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Navigating the hardening insurance market in higher education

By Deneen Schmitt , Laura Lamonde and Nicole Stacy | June 20, 2024

Higher education insurance market hardens due to increased claims and regulatory changes, impacting coverage limits and premiums.
Captive and insurance management solutions|Casualty|Financial, Executive and Professional Risks (FINEX)|Property Risk and Insurance Solutions

If you recently renewed your liability lines or have an upcoming renewal, you may have noticed the market hardening. Insurers are reacting to these challenges by reducing limits, requiring higher retentions, increasing premiums and/or adding coverage restrictions. Some markets are exiting the higher ed segment all together. What is causing the turmoil in the market?

Key issues

  • Clash exposures or aggregation issues (claims involving multiple defendants):
  • Changes to admissions practices resulting from the 2023 U.S. Supreme Court Decision holding two ivy league colleges in violation of the 14th Amendment and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act
  • Sexual misconduct including the broadening of the statute of limitation in many states
  • Political tensions around the war including donor disputes, executive terminations and student discipline
  • Title IX issues with new regulations and new NIL (name, image and likeness) regulations – both set to take effect 8/1/24
  • Financial distress including bankruptcies, closures/mergers or loss of accreditation
  • Social inflation and freedom of speech, mental health issues, student unionization, active assailant, funding – both litigation and government (fraud and abuse), nuclear verdicts including punitive damages

Insurance market response

D&O/ELL/EPL market

Other than a key market who may offer up to $30 million in capacity, most insurers are offering limits of $5 million or $10 million, which could require anywhere from 10 to 20 layers to reach adequate coverage.

When an institution has a severe claim, there can be concerns in program structure surrounding consistency in excess policy language and specific claim issues amongst the layers. Claim issues include the need to obtain approval from many insurers on selection of counsel, law firm rates, defense costs, settlement discussions, exhaustion of limits and claim cooperation provisions.

Retentions have increased, with some starting in the low seven figures or greater. Also, insurers may be narrowing coverage or possibly even excluding coverage for a variety of exposures such as antitrust, regulatory, admissions practices, loss of accreditation, sexual harassment and Title IX claims.

General liability and excess liability market

In the general liability and umbrella liability market, many key insurers have reduced their capacity, impacting availability. Additionally, some insurers who previously offered coverage on an admitted basis are now shifting to non-admitted paper, resulting in the addition of surplus lines taxes for policyholders. There has also been a reduction in coverage limits for critical areas such as sexual abuse and molestation, traumatic brain injury and professional liability.

Furthermore, insurers are showing reluctance to provide coverage to institutions that operate their own police forces and there is an increased level of scrutiny and more comprehensive underwriting questions concerning hiring and admission practices within these institutions.

How we can help

WTW’s Public Sector, GovCon & Education Industry Vertical Division has a dedicated team of professionals who specialize in higher education. This team includes former risk managers, underwriters, lawyers, actuaries, loss control and claims specialists, all of whom bring a wealth of experience to their roles. They actively participate in higher education associations and advisory boards, ensuring they remain at the forefront of industry developments.

The team provides comprehensive coverage analysis and consultation to help clients understand exposures, loss trends, and emerging risks. Our claims advocacy is robust, supporting clients through numerous claims, including those involving full policy limit losses. Additionally, we offer specialized loss control services tailored specifically for higher education clients. To further support the higher education sector, our additional capabilities include:

  • Access to all major higher education insurers
  • Formation of Higher Education Client Advisory Board and facilitation of conversations on emerging risks
  • Proprietary analytics that analyze retentions, limits, predictive modeling of claims, and jurisdictional hazards, specific to each client’s program
  • Creation of market solutions including broad Side A personal liability D&O/ELL coverage for board of trustees
  • Alternative risk financing – Captives, pools, affinity programs, blended programs
  • Intersecting the lines between property & casualty business and employee benefits consulting
  • Keeping up with market trends and rates each quarter

We are proud to serve the higher education industry and look forward to hearing from you with any of your coverage or risk questions.


Willis Towers Watson hopes you found the general information provided in this publication informative and helpful. The information contained herein is not intended to constitute legal or other professional advice and should not be relied upon in lieu of consultation with your own legal advisors. In the event you would like more information regarding your insurance coverage, please do not hesitate to reach out to us. In North America, Willis Towers Watson offers insurance products through licensed entities, including Willis Towers Watson Northeast, Inc. (in the United States) and Willis Canada Inc. (in Canada).


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Associate Director, Broking, Midwest Commercial Team, FINEX
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Senior Casualty Broker and Education Industry Leader, North America
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