Floods and fires on college campuses happen. And when they do, they can be costly to clean up for not only the school, but students involved. Water damage in a residence hall can quickly add up to thousands of dollars in replacement costs.
Georgia Southern University was experiencing their fair share of these major incidents a few years ago. Upon discovering that many students didn't have any sort of insurance protection for their belongings, the university in Statesboro, Georgia started looking for a solution.
Leaving insurance up to students to find on their own produces little results
Ryan Heins, Director for Business and Administration for Georgia Southern's University Housing, says the school didn't have a true renters insurance program in place prior to 2018. Student housing administrators would only really urge students to check with their current homeowners insurance, or get renters insurance on their own, he said.
"We were finding a lot of students just had not done that," Heins said. "We were having incidents where we had water events -- sprinkler bursts or fire issues, whatever that may be."
Students didn't have insurance on their own, and Heins and his colleagues knew they had to find a better solution that would entice them to get protection from the unexpected.
A solution that's integrated in the student housing application
Georgia Southern partnered with GradGuard in February 2021 to implement a renters protection program within the school's housing application. Heins says that knowing other schools in the area have had a lot of success with the program confirmed that was the route Georgia Southern also wanted to take.
In 2017, a student at Georgia College and State University unintentionally caused over $116,873 worth of damage to their residence hall after hanging clothes from their dorm's sprinkler heads. The sprinkler system went off, causing water to spread into multiple dorm rooms and throughout the whole building. Damage included personal property such as electronics, desks, bedding, couches, and appliances.
Fortunately, the student purchased a GradGuard renters insurance policy during the student leasing process, obtaining $100,000 of personal liability protection. As a result, Georgia College and its commercial insurance company, Travelers, were able to be paid the $100,000, reducing the loss to be $16,873.
Renters insurance is offered as an optional benefit to students in their housing application when they sign their housing contract. Within the application process, students apply and get assigned housing. Later on, they get their contract information.
With this process, students are prompted to opt-in or decline coverage with GradGuard. Both options require students to acknowledge their responsibility in the event of damage or theft. This is the financial literacy component that schools benefit from when partnered with GradGuard. Students are made aware of the risk of their property being stolen or damaged, and that Georgia Southern won't pay to replace it.
Heins said he had some students ask for more information about GradGuard after seeing the offer for the first time.
"Those students, I think, showed a lot of interest in trying to make sure they protected themselves within this area," he said.
Renters insurance benefits both students and schools
Integration with GradGuard requires little to no work by schools, including Georgia Southern, to market the program to students. All of the information is provided in the housing application, making it clear that renters insurance is an optional benefit for them to enroll in.
It's no secret that opportunity theft is a common occurrence on college campuses, and Georgia Southern is no different, Heins says. Renters insurance protects stolen student property such as backpacks, bikes, and laptops.
He says that occasionally, floods happen and those instances tend to be big and complicated.
"Whether it's an overflowing washing machine from upstairs, or whatever that may be, with so many suite and apartment-style options that we have, we just have so many plumbing fixtures in our facilities," Heins said. "Bathrooms, washers, dishwashers, sinks, everything all in these units. Those tend to be of our most common things."
Apart from plumbing incidents, Heins says a student sets something on fire from time to time, whether they're cooking or burning a candle, and those tend to turn into water events.
He recalls an incident from about 10 years ago where a student threw a candle into a plastic trash can. The candle wasn't extinguished, and the trash can caught fire, Heins said. $26,000 worth of damage later, the student didn't have any insurance.
Program launch drastically increases the number of students with insurance
Georgia Southern's housing contract specifically outlines that generally, they are not responsible for damaged student belongings in residence halls and on campus. The school takes some level of responsibility for certain situations. Heins shared an example of a time when a contractor was in a residence hall and stepped on a pipe in an attic that flooded a student's room, destroying their computer and other items. He says Georgia Southern and the contractor both have insurance for these types of instances.
More students live on campus each year, according to Heins. The number of students with GradGuard has drastically increased since the program was implemented. He believes that returning to in-person orientations and having more conversations with students and families about the importance of renters insurance will continue to drive participation in the program.
"That face-to-face conversation is very important, especially as students and parents are visiting campus," Heins said.
Recommendations for Other Campuses
In a world full of renters insurance providers, what makes GradGuard stand out? Heins says none compare to what GradGuard is doing. The embedded solution in GradGuard's housing portal is different than what any other companies are doing. It's a seamless, no-cost solution that requires no heavy lift from school administrators to market to students and families. Long over are the days of handing out soliciting pamphlets and brochures that most students ended up just throwing out.
"From a university standpoint, we actually had to stop putting [another provider's] information out from a solicitation perspective," Heins said. "The university was considering that solicitation from a private business, so we stopped that years ago."
While Georgia Southern was looking into GradGuard, one of the biggest draws was Georgia College and State University, who has been working with GradGuard since 2016. Heins says their experience and advocacy of GradGuard was extremely influential in their subsequent partnership.
Aside from seeing the benefits of the program at Georgia College and State University, Heins says the tech integration within their housing portal required only a minimal amount of work on their part.
"The ease of implementation was a definite benefit," he said. "Being able to put that out there for students and still say, 'You can go out and find this yourself, or we're providing it as a service for you."
Major incidents such as a flood, fire, or plumbing mishap happen from time to time on college campuses and they can be chaotic. Housing and residence life staff work quickly to determine how to keep students safe. Several other questions come to mind including: What is the damage like to student property? What about campus property? Who has insurance?
With a renters insurance program, student housing administrators are able to triage some of those conversations to find out who has insurance or not, and if they were at least aware it was an optional benefit.
Heins says he hopes more students will fill out their housing applications themselves, which are sometimes done by parents, so they will be able to be informed about GradGuard and how renters insurance can protect them and their belongings.