Moody's: Dowling credit rating may be downgraded again

Students walk through the Dowling College campus in

Students walk through the Dowling College campus in Oakdale. (Sept. 27, 2012) (Credit: Chris Ware)

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The sudden removal of Dowling College president Jeremy Brown could further hurt the struggling institution's credit rating, Moody's Investors Service said in a report Tuesday.

Moody's, which twice downgraded the college's already junk-rated debt in 2011, weighed in by saying it will review Dowling's credit for another possible downgrade. The college's debt is rated Caa1, a speculative grade.

The review "reflects the recent unusual announcement by the college that the president will be leaving well before his contract expiration date" in 2014, the agency said in a report that also noted the college's multiple leadership changes over the past decade.

On Thursday, the chairman of Dowling's board of trustees said the board was negotiating Brown's release from his contract. The college has not yet named an interim leader.

Over the past decade, a lack of management oversight and a reluctance to deal with the details of running a college has affected academic programs and led to plunging enrollment at Dowling, Newsday reported last month.

The Oakdale-based school is $60 million in debt and its hallmark program, the education school, has lost 800 to 1,000 students over the past five to six years.

Moody's viewed Brown's appointment in June 2011 positively because the former president of Pennsylvania's Edinboro University brought with him "previous professional experiences with college turnarounds."

Brown, in a recent interview with Newsday, said he was aware of Dowling's already poor rating and hoped, perhaps as early as this fall, that Moody's would rate the school again. Brown was hoping for a more favorable rating."We hope that we'll be the one to schedule it," Brown said at the time.

Last year's downgrades came in response to falling enrollment and deteriorating finances. There were 3,377 full-time-equivalent students in the fall of 2011 -- 1,058 less than two years earlier, according to Moody's.

Syntax, a Bohemia-based public relations agency that has been handling media questions concerning Brown's removal, did not immediately comment on the Moody's report.

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