All right, well thank you very much for joining us in today's podcast. We look forward to bringing you new and innovative ideas to help manage risks across the country. So thank you very much.

Intro (09:57):
Thank you for listening, and for more information visit us at Alliant Public Entity.

Alliant note and disclaimer: This document is designed to provide general information and guidance. Please note that prior to implementation your legal counsel should review all details or policy information. Alliant Insurance Services does not provide legal advice or legal opinions. If a legal opinion is needed, please seek the services of your own legal advisor or ask Alliant Insurance Services for a referral. This document is provided on an “as is” basis without any warranty of any kind. Alliant Insurance Services disclaims any liability for any loss or damage from reliance on this document.