Moody’s Investors Service revised the University of Missouri System’s credit outlook to “stable,” according to a new credit opinion published Tuesday.
The revision cited UM’s “improved leadership continuity” throughout the system and the university’s ability to “address ongoing enrollment declines and a more constrained tuition and state funding environment.”
UM remains in the top 10% of higher education institutions with a rating of Aa1, the second-highest rating possible, Moody’s noted.
“We are extremely pleased with this change,” UM spokesperson Christian Basi said Wednesday, “and even more with the reasons behind this change.”
“This is fantastic news and demonstrates the quality of leadership that we have guiding the state of Missouri’s largest public university,” UM Board of Curators Chair Jon Sundvold said in a news release.
“I’m especially grateful to President Mun Choi, Vice President for Finance Ryan Rapp, campus leadership and the team at MU Health Care,” Sundvold said. “They have worked exhaustively on holding the institution to high standards and being accountable to the entire state. This has set us on a great path for the future.”
Basi said the revision is a “show of confidence” that the UM system is a “strong and stable” institution.
Moody’s downgraded the UM’s credit outlook to “negative” in June 2017, citing declining enrollment on campus in Columbia and declining state revenue.
Its August 2017 report further pointed out the shake-up in the system’s leadership at both the Rolla and Kansas City schools. It emphasized the challenges facing the then-new president of the UM System, Choi, and MU Chancellor Alexander Cartwright, who joined in March and August that year, respectively.
A Moody’s spokesman in a telephone call also noted that in 2017 there was downward pressure at the university that has now abated.
According to Moody’s Tuesday press release, a “stable” outlook reflects its expectation of “strong fiscal stewardship and a forward-looking budgetary management framework.”
“Lots of work have been done to make this happen,” Basi said.
Enrollment at MU, which accounts for 42% of the system’s, had seen a significant drop since 2015, when student-led protests against racism on campus put the university in national spotlight. Last year, while enrollment continued to slip, MU saw the biggest jump in freshman enrollment in a decade — 13%. MU enrollment, remaining steady this year, also saw an increase of 16% in freshman enrollment, according to previous Missourian reporting. Its retention rate, at 87.6%, is at an unprecedented high, according to the MU News Bureau.
The UM system also received affirmation of its AA+ rating from Standard & Poor’s in October.