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Being Proactive for the Unexpected: Montana State University’s Experience With Renters Insurance

As temperatures drop in the winter in Bozeman, Montana, James Tobin and the student housing team prepare for the routine steam pipe cracks. Like clockwork, a handful of steam pipes in Montana State University residence hall rooms will break or crack each year. 

Of course, no one can predict exactly when and where it'll happen, but when it does, the cleanup process is simplified when the affected students have renters insurance. But it's not always that simple. 

"We would get calls in our office from people that would just ask about renters insurance," Tobin said. "We didn't really have a solution that worked."

Tobin says many residents would end up with damage to their property, whether from broken water lines or heaters, damage by other residents, or stolen property. 

And so the search began for a renters insurance program.

The Vetting Process

Like other resources and programs Montana State provides to students and families, Tobin and his staff wanted to ensure the renters insurance program they recommended to students was trustworthy. He explained that they wanted to pick a company that had the students' best interest and did not have high premiums with minimum coverage amounts. 

"We really wanted our students and families to have an opportunity to work with a vendor that we had vetted," Tobin said. 

Being a state public institution, MSU has to be careful of what they require of students and what they don't. They also didn't want to put students in a position where they were required to buy renters insurance. 

After much research, MSU officially partnered with GradGuard in August 2018. 

What it's Like to Work With GradGuard 

Billing students for the damage they cause to their dorm room, whether it's intentional or not, is stressful for administrators. It's something no one wants to do, but it's one of those things that has to happen when hundreds or thousands of dollars of damage occurs. 

That stress has been gone since working with GradGuard. 

"We're spending less time worrying about it and more time having those conversations with students," Tobin said. "More time building community and less time focused on billing, work orders, and facility damage."

GradGuard's Renters Insurance program is embedded in the workflow for students in the housing application at MSU and doesn't take much time for them to look at. Renters insurance isn't required for students to live on campus, but MSU still wants them to consider a policy's benefits and the risks without one. 

"It at least allows our families and students to stop and pause and ask the question themselves, 'What are we going to do if something does happen?'"

Being a state public institution, MSU has to be careful about what they require of students and what they don't. GradGuard's programs are opt-in and educate students on the benefits of being protected and the financial risks involved with declining coverage. 

MSU includes information about the program in prospective student materials, orientations, and the school website

Seeing the Benefits of the Program 

Insurance is a big part of the "real" world after college. But students often get their first experience with insurance in college with renters insurance. 

Whether students opt-in to GradGuard's Renters Insurance or not, Tobin believes insurance is a life lesson they should get familiar with. 

"It's relatively inexpensive when you look at the overall cost of college and when you look at living on campus," Tobin said. "It's pennies compared to the room and board you're going to pay or the tuition you're paying. It's a nice safeguard."

MSU is one of GradGuard's top renters insurance partners. Students on campus are familiar with the program, including one who describes his positive experience filing a claim when his bike was stolen.

When students decline coverage, they sign a consent form that acknowledges their acceptance of the risk that may happen if they were to have their property stolen or damaged or if they accidentally damage their residence hall.

Tobin explains that presenting the offer to students and parents shows that the school understands the potential financial burdens that can happen when student property is stolen, or residence halls are damaged. 

Since they promoted the renters insurance program and allowed students to take advantage of it, Tobin and his staff can feel less guilty when they have to charge a student for damage, following the school's student housing policy. 

"For us, it's really helped us in having something to back us up and support us in terms of billing charges," Tobin said. "It's all-inclusive when you talk about living on campus in the residence halls."

Being Proactive is Possible Even With the Unexpected 

Montana State University has partnered with GradGuard to offer renters insurance for more than four years. Tobin notes that he and his colleagues did a lot of the leg work upfront to ensure the program would be the right fit for their institution, and the payoff was well worth it. 

"For the amount of time that we put upfront, it sure has saved us time and will continue to save us into the future."

Pipes burst, sprinklers discharge, and fires happen. College is a time most students live on their own for the first time and dabble in the world of adulting. It's also the first time many get their own insurance plan, whether it's for their car, health, or residence hall.

Tobin describes the program as a value add to the institution. When students ask for a renters insurance recommendation, school officials can provide a vetted, trusted resource. 

"The relationship that we have with you all as a company is beyond anything that we have with many others," Tobin said. "When we have questions, when we have issues, I can pick up the phone, or I can send an email - we can get it resolved."

Students and families can make an informed choice when they know renters insurance is an option to protect their stuff and residence hall. Schools that work with GradGuard, including Montana State University, help to educate and protect their students on the financial risks of college life. 

See if your college or university is eligible for a Renters Protection Program with GradGuard here or by emailing us at