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President Tim Foster's statement on Moody's affirmation of CMU's financial strength

Debt ratings ebb and flow. Enrollment varies year-to-year. Economies experience variability. However, when investors, parents and communities assess CMU they need not look further than a decade’s worth of strong, smart, mission-based growth that places a short-term debt ratings in its proper, relative context. The university is proud to have sustained strong financial standing but is much more proud of our record of strategic investment and growth for students. 

This week Colorado Mesa University earned a reaffirmation from Moody’s — sustaining strong, investment-grade financial standing as the agency notes “very good strategic positioning” at CMU. The rating is a testament to CMU and the community leaders who contribute to the university’s financial strength and academic success.

Two or three things really stood out in the Moody visit and review.  Strong enrollment growth from around 7,000 students a decade ago to 11,000 is a trajectory that speaks for itself. In addition to enrollment growth, increasing graduation and retention rates are also positive trends.  At the same time, CMU has been able to improve the strength of its balance sheet. This demonstrates the university is not just growing fast, but is growing in smart ways.

In addition, sustained community support were among the high marks for CMU noted by Moody’s. The credit ratings firm acknowledged unique partnerships CMU maintains including annual investment in CMU from the City of Grand Junction, the City and County of Montrose and Mesa County. Additionally, ongoing private donations to CMU are growing while public/private partnerships flourish. Recent agreements created with private business, including the new campus teaching hotel, are examples where creative partnerships contribute to the financial health and future of CMU.

CMU sustaining an investment-grade standing from Moody’s is a touchstone indicator of CMU’s health relative to other institutions in higher education. As unfunded liabilities within state budgets crowd out funding of higher education, and as competition for a smaller pool of students increases, some of the more esteemed universities in Colorado, and nation-wide, have experienced credit downgrades in recent years.

Colorado Mesa University’s financial strength is a reflection that CMU is an institution of choice locally, throughout Colorado and increasingly from other states like Hawaii, Texas, Arizona and California. The international student body at CMU also continues to expand with support from additional partnerships.

CMU’s performance in relation to peers says less about peers and more about what CMU is doing right.

CMU is growing academic offerings, improving academic performance metrics and increasing diversity of the student body. Another tailwind aiding the counter-trend growth of CMU is an unmatched quality of life offered by CMU’s location. Triangulated between the deserts of eastern Utah, the San Juan Mountains of western Colorado and the high desert plateaus of northwest Colorado, CMU provides outdoor opportunities few other universities can offer — an advantage that is significant for students today.

In response to the affirmation of CMU’s financial strength, observers need only examine CMU’s track record for explanation.

CMU boasts a strong record of growth along-side a strong balance sheet. This demonstrates the university is not just growing fast, but is growing in smart ways. CMU is changing and adapting, and is adept at competing in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

Due to expansion, CMU hosts a new and modern campus environment. During the last ten years, the university achieved record-breaking enrollment marks including year-over-year consecutive highs in 2011-2014 with enrollment at 11,000 students in 2018.

The CMU Foundation continues growing the institution’s endowed financial resources. Foundation leadership anticipates increased endowment growth will be able to supplement operational needs for generations to come.

In 2018, the Foundation broke records by growing its endowment to more than $30 million from just $9.3 million in 2008. During this time, the Foundation saw funds raised from donors increase 224 percent. A record number of staff and faculty are donating to the institution, which is an indicator of the working environment and employment experience by faculty and staff at CMU.

Many comparable institutions nationwide face declining enrollment and stressed balance sheets. This reality creates potential for reduced academic offerings and student services. Meanwhile CMU has taken necessary steps to sustain a competitive edge growing graduate offerings, adding degrees and certificates in areas where workforce shortages are clear; and, adding master degrees, doctorates and undergraduate degrees in strategic growth sectors.

More than 15 significant building projects have transformed the campus since 2008 including student housing, classroom buildings, athletic facilities, performing arts complexes and a litany of student amenities. In 2019, construction of a transformative teaching hotel will be completed in addition to a new cyber security and innovation center facility. The hotel will be operated with a private partner showing CMU is capable of forging unique partnerships in response to changing market conditions in higher education.

CMU has moved aggressively, and entrepreneurially, to finance and build programs and projects that can meet both short-term and long-term needs of people and communities within the university’s service area. In 2008, western Colorado entered into one of the most dramatic economic downturns in a generation. During this time CMU made the necessary counter-cyclical investments to assist the community, provide re-training and grow as an institution. This growth took place during a time when regional demographics and population loss might have indicated times of stress for less capable institutions. Growing in the right areas during times of economic and demographic challenge is another indicator of CMU’s viability as a stable institution.

CMU thanks the City of Grand Junction, Mesa County, The City and County of Montrose, Colorado legislators and CMU’s private donors for helping the university sustain financial strength making the university one of Colorado’s premier up-and-coming education institutions.

Read Moody's rating outlook summary.


Written by Tim Foster