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Moody’s downgrades six universities

Tuesday, Oct 27, 2015

* Elizabeth Campbell at Bloomberg

Six Illinois public universities had their credit ratings on about $673 million of debt cut by Moody’s Investors Service because of a political standoff that’s left the state without a budget for four months.

The credit-rating company lowered Western Illinois, Eastern Illinois and Governors State by two steps to Baa3, one level above speculative grade, while Northeastern Illinois was dropped one rank to Baa2. Moody’s cut Northern and Southern Illinois one grade to Baa1, three levels above speculative grade. All have negative outlooks, signaling that they could be lowered again.

“Given expected state funding cuts and the lack of appropriations thus far through fiscal 2016, the university’s reliance on the state will place a strain on operations and liquidity,” Moody’s said in an e-mailed report on Northeastern University.

The slew of downgrades comes less than a week after Moody’s lowered Illinois to Baa1 on Oct. 22 as the budget impasse showed few signs of nearing a resolution. Republican Governor Bruce Rauner and the Democrat-led legislature have failed to pass a spending plan for the year that started July 1, squeezing the finances of universities that rely on state funds.

U of I and ISU avoided downgrades.



The downgrade reflects NEIU’s significant exposure to the State of Illinois (Baa1 negative), which contributes a large portion of its operating revenue. Given expected state funding cuts and the lack of appropriations thus far through fiscal 2016, the university’s reliance on the state will place a strain on operations and liquidity. Additional challenges include declining enrollment leading to moderation of historically strong operating performance.

Credit strengths include the university’s solid liquidity position, its status as a designated Hispanic-Serving Institution, and strong debt service coverage.


The negative outlook reflects expectations that future state budget pressure or additional material declines to enrollment could lead to further deterioration of the university’s finances and liquidity.



The downgrade reflects GSU’s significant exposure to the State of Illinois (Baa1 negative), which contribtes a large portion of its operating revenue. Given expected state funding cuts and the lack of appropriations thus far through fiscal 2016, the university’s exposure to the state will place a strain on operations and liquidity. Additionally, the downgrade incorporates the risks and opportunities associated with GSU’s shift to becoming a four-year university.

While net tuition revenue will likely grow along with increasing enrollment, resource growth at the university will slow as operations narrow due to a sizable uptick in expenses related to the expansion. This is important because GSU has a particularly thin liquid resource base, meaning that the incremental pressure from continued budget delays has a sharper negative impact on GSU than some of its peers.


The negative outlook reflects expectations that future state budget pressure could lead to additional deterioration of finances and liquidity. It also reflects risks associated with the change in GSU’s operating model within an area with declining numbers of high school students.



The downgrade reflects WIU’s significant exposure to the State of Illinois (Baa1 negative), which contributes a large portion of its operating revenue. Given expected state funding cuts and the lack of appropriations thus far through fiscal 2016, the university’s exposure to the state will place a strain on operations and liquidity. Relative to other regional public universities in the state, WIU has a particularly thin liquid resource base, meaning that the incremental pressure from continued budget delays has a sharper negative impact on WIU than some of its peers. Further, declining enrollment will continue to pressure net tuition revenue,

The Baa3 rating favorable incorporates the university’s established market niche as the provider of a nationally prominent program for criminal justice education and moderate leverage.


The negative outlook reflects expectations that future state budget pressure or additional material declines to enrollment could lead to further deterioration of the university’s finances and liquidity.



The downgrade to Baa1 is based on SIU’s modest liquidity position and elevated 43% reliance on state appropriations (including on-behalf payments), making it vulnerable to the State of Illinois’ (Baa1 negative) weakening financial position and ongoing fiscal pressures. While SIU’s liquidity position is modest, it has sufficient cash flow to manage through the state’s payment delays near-term and a large expense base from which it could cut over a prolonged period.

The rating favorably reflects SIU’s sizeable scope of operations and financial reserves, as well as its significant role in the state as a large public university with diverse academic offerings. While management has demonstrated the ability to navigate through a challenging state funding environment, the university’s fundamental credit strengths are dominated by a heavy reliance on state support and highly competitive student market which jointly have pressured operations and revenue growth in recent years.


The negative outlook reflects continued pressure on state appropriations and net tuition revenue growth that will continue to challenge operations and limit growth in liquidity.



The downgrade of NIU to Baa1 reflects its high reliance on the State of Illinois (Baa1 negative) for operating funding, with the state’s budget impasse and longer term budgetary pressures signally increased likelihood of ongoing material reductions in state support. NIU’s modest liquidity cushion allows it to manage the state’s near-term payment delays due to the budget impasse but liquidity pressures will build if the state budget impasse continues into 2016. NIU’s narrow cash flow will continue for the next few years due to enrollment declines in the face of a competitive student market, as well as its high leverage and thin financial resource coverage.

The rating favorably reflects NIU’s operating scale and adequate financial resources, and its market role as one of Illinois’ largest regional public universities with diverse academic offerings. NIU’s new leadership team is launching financial and strategic initiatives to review its program offerings and its expense infrastructure.

OUTLOOK: The negative outlook reflects continued pressure on state appropriations and net tuition revenue growth that will continue to challenge operating performance and cash flow.

* U of I


- Further deterioration of the state’s credit quality

- Substantial decline in directly paid state operating support or benefits provided through “on behalf” payments

- Sustained weakening of operating performance or liquidity, which are currently the key mitigants to expected long-term state funding pressures



The negative outlook reflects the expectation of continued pressure on the level and timely payment of state appropriations. While ISU has flexibility to reduce expenses, it has relatively limited ability to significantly grow revenue from other sources.


- Greater revenue diversification combined with stronger operating cash flow, demonstrating the ability to withstand reduced reliance on state support

- Sustained growth of liquid reserves

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 10:23 am:

    I guess Gov. Rauner is trying to get his 13 credit downgrades all within a year… That’s pretty ambitious.

  2. - Allen D - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 10:27 am:

    or maybe it is the GA trying to get them…. Hrmmm

  3. - Ducky LaMoore - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 10:29 am:

    Wow. 9 downgrades in a single blog post. Has he surpassed Quinn yet? No. Oh well, there’s always tomorrow….

  4. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 10:31 am:

    - Allen D -

    Bruce Rauner owns the downgrades. How do I know? Candidate Bruce Rauner told me governors own downgrades.

    So… there’s that.

  5. - time for a change - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 10:33 am:

    Maybe we should have had that Constitutional Convention a few years ago?

  6. - Langhorne - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 10:35 am:

    Walker cut his universities 20%, so rauner is going for 30%. No rhyme, reason, or rationale, other than “too much admin”, bec we say so.

    “They want to cut scholarships for kids”. The big lie. Taking hostages, and playing the victim.

  7. - Ducky LaMoore - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 10:36 am:

    ===Maybe we should have had that Constitutional Convention a few years ago?===

    Now that is something we can all blame Mike Madigan for. No snark.

  8. - Honeybear - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 10:37 am:

    I know a lot of folks, academics and staff, in Illinois’ public university system. I just spent time with union sisters from NEIU. What amazing advocates for education and social justice. It just deeply pains me to know that they are broadside on to the wave about to hit them. I know as a public servant it will be my turn soon enough. But I hate seeing it come at those I care about. Higher education is something we should value. Social services and public servants are things and people we should value. What makes me want to scream is seeing what the majority of Illinoisans value being truly threatened and in some cases actually destroyed. These social service jobs and services won’t come back here in Southern Illinois. We are breaking. Much is already broken. Yet the terrible consequences of apathy, ignorance, and perfidy keep coming. Elections have consequences.

  9. - Langhorne - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 10:43 am:

    “I dont work for the credit rating agencies.”

    “Its worth it.”

    He may as well say flat out, that all ills of society and the economy are caused by unions, esp public unions, and their corrupt bargain w politicians. Oh wait, he already said that.

  10. - Same as it ever was - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 10:45 am:

    U of I is not getting downgraded any time soon with the size of their endowment. Good planning on their part.

  11. - burbanite - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 10:47 am:

    A privately run IDOC facility.

  12. - Team Sleep - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 10:47 am:

    Amen on the Con-Con.

    Hmm…I seem to remember a former governor whose names rhymes with “Whim Headgear” openly campaigning against such an event.

    Will anything POSITIVE ever come out of the Senate Dems report about waste/fraud/abuse at state-chartered and state-sponsored schools?

  13. - 360 Degree TurnAround - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 10:50 am:

    I always wondered how business people ran businesses. I’m glad Rauner is allowing us to peak behind the veil of how things are successfully done.

    Can we get a count from ck on the number of communities that passed the turnaround agenda vs. the number of downgrades Illinois has received under Rauner?

  14. - DuPage - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 10:52 am:

    Cutbacks at the state universities have serious consequences for the students and their parents. If fewer sections of a required class are offered, the class fills right away, and many students are not able to get in. Many times these classes are sequential, and are not offered until the following year. This ends up causing it to take 5 years for the student to finish what should have been done in 4 years. This costs extra for the student, and many times they end up with larger student loans to pay back. Also, this situation delays the student from earning income for another year.

  15. - Frenchie Mendoza - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 10:56 am:

    We’re winning!

  16. - Aldyth - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 10:58 am:

    Thanks, Governor Rauner.

  17. - @MisterJayEm - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 10:58 am:

    While we’re arguing about the degree to which we should hold Bruce Rauner responsible for the state’s budget and credit downgrades, let’s all enjoy this blast from the past:

    Rauner called Illinois one of the most anti-business states in America. He said a 40 percent cut in the income tax would stimulate creation of new jobs and new taxpayers.

    Quinn said such a tax cut would force the layoff of tens of thousands of teachers.

    “You wouldn’t pass muster with any credit rating agency because it is totally lacking. We have been honest with our budget. And that’s the only way to go,” Gov. Quinn said.

    “Our credit rating’s been cut 13 times under your leadership. You have never had a balanced budget in your entire career,” Rauner responded.

    – Mike Flannery, FOX 32 News Political Editor, Sep 09, 2014

    – MrJM

  18. - AnonymousOne - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 11:01 am:

    Who benefits from downgrades?

  19. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 11:05 am:

    Nice grab - @MisterJayEm -

    Well done.

  20. - Gruntled University Employee - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 11:11 am:

    Where is the Summary Rating Rationale for EIU?

  21. - Ducky LaMoore - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 11:18 am:

    ===Who benefits from downgrades?===

    Bond buyers.

  22. - AnonymousOne - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 11:22 am:

    Thank you Ducky. And we all know who they are. So this crisis, affecting lower socioeconomic citizens is a boon……a golden opportunity… to certain friends and business associates.

  23. - D.P.Gumby - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 11:32 am:

    Hey, Trump and Fiorino supporters…this is what you get when you put an inexperienced CEO in as the leader of government!!

  24. - RNUG - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 11:44 am:

    == Hey, Trump and Fiorino supporters…this is what you get when you put an inexperienced CEO in as the leader of government!! ==

    Actually, this is what you get with a vulture capitalist raider in charge.

    A real hands-on manager would have streamlined / optimized the State operations, done ROI studies on every agency compared to their mandated activities, and then made a case to the public for any changes / cuts / revenue enhancements. Maybe Rauner is doing that but I’m not seeing it in at least 2 of the 3 actions.

  25. - Neveranonymous - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 11:46 am:

    Langhorne, I thought that “it’s worth it” was a stunning admission, too. It acknowledges that the logjam is something Rauner is proud of creating and that the suffering of those losing childcare and protection against domestic violence, state universities, and the city are all casualties gor which Rauner hoped when he decided to push anti-worker policies.

  26. - Ray del Camino - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 11:51 am:

    Those universities may never recover from their hostage status, while talented students and potential faculty will go to neighboring states. Then just think what Rauner’s callous posturing is doing to the economies of these smaller university towns, which depend on spending from students, faculty, staff. Those are real businesses, with payrolls and overhead and kids to put through school Shameful.

  27. - nixit71 - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 11:56 am:

    Northwestern has a nearly $10B endowment. Last week, the Pritzkers donated $100M to them. Yet that huge donation represents only 1% of the total endowment fund.

    I find it interesting how the very wealthy continue to make large donations to universities that already have large endowments when their donations would do so much more good and provide a bigger impact to smaller schools with limited funding options.

  28. - anon - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 11:57 am:

    These universities were pummeled by Blago and Quinn. Don’t let those facts get in the way of your narrative.

  29. - Wordslinger - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 11:59 am:

    There will be more to come. The rating agencies are working their way through any debt obligations that have any ties to the state.

  30. - Because I said so... - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 11:59 am:

    It seems pretty clear to me that Rauner wants at least a few of the public universities to close. He doesn’t care about the at need students and his wealthy friends will still be able to give their kids a nice, expensive private school college education. This is beyond ridiculous.

  31. - anon - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 12:00 pm:

    Who was watching the EIU henhouse when they lost 23% of their student body between 2010-2014? Wouldn’t they love that 18-20 mil every year.

  32. - RNUG - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 12:04 pm:

    Viewed through the lens of a corporate raider intent on extracting value from (perceived) under-performing assets, it all makes sense. You are reducing the value of the business and making it easier to sell off the valuable pieces or to raid the business reserves (endowments).

  33. - Precinct Captain - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 12:09 pm:

    ==- Same as it ever was - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 10:45 am:==

    Obviously you have not learned between yesterday and today what an endowment is for.

  34. - cimry90 - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 12:10 pm:

    My daughter is a HS Jr. We have focused our college search outside of IL. We have found out of state costs are close to what IL colleges cost and out of state college are providing more in the way of scholarships. She would qualify for a $10,000 at a OOS college but only 2500 at ISU with her ACT of 34. .

  35. - Honeybear - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 12:18 pm:

    Excellent point Nixit71. Ah the wealthy picking winners and losers again.Big money is so much more effective with struggling schools.

  36. - anon - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 12:29 pm:

    cimry90——–what universities in other states are close in cost to IL state universities?

  37. - Norseman - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 12:58 pm:

    In unison, thank you sir may we have another.

  38. - AnonymousOne - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 1:04 pm:


    We came to the same conclusion as cimry90. The cost of Iowa, Indiana, Minnesota–3 Big Ten and Missouri are very close to the cost of Illinois with the rub being that Illinois does not offer academic scholarships. Of course, if there is no merit scholarship, it is higher than instate Illinois. But for excellent, accomplished students, why not go somewhere that tips their hat to your hard work? When you subtract the merit scholarship offered at those out of state schools, you are very close to Illinois but even better——housing is substantially less than Illinois. So it could be less to go out of state. It was for us. Depending on the school, years ago, ASU offered a merit scholarship that would have reduced our out of state tuition to something like 4K/year. Illinois is not interested in acknowledging it’s hard working, excellent home grown students. It’s a miracle that Illinois still has the reputation is has but it may not last too much longer. Most of our childrens’ friends went out of state to high quality universities–many Big Ten–all with merit scholarships.

  39. - Jockey - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 1:04 pm:

    I don’t feel bad for these universities. They have been driving up the costs of education on students, via student loans, over the last decade. Many of these students have gotten a diminished education and a i marketable degree. Also, these uni’s misspent money on spent on building lavish Recreation
    Centers, (LSU comes to mind). Now they are looking to the
    State for a bailout. $1 trillion student loan bubble is the next to go off.

  40. - nixit71 - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 1:36 pm:

    To expand on @AnonymousOne’s situation, here are UofI’s enrollment numbers, showing the % of non-IL-resident as related to the total student population:

    2015 = 38%
    2005 = 23%
    1995 = 21%
    1985 = 15%

    Not only has UofI’s total enrollment grown consistently over the decades, but it has consistently attracted an ever increasing # of non-residents, all paying 2x more in tuition.

    In essence, one of our most prestigious taxpayer-funded state universities has increasingly chosen to outsource their student body. Is it that our lower education schools, supported by the 2nd highest property taxes in the nation, aren’t producing enough wonder kids for UofI? Or maybe we’re just too cheap.

  41. - illini - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 1:50 pm:

    nixit71@1:36 - another interesting fact about my Alma Mater is that they did have the largest increase ( 9% ) over previous freshman classes to 7565, with a larger percentage of Illinois residents and African American students. What I found particularly interesting is that this class has 1100 International Students and that over 70% of them are from China.

  42. - AnonymousOne - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 1:51 pm:

    You have misunderstood. My wonderkid wasn’t offered any special deal at Illinois. This wonderkids credentials were valued elsewhere, and they were willing to reduce his tuition to attract him. Our state needs people to pay maximum amounts to come here because our state speaks out of both sides of it’s mouth (oh yes, education is so so important but we don’t expect to pay for it) hence the out of state tuitioners. Knowing one who came to Illinois from AZ, my wonderkids credentials make her look like a preschooler. But she came with a big checkbook.

    Illinois is turning AWAY it’s brightest students by snubbing them and allowing out of state, less credentialed kids in, taking their money happily.

    We didn’t like that game, even as alums.

  43. - AnonymousOne - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 1:54 pm:


    Did you also know that Illinois sends orientation staff to China to conduct registration and orientation in Chinese, accommodating these students, making the adjustment easier. Do you know there are interpreters for some foreign speakers? Do you see why additional tuition fees are so important? Somehow those accommodations have to be paid for. This was in the Tribune some time within the last year.

  44. - illini - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 2:02 pm:

    AnonymousOne - was not fully aware of that fact. I seldom go to the Tribune site unless referenced on this site ( they do not cover much Southern Illinois news or politics ). I got my info from an
    AP story in September.

  45. - anon - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 2:10 pm:

    AnonOne—-what school was your wonderkid interested in at UIUC?

  46. - skeptical - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 2:19 pm:

    UIUC - engineering, computer science, business - the students are being recruited by hedge funds, international accounting firms, Google, Apple - you get the picture. There are very few schools in the country that enjoy that reputation. In the Big Ten, only Northwestern, Michigan, and Wisconsin have comparable standing. Missouri not so much. Schools with lower academic standing need to offer financial incentives to attract top talent - just look at what WIU and EIU offer - and their enrollments still decline.

  47. - Amalia - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 2:23 pm:

    who has the salary and perks list for the leaders of these public universities? and while we’re at it, the community colleges of Illinois as well? just because it is an educational institution does not mean leadership should find an open cookie jar. for themselves. enough.

  48. - nixit71 - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 2:28 pm:

    ==who has the salary and perks list for the leaders of these public universities?==

    Salaries here:

  49. - burbanite - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 2:33 pm:

    Illinois does (or at least did) offer academic scholarships, my wonder kid was offered academic scholarships by two Illinois State Universities (not a dime was offered by ISU though).

  50. - illini - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 2:41 pm:

    To some of the other points raised on this thread — of my 6 nieces and one nephew all but 2 went public or private out of state. My nephew ( a 4th generation student ) will graduate from the UofI next spring and his sister is currently at ISU.

    All of them had exceptional qualifications from High School and ranked in the top 10% ( maybe top 5% ) nationally on the standardized tests, but could not get merit scholarships from the UofI. My nephew will do well given 3 internships he has had opportunities to work at. Granted, it is taking him longer to graduate, but this was the ONLY university he would even consider - yeah, his Dad ( also an Alumni ) and I might have had a little to do with that. Had he looked elsewhere he could have easily qualified for probably some serious merit based financial aid.

    All other nieces have done exceptionally well by going out of state and at significantly less cost than had they stayed in Illinois.

    With the state of public post-secondary education in Illinois today, I have to wonder if we are sending our “best and brightest” out of state with them never returning.

    Honeybear - thanks for some great comments and insights.

  51. - Jockey - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 2:42 pm:

    With regards to salary, how much of that tution money is being paid to research professors, while your wonder kids are being taught by a TA?

  52. - Cannon649 - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 2:43 pm:

    State of Education in general is difficult and getting worse as the unpaid student debt rises and the default rate on those loans increase.

    Compound that fact with a state who is owes billions and has leaders who can not agree to even begin to fix the problem. This is not positive for any borrower.

    Add in schools who have raised the price excessively compared to the state economy.

    It is a wonder that some of these rating are the current level.

    The is a major disconnect in that you cannot have a insolvent state for decades and not have it effect everything that government touches.

    The ‘kick the can’ approach we seen for all these years is catching up.

  53. - Blue dog dem - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 2:44 pm:

    If the Raun Man cuts the LGDF rate, hundreds, if not thousands of entities will also undergo this downgrade. Herein will be the end to the impasse. This will negatively impact even the most die hard Raun Man supporters.

  54. - nixit71 - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 3:24 pm:

    @bdd - Good point, but I find it odd how the state treats LGDF in general. When the state upped the income tax rate from 3% to 5% in 2011, they simultaneously dropped the LGDF rate from 10% to 6%. So the local municipalities derived zero benefit from the tax hike and the state pocketed all that extra revenue. Even now, it’s “up” to 8% but it’s basically the same ratio of funding at the 3% and 5% rates.

    It’s pretty scary to think my already extremely high property taxes have to be subsidized by state funds. It always comes back to overall tax burden.

  55. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 3:25 pm:

    ===my already extremely high property taxes have to be subsidized by state funds===

    They were given the revenue when a different stream was taken away.

  56. - Dr X - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 6:12 pm:

    So, they will downsize and still function. Rauner will run around the state declaring that colleges were too fat and the cuts made no difference. No one will ask what “function” really means.

  57. - Truthines - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 7:02 pm:

    We can’t just legalize, tax, and regulate drugs (at least marijuana) for personal consumption?

    We can’t just try?

  58. - RNUG - Tuesday, Oct 27, 15 @ 7:22 pm:

    == We can’t just legalize, tax, and regulate drugs (at least marijuana) for personal consumption?

    We can’t just try? ==

    We can, but only after Rauner makes sure no unions exist in Illinois to run the program or tax collection.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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