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Outlooks Revised On Certain U.S. Not-For-Profit Higher Education Institutions Due To COVID-19 Impact

CHICAGO (S&P Global Ratings) April 29, 2020--S&P Global Ratings revised the outlooks to negative from stable and affirmed its ratings on certain U.S. not-for-profit colleges and universities (including all related entities), due to the heightened risks associated with the financial toll caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and related recession (see tables 1 and 2). For the same reasons, S&P Global Ratings revised the outlooks to stable from positive and affirmed the ratings on certain other U.S. not-for-profit higher education institutions (see table 3).

The public and private colleges and universities affected by these actions include primarily those with lower ratings ('BBB' rating category and below), but also those entities that, in our opinion, have less holistic flexibility (from both a market position and financial standpoint) at their current rating level. Although liquidity, as measured by available resources compared to debt and operating expenses, was the primary metric assessed, an institution's overall credit profile, including draw, selectivity, matriculation rates, operating margins, and revenue diversity, was also considered. For public institutions, reliance on state operating appropriations and expectations around future funding levels was also an important part of our assessment.

A negative outlook reflects our view that there is at least a one-in-three chance that operating and economic conditions will worsen to a degree that affects the ability of the college or university to maintain credit characteristics in line with the current rating level.

We will review all ratings individually to assess the degree to which each is affected by COVID-19 and the related recession, and assess underlying financial performance. However, on a case-by-case basis, if credit metrics are upheld and economic activity resumes at a pace greater than currently expected, we could revise the negative outlook to stable on specific ratings during the outlook period.

All Rated Higher Education Institutions Face COVID-19-Related Credit Pressures

U.S. higher education providers are under pressure, and if on-campus classes can't be resumed in fall 2020, could be under greater pressure. While S&P Global Ratings' outlook on the U.S. not-for-profit higher education sector has been negative for three consecutive years now, we believe that the COVID-19 pandemic and related economic and financial impacts exacerbate pressures already facing colleges and universities. The financial impact on institutions from the loss of auxiliary revenue from housing and dining fees, and parking fees; as well as revenues from athletics, theater, and other events, is material for many. For schools with health care systems, lost revenue from cancelled elective surgical procedures could also be significant. The recently passed CARES Act will provide some budgetary relief to higher education institutions; however, despite this aid, we expect to see stressed operating budgets, the scope of which will ultimately be determined by the magnitude of lost revenues, the duration of the pandemic, fall 2020 mode of instruction, and ultimate enrollment figures.

Colleges and universities have reacted rapidly to the challenges presented by the pandemic. They have moved classes online to adhere to social-distancing rules, adjusted admission policies to accommodate disruptions to high school exams, and suspended academic conferences and travel. At the same time, many have implemented material expense cuts, including deferring capital expenditures, and imposing furloughs and layoffs, in some cases, with plans to continue to ramp up cost containment under various fall scenarios. Many colleges and universities have disclosed estimates of 2020 budget shortfalls, despite the inclusion of CARES stimulus funds. We expect that the colleges and universities we rate will face an unprecedented level of operating stress and tightened liquidity, which will worsen the longer and deeper the pandemic lasts. For fiscal 2020, and likely fiscal 2021, we believe margins will be further compressed and will be negative at some institutions, potentially weighing on their financial performance assessments. In our view, the credit pressures colleges and universities face will grow the longer campuses remain largely virtual or are governed by social-distancing rules.

Many of the colleges and universities that we rate have some headroom to absorb the impacts associated with COVID-19 at their current credit ratings, as they have built up reserves over recent years, hold solid balance sheets, and have relatively low debt levels. However, colleges and universities will face increased downward pressure on their current ratings depending on the extent to which economic disruptions associated with COVID-19 persist. If global travel restrictions are prolonged, or the imminent recession diminishes foreign students' financial means, then some could opt to study or work in their home countries instead. In our opinion, a fall 2020 with significantly fewer international students, as well as lower domestic enrollments overall, will cause serious operational pressures. At the same time, most U.S. colleges and universities depend on endowments and fundraising for a significant portion of revenues, and declining investment performance and endowment market values along with weaker fundraising results could negatively affect credit metrics during the outlook period. We assess a college or university's balance sheet strength using a measure of unrestricted financial resources, which excludes financial assets that aren't available for debt service because they are restricted for various reasons, and compare available resources (expendable resources for private institutions and adjusted unrestricted net assets for public institutions) to operating expenses and total debt outstanding. If these ratios fall significantly, we could lower our assessments of universities' financial resources and debt and contingent liabilities. We believe there will be greater pressure on those schools with limited revenue and expense flexibility, lack of liquidity or balance sheet cushion, and weaker fundraising capabilities.

As described in "An Already Historic U.S. Downturn Now Looks Even Worse," published April 16, 2020, the recession's trajectory is much deeper and faster than previously anticipated. S&P Global Economics now projects that U.S. GDP will contract by 5.3% in 2020. Although we expect the economy will begin to recover in the second half of 2020, we anticipate that the recovery will be gradual and will be constrained by some form of continued social distancing as fears persist over the continued spread of COVID-19.

Importantly, if COVID-19's effect on university revenues is transitory and offset by prudent management of expenditures and liquidity, these colleges and universities' financial profile assessments might not come under downward pressure. In addition, students who are partially through academic courses have a strong motivation to return once campuses reopen. This means revenues are deferred rather than lost forever. If, on the other hand, the duration of virtual teaching extends into 2021, we expect the financial damage will be more severe and the pressure on credit ratings will grow.

Outlook Revisions To Negative

The outlook revisions to negative on these college and university ratings reflect our belief that these issuers have less flexibility at their current rating level, and are more susceptible to financial stress that could result in lower ratings over the outlook period because they have limited financial cushion to absorb an economic crisis such as the one we are experiencing at their current rating level. In many cases, issuers with these characteristics also have more limited market positions compared with those of peers at their current rating level. The negative outlook on these ratings reflects intensifying pressure on the institutions' financial performance and liquidity, driven by lost revenue streams as well as the current and forecast economic conditions.

Several of our public and private college and university ratings have multiple bond securities, or have associated entities, with ratings that are directly linked to, and thus also affected by this outlook revision to the related institution.

Table 1

Private Universities With Outlooks Revised To Negative
Institution State Rating Revised outlook Previous outlook
Alvernia University Pennsylvania BB+ Negative Stable
Arcadia University Pennsylvania BBB Negative Stable
Ave Maria University Inc. Florida BBB- Negative Stable
Barry University Florida BBB Negative Stable
Barton College North Carolina BBB- Negative Stable
Cabrini University Pennsylvania BBB Negative Stable
Carlow University Pennsylvania BBB Negative Stable
Chaminade University of Honolulu Hawaii BB+ Negative Stable
Champlain College Vermont BBB Negative Stable
Chatham University Pennsylvania BBB- Negative Stable
Cleveland Institute of Art Ohio BB Negative Stable
College of Saint Elizabeth New Jersey BB Negative Stable
Eastern University Pennsylvania BB Negative Stable
Emerson College Massachusetts BBB+ Negative Stable
Fisher College Massachusetts BBB+ Negative Stable
Florida Institute of Technology Florida BBB- Negative Stable
Florida Southern College Florida A- Negative Stable
Georgian Court University New Jersey BBB- Negative Stable
Guilford College North Carolina BBB Negative Stable
Gwynedd-Mercy College Pennsylvania BBB Negative Stable
Harrisburg University of Science and Technology Pennsylvania BB Negative Stable
Hartwick College New York BB+ Negative Stable
Hendrix College Arkansas BBB Negative Stable
Hodges University, Inc Florida BB+ Negative Stable
Houston Baptist University Texas BBB- Negative Stable
Howard University District of Columbia BBB- Negative Stable
Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai New York A- Negative Stable
Kings College Pennsylvania BBB+ Negative Stable
La Salle University Pennsylvania BBB- Negative Stable
Lake Forest College Illinois BBB- Negative Stable
Lawrence Technological University Michigan BB+ Negative Stable
Lewis University Illinois BBB+ Negative Stable
Lindsey Wilson College Kentucky BBB- Negative Stable
Lipscomb University Tennessee BBB Negative Stable
Long Island University New Yok BBB+ Negative Stable
Manchester University Indiana A- Negative Stable
Marian University Indiana BBB Negative Stable
Marymount University Virginia BB+ Negative Stable
Marywood University Pennsylvania BB+ Negative Stable
Masters University California BB+ Negative Stable
Medaille College New York BB Negative Stable
Mercyhurst University Pennsylvania BB Negative Stable
Meredith College North Carolina BBB+ Negative Stable
Merrimack College Massachusetts BBB- Negative Stable
Methodist University North Carolina BB+ Negative Stable
Moravian College Pennsylvania BBB+ Negative Stable
Mount St. Mary's University Maryland BB+ Negative Stable
Neumann University Pennsylvania BBB Negative Stable
New York Law School New York BBB- Negative Stable
Notre Dame of Maryland University Maryland BBB- Negative Stable
Oklahoma City University Oklahoma BBB- Negative Stable
Pace University New York BBB- Negative Stable
Pacific Lutheran University Washington BB+ Negative Stable
Pacific University Oregon BBB Negative Stable
Polytechnical University of Puerto Rico Puerto Rico BBB- Negative Stable
Providence College Rhode Island A Negative Stable
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute New York BBB+ Negative Stable
Rider University New Jersey BBB- Negative Stable
Ringling College of Art and Design Florida BBB+ Negative Stable
Roseman University Nevada BB Negative Stable
Saint Francis University Pennsylvania BBB Negative Stable
Saint Leo University Florida BBB- Negative Stable
Sarah Lawrence College New York BBB Negative Stable
Sistema Universitario Ana G Mendez Puerto Rico BB+ Negative Stable
Southwest Baptist University Missouri BBB- Negative Stable
Springfield College Massachusetts BBB Negative Stable
St. Edward's University Texas BBB Negative Stable
St. Michael's College Vermont BBB Negative Stable
The New School New York A- Negative Stable
Tiffin University Ohio BBB- Negative Stable
University of Findlay Ohio BBB- Negative Stable
University of Hartford Connecticut BBB- Negative Stable
University of Indianapolis Indiana BBB+ Negative Stable
University of Miami Florida A- Negative Stable
University of New Haven Connecticut BBB Negative Stable
University of the Sacred Heart Puerto Rico BB Negative Stable
Ursinus College Pennsylvania BBB Negative Stable
Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology New York BB- Negative Stable
Western New England University Massachusetts BBB Negative Stable
Westminster College Utah BBB Negative Stable
Wilkes University Pennsylvania BBB Negative Stable
Wingate University North Carolina BBB Negative Stable
Wofford College South Carolina A- Negative Stable
Yeshiva University New York BBB- Negative Stable

For public institutions, while almost all major revenue sources described above are under pressure, we also expect that most states will make cuts to higher education funding. While public colleges and universities have benefited from annual increases in state operating appropriations for several years now, funding for higher education still remains below pre-recession levels in certain states, and some schools are still coping with the lingering effects of funding cuts on their finances. While the impact from the pandemic and the current recession will vary greatly by state, for some schools, it could mean significant reductions in state funding. Even though the majority of public universities rely on net tuition revenue for a greater percentage of their overall budget than state funds, these state appropriations still make up a considerable portion of schools' operating budgets, and strain on these resources can have major negative impacts. Many states are facing a structural gap in fiscal 2020, and while a few have already withheld funds from higher education institutions for the remainder of the fiscal year (including New Jersey and Missouri), we believe the risk of state funding cuts and delays is much greater in fiscal 2021. While decreases in state operating appropriations will range in magnitude, we will continue to monitor state revenue projections and budgets, and any possible adjustments to state funding levels, on a state-by-state basis. As more details become available on state budgets, we could take further action on other public institutions that are not part of this outlook revision.

Table 2

Public Universities With Outlooks Revised To Negative
Institution State Rating Revised outlook Previous outlook
Cleveland State University Ohio A+ Negative Stable
College of New Jersey New Jersey A Negative Stable
Delaware State University Delaware BBB Negative Stable
Eastern Kentucky University Kentucky A- Negative Stable
Emporia State University Kansas A- Negative Stable
Fayetteville State University North Carolina BBB+ Negative Stable
Indiana University of Pennsylvania Pennsylvania A- Negative Stable
Jacksonville State University Alabama A- Negative Stable
Kansas State University Kansas A+ Negative Stable
Kean University New Jersey A- Negative Stable
Lake Superior State University Michigan BBB+ Negative Stable
Mayville State University North Dakota BBB+ Negative Stable
Missouri State University Missouri A+ Negative Stable
Missouri Western State University Missouri BBB+ Negative Stable
Nebraska State College Nebraska A Negative Stable
New Jersey Institute of Technology New Jersey A Negative Stable
Northern Arizona University Arizona A+ Negative Stable
Northern Kentucky University Kentucky A Negative Stable
Ramapo College New Jersey A Negative Stable
Rowan University New Jersey A Negative Stable
Rutgers University New Jersey A+ Negative Stable
University of Kansas Kansas AA- Negative Stable
University of Massachusetts System Massachusetts AA- Negative Stable
University of Montevallo Alabama A- Negative Stable
University of North Carolina At Pembroke North Carolina A- Negative Stable
University of North Florida Florida A Negative Stable
University of Northern Colorado Colorado A- Negative Stable
University of Oregon Oregon AA- Negative Stable
University of South Alabama Alabama A+ Negative Stable
University of Toledo Ohio A Negative Stable
Vermont State College Vermont A- Negative Stable
Western Kentucky University Kentucky A- Negative Stable
Winston-Salem State University North Carolina BBB+ Negative Stable

Outlook Revisions To Stable

As of Dec. 31, 2019, only 3.2% of our rated colleges and universities carried positive outlooks--with this action, all have been revised to stable (see table 3). The outlook revisions to stable from positive reflect our view that previous upward momentum will likely be stunted by the broad financial challenges facing these colleges and universities due to the pandemic and recession. While we no longer think a higher rating is likely during the outlook period, we still consider these organizations' ratings stable at this time.

Table 3

Outlooks Revised To Stable From Positive
State Rating Revised outlook Previous outlook
Private institutions
Babson College Massachusetts A Stable Positive
Belmont University Tennessee A Stable Positive
Hiram College Ohio BB Stable Positive
Molloy College New York BBB Stable Positive
Nazareth College of Rochester New York BBB+ Stable Positive
Sweet Briar College Virginia BB- Stable Positive
Widener University Pennsylvania BBB Stable Positive
Public institutions
Temple University Pennsylvania A+ Stable Positive
University of Alabama Birmingham Alabama AA Stable Positive
Valley City State University North Dakota BBB+ Stable Positive

Issuer-Specific Reviews Will Be Conducted

These outlook revisions reflect our view that the risks posed by COVID-19 to public health and safety, which we view as a social risk under our environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors, could continue to pressure individual college and university enterprise and financial profiles over the near term. In our opinion, the uncertainty about the timing and duration of social-distancing directives across the country to protect the health and safety of individuals from the community spread of COVID-19 adds unprecedented lack of clarity to enrollment levels for fall 2020 as well as mode of instruction, both of which will affect tuition revenues.

We intend to review all ratings individually to assess underlying financial performance as well as the degree to which each is affected by COVID-19-related events, including the recession. This will include a case-by-case analysis of management's efforts to offset revenue declines, and in certain cases where applicable, the ability to bridge cash flow imbalances caused by the pandemic and recession.

A negative outlook is not necessarily a precursor to a rating change, so we believe it is possible that we could revise some outlooks to stable from negative as we assess risk mitigation; however, we could also lower ratings during the outlook period.

As of today, S&P Global Ratings had 436 public ratings on U.S. private (287) and public (149) colleges and universities, which are secured by a general obligation or the equivalent. Our U.S. higher education ratings range from 'AAA' to 'CC', with approximately 41% of our ratings in the 'A' category, and 31% rated 'BBB+' or below. Approximately 8% of our rated universe is in the speculative-grade category. Both the lower investment-grade ('BBB') rating category and non-investment grade categories ('BB+' and below) have grown over the past few years, as more regional institutions have been increasingly challenged by enrollment and operating pressures.

As of Dec. 31, 2019, only 9.2% of our rated higher education institutions carried negative outlooks. Year to date and inclusive of these outlook revisions today, that percentage has risen to 38%.

Certain Not-For-Profit Higher Education Institutions Excluded From These Outlook Revisions

We have excluded from this rating action 50 not-for-profit colleges and universities that already carry a negative outlook prior to this event-driven outlook revision (see table 4).

Table 4

Ratings With Negative Outlooks Before Outlook Revision
State Rating Outlook
Private institutions
Agnes Scott College Georgia A Negative
Assumption College Massachusetts A- Negative
Benedictine University Illinois BBB Negative
Bethany College West Virginia B- Negative
Bethel University Minnesota BBB- Negative
Drake University Iowa A- Negative
Earlham College Indiana A Negative
Goucher College Maryland A- Negative
Hawaii Pacific University Hawaii BB Negative
Johnson & Wales University Rhode Island A- Negative
Judson College Alabama BB Negative
Juniata College Pennsylvania BBB+ Negative
Lasell College Massachusetts BB+ Negative
Loyola University of New Orleans Lousisiana BBB Negative
Lubbock Christian University Texas BBB Negative
Messiah College Pennsylvania A- Negative
Mount Aloysius College Pennsylvania A- Negative
Mount St. Mary's University California A Negative
Northwestern University Illinois AAA Negative
Oberlin College Ohio AA Negative
Regent University Virginia BB+ Negative
Saint Louis University Missouri AA- Negative
Simmons University Massachusetts BBB+ Negative
St. Louis College of Pharmacy Missouri BBB Negative
Thomas M Cooley Law School Michigan BB Negative
University of St. Thomas Texas BBB+ Negative
University of Tampa Florida A- Negative
Wayland Baptist University Texas A- Negative
Public institutions
Colorado School of Mines Colorado A+ Negative
Eastern Illinois University Illinois BB- Negative
Governors State University Illinois BB+ Negative
Illinois State University Illinois A- Negative
Longwood University Virginia BBB+ Negative
Metropolitan State University of Denver Colorado A Negative
Michigan State University Michigan AA Negative
Missouri Southern State University Missouri BBB Negative
New Mexico Institute of Mining & Technology New Mexico A+ Negative
Nicholls State University Lousisiana BBB+ Negative
Northeastern Illinois University Illinois BB Negative
Southeast Missouri State University Missouri A Negative
Southern Illinois University Illinois BB+ Negative
University of Central Missouri Missouri A+ Negative
University of Illinois Illinois A- Negative
University of Louisiana at Lafayette Lousisiana A- Negative
University of Missouri Missouri AA+ Negative
University of North Alabama Alabama A Negative
University of Oklahoma Oklahoma A+ Negative
University of Puerto Rico Puerto Rico CC Negative
Western Illinois University Illinois BB Negative
University of Alaska Alaska A+ Negative

During the next few months, as we have more visibility on the mode of instruction for fall, and what enrollments look like, we will continue to evaluate the remainder of our portfolio and may take further actions on specific issuers or groups of issuers as more details become available.

Certain terms used in this report, particularly certain adjectives used to express our view on rating relevant factors, have specific meanings ascribed to them in our criteria, and should therefore be read in conjunction with such criteria. Please see Ratings Criteria at for further information. Complete ratings information is available to subscribers of RatingsDirect at All ratings affected by this rating action can be found on S&P Global Ratings' public website at Use the Ratings search box located in the left column.

Primary Credit Analysts:Jessica L Wood, Chicago (1) 312-233-7004;
Laura A Kuffler-Macdonald, New York (1) 212-438-2519;
Secondary Contacts:Jessica H Goldman, New York (1) 212-438-6484;
Ying Huang, San Francisco (1) 415-371-5008;
Ken W Rodgers, New York (1) 212-438-2087;
Mary Ellen E Wriedt, San Francisco (1) 415-371-5027;

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