Fitch Affirms Dallas County Community College District Revenue Bonds at 'AA'; Outlook Stable

NEW YORK--()--Fitch Ratings has affirmed the 'AA' rating on approximately $15.1 million of Dallas County Community College District's (DCCCD) series 2006 revenue bonds.

The Rating Outlook is Stable.

SECURITY

The bonds are secured by and payable from the pledged revenues of DCCCD, which consists primarily of gross tuition and fees charged per student per semester.

KEY RATING DRIVERS

STRONG FINANCIAL PROFILE: The 'AA' rating reflects DCCCD's diverse revenues, large urban regional market and tax base (general obligation [GO] bonds rated 'AAA'), positive financial results and healthy balance sheet cushion. DCCCD's sound management and healthy tax base have allowed it to weather countercyclical enrollment declines and periodic reductions in state funding.

SOLID MARKET POSITION: The district benefits from its central location and important role within the large and growing Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area. Enrollment is levelling out after countercyclical declines in recent years.

MANAGEABLE DEBT BURDEN: DCCCD has a moderately high maximum annual debt service (MADS) burden of 7% (including GO and revenue bonds). However, the district maintains sound debt service coverage and significant flexibility to generate additional operating revenues from tuition or ad valorem property taxes.

RATING SENSITIVITIES

ADDITIONAL DEBT: Dallas County Community College District (DCCCD) is currently evaluating its capital needs and could have material debt plans over the next five years. DCCCD has additional revenue debt capacity at the current rating level, but new revenue-supported debt materially in excess of contemplated amounts could limit upward rating potential over time.

CREDIT PROFILE

Established in 1965, Dallas County Community College District (DCCCD) is composed of seven individually accredited colleges located throughout Dallas County, all of which were reaffirmed for a 10-year term by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the regional accrediting body, in 2013. In addition to academic programs for transfer to a senior college or university, DCCCD offers vocational and technical education, continuing education, and adult literacy programs.

STRONG FINANCIAL PROFILE

DCCCD has a strong financial profile, good revenue diversity and significant financial flexibility. Major sources of operating revenue in fiscal 2014 included ad valorem property taxes (41.4%), grants and contracts (primarily federal student aid (22.4%), state operating appropriations (22%), and net tuition & fees (12.7%).

A trend of positive operating results in four of the past five years (3.6% average operating margin) reflects good management through countercyclical post-recession enrollment declines, pressured state appropriations, and tightened federal Pell grant eligibility. The district has relied more heavily on revenues from the healthy Dallas tax base as tuition revenues and state operating funds have declined or stagnated. Fiscal 2014 resulted in a strong 8.8% operating margin, and the latest available interim figures suggest continued positive results for fiscal 2015.

The district has flexibility to generate additional revenues, if necessary, from its healthy tax base (Fitch rates the district's GO bonds 'AAA') or tuition and fees. DCCCD has additional revenue flexibility based on growth in taxable assessed value (TAV) to $197.3 billion in fiscal 2015, compared to $134.4 billion in 2005; and a maintenance & operations tax rate of 10.4 cents / $100 TAV, below the locally voted cap of 16 cents. In addition, tuition and fees per credit are below the state average and could be increased, although management reports no plans to do so.

DCCCD has healthy reserves, which provide financial cushion. Available funds (defined as cash and investment less non-expendable restricted net position) totaled $279.1 million at June 30, 2014, equal to a sound 60.4% of operating expenses and 74.9% of debt.

SOLID MARKET POSITION

The district benefits from its central location and important role within the large and growing Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area. Enrollment has been typically countercyclical, with significant growth through the recession followed by declines as the local economy improved. Enrollment appears to be flattening out based on fall 2014 figures (FTE of 39,849, a 1.1% drop from fall 2013) and management's observations for fall 2015.

Longer term, management is shifting its focus toward student achievement and access, including through internal budgeting practices that broadly align with the state's funding model for student success points. While state funding is still primarily enrollment-based, DCCCD expects to be well-positioned as the national trend toward performance-based funding continues. In addition, the district is increasing dual-credit high school enrollment, targeting workforce development programs and supporting initiatives for historically underserved segments.

MANAGEABLE DEBT BURDEN

DCCCD has a moderately high MADS burden of 7% (including GO and revenue bonds). However, the district maintains sound debt service coverage and significant flexibility to generate income from tuition or ad valorem property taxes. MADS coverage from operations was 2.4x in fiscal 2014 and has averaged 1.7x over the past five years. While ad valorem tax revenues are not pledged for debt service, they can be used to offset other budgetary expenses currently covered by pledged revenues.

The district is currently evaluating its capital needs and could have material additional debt plans over the next five years. Potential revenue-supported debt over that period is expected to be manageable at the current rating level. However, revenue debt materially beyond contemplated amounts, if not supported by growth in pledged revenues, could limit upward rating potential over time.

Additional information is available at 'www.fitchratings.com'.

Related Research:

--'Fitch Affirms Dallas County Community College District, Texas' GOs 'AAA'; Outlook Stable' (May 2014);

--'Fitch Affirms Dallas County Community College District Revenue Bonds at 'AA'; Outlook Stable' (November 2013).

Applicable Criteria

Revenue-Supported Rating Criteria (pub. 16 Jun 2014)
https://www.fitchratings.com/creditdesk/reports/report_frame.cfm?rpt_id=750012

U.S. College and University Rating Criteria (pub. 12 May 2014)
https://www.fitchratings.com/creditdesk/reports/report_frame.cfm?rpt_id=748013

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Contacts

Fitch Ratings
Primary Analyst:
Tipper Austin, +1-212-908-9199
Associate Director
Fitch Ratings, Inc.
33 Whitehall Street
New York, NY 10025
or
Secondary Analyst:
Susan Carlson, +1-312-368-2092
Director
or
Committee Chairperson:
Joanne Ferrigan, +1-212-908-0723
Senior Director
or
Media Relations:
Sandro Scenga, +1-212-908-0278
New York
sandro.scenga@fitchratings.com

Contacts

Fitch Ratings
Primary Analyst:
Tipper Austin, +1-212-908-9199
Associate Director
Fitch Ratings, Inc.
33 Whitehall Street
New York, NY 10025
or
Secondary Analyst:
Susan Carlson, +1-312-368-2092
Director
or
Committee Chairperson:
Joanne Ferrigan, +1-212-908-0723
Senior Director
or
Media Relations:
Sandro Scenga, +1-212-908-0278
New York
sandro.scenga@fitchratings.com