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Bond rating agency lowers Agnes Scott College’s outlook

By Eric Stirgus, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

(CNT) City News Talk #atlanta-ga

Fitch, though, maintains college’s rating level

A leading bond rating agency has lowered its outlook of Decatur-based Agnes Scott College from stable to negative, citing the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the school’s finances.

The bond rating agency, Fitch, said in a report released Tuesday it based its outlook on what it described as the college’s increased spending after deciding not to have in-person classes this semester to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on campus.

Fitch kept the college’s Issuer Default Rating and Rev rating at “A” levels, meaning they still consider the college a low default risk investment. The report said the college had solid finances before the pandemic and anticipates a “bounce-back in operating revenues and a return to solid student-generated revenue growth over the intermediate term.” 

“We are pleased that Fitch has affirmed our ‘A’ at a time when Fitch has expressed industry-wide concerns about the financial impact of COVID-19 on higher education,” the college’s president, Leocadia “Lee” Zak, said in a statement late Wednesday.

Agnes Scott, a private, women’s college, has about 1,050 students this year, Fitch wrote in its report. That’s about the same as last year. Agnes Scott, though, allowed a small number of students to live on campus this semester.

Agnes Scott, like many colleges in Georgia and nationwide, has lost revenue during the pandemic. For example, Agnes Scott gave its students housing refunds when it closed its campus to students in March when the pandemic began. It is not investing in its faculty retirement benefit fund until, at least, July, Christine Cozzens, the college’s dean and vice president for academic affairs, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in August.

The college posted spring semester plans on its website Monday to that include in-person classes, but only half of its student housing will be available to students.