Standard & Poor’s downgrades RPI’s credit rating to BBB+

On January 5, 2017, Standard and Poor’s downgraded Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s long-term and underlying debt ratings. S&P, one of the “Big Three” credit rating agencies, discloses credit ratings for the debt of public and private entities. The highest credit rating on the S&P scale is defined as “AAA,” while “CCC” is considered vulnerable to non-repayment.

The last time S&P revised RPI’s credit rating was in 2014 when the Institute’s fiscal outlook was revised to negative, but remained stable at an “A-.” The most recent revision downgraded RPI’s credit rating to “BBB+.” According to S&P, the rating category “exhibits adequate protection parameters,” but “adverse economic conditions or changing circumstances are more likely to lead to a weakened capacity” for RPI to meet its financial commitments to debt issuers. As of May 27, 2017, S&P considers RPI’s fiscal outlook to be stable.

According to financial documents obtained by The Poly, RPI’s long-term debt was $742.37 million as of June 30, 2016, a decrease of roughly one percent from $749.43 million in 2015. In that same time frame, RPI’s total liabilities grew by roughly 1.4 percent from $1.048 billion to $1.062 billion. Net assets, concurrently, fell to their lowest point in the past five years to $373.4 million from $443.7 million the prior year, a decrease of 15.8 percent. Net assets and the endowment were negatively impacted by a decline in interest rates and flat investment performance, which led to a negative return on the endowment.

The strain on the Institute’s finances is also partially due to RPI’s minimum pension liability, which rose from $118 million to $154 million, an increase of 30.5 percent. The total value of the defined pension plan liability was $329 million in 2015, rising by 13.4 percent to $373 million in 2016.

Regardless of Rensselaer’s current financial status, the Institute is currently far from unable to pay off its debt obligations. Increased enrollment and the upcoming implementation of the Summer Arch program will likely have a long-term and significant impact on the Institute’s finances. It is currently unclear if enrollment figures will be impacted by the addition of the Excelsior Scholarship, a tuition award for in-state residents attending public schools which eliminates tuition expenses for those with a household income below $100,000 per year. Rensselaer, along with two thirds of New York’s private universities, recently chose not to adopt the Enhanced Tuition Award, which would have granted a subsidized tuition-discount of $6,000 for in-state residents equivalent to the value of the Excelsior Scholarship.

President Shirley Ann Jackson is planning to launch a “transformative” capital campaign on October 13, 2017 specifically focused on student aid and faculty resources. Rensselaer’s last capital campaign, called “Renaissance at Rensselaer,” began in 2004 and surpassed its goal of raising over $1.4 billion nearly nine months before the targeted end of the campaign.

The last capital campaign led to immense changes on campus with the construction of the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center, the first phase of the East Campus Athletic Village construction, and the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies. Rensselaer was also able to hire more than 300 professors since 1999 while steadily increasing enrollment, bringing the student-faculty ratio from 18:1 in Fall 1999 to 13:1 in Fall 2016.