In 2004, several exciting events were occurring in Wisconsin. Among the most significant:

  • The Packers won the NFC North with Brett Favre at quarterback.
  • Jim Doyle, a Democrat, was in his second year as governor.
  • The sixteen Wisconsin Technical Colleges cooperatively joined in the formation of Districts Mutual Insurance. (DMI)

Several commercial marketplace conditions were driving the creation of DMI:

  • Anticipated rate increases had serious budget repercussions creating financial challenges for the Colleges.
  • Underwriting guidelines were restrictive.
  • Coverage limits decreased.
  • Deductibles increased to unacceptable levels.
  • Market availability declined.

On July 1, 2004, DMI began operation with a commitment that no College would pay more in insurance premiums than what was paid the previous year. DMI held costs in year one to pre-DMI levels, and the initial goal to start up with a 0% premium increase was achieved. At this premium level, the DMI budget met all its financial obligations including funding to mandated reserve levels, paying claims, providing insurance services, and accumulating working capital for operations. Subsequent performance confirmed that year one was not an anomaly. In fact, for the first five years of DMI operation, cost containment was accomplished even though risk exposure increased in areas including payroll, property values, student and faculty FTE.

Since the 7/1/04 startup, manuscript insurance policies have been issued to the Colleges extending consistent coverage limits, sub-limits, and deductible levels. In addition, claims reporting was standardized. Defense Counsel was engaged with negotiated rates applicable to all Member Colleges’ claim defense. Numerous coverage enhancements were included along with higher coverage limits than available prior to DMI. The formation of DMI also eliminated numerous coverage gaps. A “best practice” approach was adopted to address common risk management matters.

The previous method the Colleges used for acquiring insurance via a bid process was time-consuming and duplicative. The creation of DMI eliminated a large investment of college time, duplication, and created a significantly streamlined process.

Insurance coverage documents are written for the unique exposures presented by technical education. Loss control services are targeted to strategically address “hot topics”. The risk management approach that has been adopted is proactive, and the Colleges have evolved from holding an insurance policy to becoming active participants in an integrated risk management program.

Cost has been a significant consideration. DMI has successfully provided comprehensive coverage and a range of services previously unavailable yet maintained a flat rating model for coverage. The capitalization goal of DMI was achieved without requiring any additional cost for the Colleges.

Multiple years of stable pricing in the commercial insurance market is highly uncommon; however, DMI held the rates stable for the Member Colleges even though exposure data changed (payroll, property value, FTEs, and the number of motor vehicles all increased).

Over the years, DMI expanded its policies from four to seven based on the evolving risk environment. Recent additions include Cyber Liability, Deadly Weapon, and Sabotage/Terrorism.

In 2009, DMI proactively provided risk management services to the Colleges by employing a professional Environmental Health and Safety Consultant to deliver services and training directly to the 16 Technical Colleges.

In 2015, DMI employed a second industry expert to provide Business Continuity and Crisis Management consultation. This was followed in 2017 with the creation of a Campus Security Consultant position.

The DMI consultants are subject matter experts, who have extensive “real world” experience and expertise in their respective fields. The consultants are recognized industry thought leaders who have taken a leadership role in assisting the Colleges with developing creative and innovative risk mitigation strategies. Their guidance and support are highly valued by the Colleges.

DMI continues to bring measurable value to the 16 Technical Colleges both in cost savings and services. Regarding costs, over the past 19 years, DMI has saved the Colleges over $21 million in premiums when compared to the greater commercial marketplace. In addition, to date, DMI has provided more than $8.1 million in risk management services at no cost to the Colleges.

With the accomplishments listed above, it became obvious to the DMI Chief Executive and Board of Directors that the organization’s mission had matured well beyond more traditional insurance carriers. To demonstrate this transition, the Board of Directors amended the name of the organization in 2016 to Districts Mutual Insurance and Risk Management Services. To further demonstrate the differentiation, the DMI Chief Executive and Consultant staff identified and published the organization’s core values, represented by the acronym DMI CARES, defined as:

C – Collaboration – partnering with member Colleges to manage risk.
A – Advocacy – assuming the role of “champion” of the Wisconsin Technical Colleges by working on behalf and in support of these institutions.
R – Resources – providing services, training, and funding for college risk mitigation initiatives.
E – Expertise – providing “cutting edge” knowledge and experience to the Colleges.
S – Solutions – assisting the Colleges with problem-solving.

In the spirit of DMI CARES, three unique programs were established to provide support and recognition to the technical colleges:

  1. In 2014, the DMI Chief Executive and Board of Directors created the Risk Management Project Award (RMPA). The initiative offered the colleges an opportunity to apply for funds for projects addressing risk mitigation issues on campus. The typical award pool averages about $500,000 per year. Most recently, in recognition of the serious increase in cybercrime, DMI focused the 2021 and 2022 RMPA for projects specifically targeting risk mitigation of cyber threats on campus and awarded the colleges $1.3 million over the two years to enhance Cyber Security. Since 2014, DMI has distributed $4.1 million to the technical colleges through the RMPA program for their risk reduction projects.
  2. In 2016, DMI established the Risk Impact Award to recognize college employees who silently worked above and beyond what was expected in recognizing and reducing risk on campus. Colleges were invited to nominate employees or workgroups that represented the “silent heroes of risk,” who quietly strive to manage risk on campus. The Risk Impact Award is not financial; rather, it is designed to provide recognition by peers. As of 2023, 40 college employees and workgroups have received DMI’s Risk Impact Award. In 2019 the award was renamed the J. Timothy Greene Risk Impact Award. The name change honored Tim Greene, DMI’s first consultant, upon his retirement.
  3. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic changed the world, and DMI responded with urgency to the changing technical college environment. DMI has historically operated on a remote work model, with all staff working from home office locations. As a result, DMI staff pivoted to virtual communications and interactions quickly and effectively. DMI established regular virtual meetings with Environmental Health and Safety, Campus Security and Risk Manager groups; providing an opportunity for college staff to network and discuss pandemic management strategies. In addition, DMI took advantage of technology to produce DMI Topical Snapshots, brief high-impact educational presentations on timely topics, recorded and made readily available to college staff. In 2020, the DMI Board of Directors approved a pool of $800,000 for a COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund. Replacing the RMPA for 2020, the 16 technical colleges each received $50,000 from this initiative.

Going forward, DMI has set several strategic objectives:

  1. Continue to be the Risk Management thought leader for the Wisconsin Technical Colleges.
  2. Continue to address loss control, continuity of operations, and campus security in a proactive manner, aggressively manage claim expenses, and maintain price stability.
  3. Remain nimble to respond with urgency to emerging critical events.
  4. Provide a variety of risk mitigation educational/consultative and guidance opportunities.
  5. Continue to leverage the use of technology in providing virtual consultation and education to the member colleges.
  6. Create incentive opportunities encouraging the Colleges to recognize risk management efforts and develop innovative risk mitigation projects.
  7. Assume a national presence by sharing the risk management leadership lessons learned working with the Wisconsin Technical Colleges, with other 2-year higher education institutions located throughout the United States through the University Risk Management and Insurance Association.

As DMI looks ahead our goal is to continue our mission to be a collaborator in risk management with our Technical College partners. DMI will achieve this goal by providing superior insurance coverage, enhanced specialty coverage, and a growing portfolio of risk management resources.