Debt Policy and Interest Rate Swap Guidelines

General Policy on the Use of DebtIntroduction

Bryant University (the “University”) provides a uniquely student-centered, business-focused education of the highest quality. In order to fulfill its mission, the University must maintain its physical plant, equipment, and infrastructure while investing in new buildings, equipment, and infrastructure. The University uses an array of sources to support these investments, including surplus generated from operations, donations, and external debt.

The utilization of debt and other financial resources to fund capital projects will be driven by the University’s strategic planning process. Capital needs will be considered in concert with the operations of the University. Debt and debt management will link capital budgeting to financial planning and operations.

Bryant University’s Debt Policy is intended to provide a framework for assuring that debt is managed and used strategically to advance the University’s mission.


Overall Principles for the Use of Debt

The General principles the University will employ for the overall management of debt include the following:

  • The University will incur debt to maintain and enhance the physical plant and infrastructure.
  • Debt will be used as a financial tool to maximize the University resources.
  • Long-term debt will not be used to finance current operations.
  • The University’s debt capacity will be governed primarily by its ability to support all incremental costs – principal, interest payments, and annual operating costs of new space – within the University’s operating budget and the trustee discretionary fund.
  • The University will seek to maintain a high-quality credit rating and will target a number of key financial ratios used by rating agencies to evaluate the University’s credit.
  • The University will seek to maintain an acceptable balance between interest rate risk and the long-term cost of capital.
  • The University’s debt portfolio will be evaluated in the context of all its assets and liabilities. Diversification within the debt portfolio may be used to balance risk and liquidity across the institution.
  • The University will consider the use of capital and operating leases, especially for the acquisition of equipment, to the extent such transactions are compatible with and help achieve its overall objectives concerning the use of debt.

Strategic Planning and Resource Allocation

The amount of external debt that the University has at any given time will be a function of its ability to service that debt through the operating budget without diminishing the resources necessary for other non-capital priorities and the desire to maintain a high-quality credit rating while sustaining overall financial health. Yet, at the same time, the University recognizes that in order to meet its mission and strategic objectives, investment in the form of capital is often necessary and such investment may necessitate the incurrence of debt.

Bryant University has engaged in a strategic planning process aimed at identifying ways to improve and enhance the educational product delivered to its students while recognizing that such endeavors generally yield more ideas than can be absorbed within the financial constraints in which the University works. This disparity forces the University to balance the appropriate allocation of financial resources between programmatic support and the University’s physical infrastructure in order to ensure the long-term health of the institution. In conjunction with the academic priority setting process, the University has developed integrated, comprehensive plans covering its academic, space, and fiscal needs. Members of the University community have provided significant input into these decisions through an integrated planning process. This process has considered all needs in the context of the entire academic enterprise, and participants have evaluated and compared competing demands for resources.

One end result of this process has been a five-year budget projection that includes all revenues, expenditures, and commitments that can reasonably be expected. In this context, the University develops its annual operating budgets, as well as the University’s capital budget and capital plan.

Donor-financed capital projects and other capital fund-raising activities will generally follow the priorities determined by the planning process rather than by donors. However, in certain instances, donor-specified projects that are consistent with the University’s mission and enhance the academic enterprise will be undertaken.

Debt Administration and Oversight

The University’s Board of Trustees is responsible for establishing an overall debt policy and approving the issuance of all external debt, including all short- and long-term obligations, guarantees, and instruments that commit the University to future payments. The Board will be advised by the Finance Committee on all debt-related topics.

The University’s Vice President for Business Affairs will manage the overall debt portfolio according to the University’s debt policy. The Vice President for Business Affairs will consult with the senior administration, Finance Committee, and the Board with respect to all financial matters associated with procuring, renovating, and managing capital assets.

The Vice President for Business Affairs will report regularly to the Finance Committee on the status of the University’s debt portfolio and its plans regarding debt. This review will include an assessment of the University’s credit rating and key financial ratios compared to targeted levels and those of peer institutions.

Debt Capacity

In general, the University’s debt capacity will be evaluated and determined by the consideration of the following three primary factors:

  1. Legal authorizations and limitations
  2. Current and pro forma financial operating performance
  3. Credit considerations including the University’s credit rating

The University’s legal debt capacity as specified in applicable debt covenants and statutory restrictions is the starting point for evaluating the appropriate level of new and total indebtedness.

The 2001 and 2002 Bond Issue covenants require the University to maintain the following financial ratios:

  • Maximum Allowed Debt Service on all outstanding and proposed debt is not to exceed 15 percent of Total Unrestricted Expenses.
  • Unrestricted Resources is greater than or equal to 90% of outstanding and proposed debt.

The University’s debt capacity is in part a function of current and pro forma operations, which, as reflected in financial ratios, is also one of the numerous factors that are reviewed in determining the University’s credit rating. The portion of the operating budget dedicated to debt service (principal repayment and interest) will vary over time as the University makes judgments about its highest priorities and needed investments. While a maximum percentage will be established, annual debt service (principal repayment and interest) as a percentage of the operating budget may vary over time as the University makes judgments about its highest priorities and needed investments.

Credit considerations encompass an array of factors that affect how the University is viewed by the financial and capital markets. Many of these factors are analyzed by the credit rating agencies in the determination of the University’s credit rating. As such, the University’s credit rating is an important reflection of the University’s operating, management, and financial strengths, and a significant determinant of both its access to and cost of capital. The University’s policy framework with respect to managing its credit rating is detailed in a following section.

Targeted Financial Ratios

Bond rating agencies use a host of metrics to assess an institution’s creditworthiness. Some of these metrics are quantitative; some are not. Financial ratios, therefore, are important criteria, but they are not the only ones used to evaluate the University’s credit and its debt capacity. The University’s credit strength is also highly dependent on maintaining its competitive advantages in higher education, the quality of its academic enterprise, and strong academic and financial management.

The University will set targets for several key ratios that assess the University’s overall financial health. These targets are set based on median ratios of similarly rated organizations published by Moody’s and Standard and Poors (S&P).

  • Unrestricted Resources to Debt of at least 1.5:1.

This is a measure of the University’s leverage on its assets. Unrestricted Resources are defined as unrestricted net assets less net investment in plant, property, and equipment, plus long-term debt used to finance net investment in plant, property, and equipment.

  • Expendable Resources to Operations of at least 1:1.

While this measure of liquidity is less directly affected by the issuance of new debt, it provides a useful indication of the institution’s financial cushion relative to operations and its ability to service debt. Expendable resources are defined as unrestricted net assets plus temporarily restricted net assets less net investment in plant, property and equipment plus long-term debt used to finance net investment in plant, property, and equipment. This ratio is also part of the covenants required by the University’s Letter of Credit arrangement.

  • Debt Service to Operations should be maintained within a range of 4.5-10 percent.

Debt Service to Operations is the typical measure used to evaluate an institution’s use of borrowed funds. The use of debt with bullet or balloon structures that defer principal payments until far in the future makes the calculation of debt service more difficult. The University will include not only required annual principal and interest payments in its definition of debt service but also an annual equivalent for sinking funds. The University will take into consideration the use of debt that has accompanying revenue when additional debt takes the University’s Debt Service to Operations to the higher end of this range.

Bond Ratings

External economic, natural, or other events may affect the creditworthiness of the University’s debt from time to time. Nevertheless, the University is committed to ensuring that actions within its control are prudent and appropriate to maintain a high-quality credit rating.

There is a direct correlation between an institution’s credit rating and its cost of borrowing. Therefore, the University seeks to maintain long-term bond ratings in the “A” category. More specifically, the pro forma issuance of debt, when supported by the full faith and credit of the University, will not result in a rating below the A3/A-level from Moody’s Investors Service and Standard & Poor’s.

Funding of Debt Service – General Criteria for Debt-financed Projects

In evaluating its capacity for external debt, the University will also consider what revenue sources might be available specifically to pay debt service. Housing, and student activity, facility, and parking fees will be considered when planning for capital projects and debt associated with these income streams. In general, the University will consider the level of self-support and external revenue support associated with capital projects in assessing debt affordability within the University’s operating budget. The University will also consider the trustee discretionary fund and its ability to leverage additional debt within the University’s overall balance sheet.

Use of Debt Versus Equity Financing

Fund-raising gifts are an important source of funds for the University to consider when determining the financing vehicle for capital projects. The University will give consideration to the benefit of investing endowment and other funds at a rate of return that would be higher than the cost of debt and applying unrestricted gifts to the endowment rather than towards financing capital projects.

Key considerations for determining an appropriate financing vehicle include the following:

  • Capital Fund-raising may involve uncertain timing of the receipt of funds.
  • Equity financing can minimize impacts on the University’s operating budget.
  • Equity financing can weaken the University’s balance sheet.
  • Fund-raising targeted toward unrestricted gifts to the University’s endowment afford the maximum financial flexibility to the University over time.
  • Unrestricted gifts to the University’s endowment can often be invested at higher yields than the interest rate paid on debt (especially tax-exempt debt available to the University).
  • Equity financed projects cannot be refinanced to take advantage of lower interest rate environments.

The University is also required to comply with covenants related to its Letter of Credit as follows:

  • Expendable Financial Resources to operations of at least 1.0 (see above explanation).
  • Debt Service Coverage of at least 1.25. Debt Service Coverage refers to the amount of cash flow available to meet annual interest and principal payments on debt, including sinking fund payments.

Procurement and Execution of Debt

The University will assess the benefit of accessing the capital markets on either a negotiated or competitive basis. The University will strive to utilize the services of capital market professionals and providers that are experienced in the type of financing under consideration.

General Principles for the Use of Debt

1. Term of Debt

The University will determine the appropriate duration and the specific amortization schedule of each bond issue by evaluating its overall debt portfolio. Considerations will include the life of the assets being financed, interest rate costs, risk assessment, general market conditions, and the University’s future financial plans. If and when bullet or balloon payments are used, the University will budget appropriately over the life of the bond issue so that the bullet or balloon maturity payments do not unduly impact any one fiscal year.

2. Refinancing and Restructuring of Debt

The administration will periodically review all outstanding debt to determine if refinancing opportunities exist. Refinancing or restructuring of current debt (within federal tax law constraints) may be used to save the University money or to change covenants to provide an advantage to the University’s financial or operating position.

In general, the University will consider refinancing when a current or advanced refunding of debt provides a net present value savings of at least three percent. Refinancing or restructuring opportunities that provide savings of less than three percent, or with negative savings, may be considered if there is a compelling objective such as: a.) realizing lower savings is appropriate given the results of call option analysis on a maturity-by-maturity basis, or analysis of current vs. historic interest rate levels, or b.) restructuring financial or legal covenants that prove disadvantageous to the University.

Where analyzing or pursuing the implementation of refinancing transactions using fixed rate swaps or other derivative products, the University should generate 2 percent greater projected savings than the savings guidelines the University would consider for traditional bonds. This threshold will serve as a guideline and will not apply should the transaction, in the University’s sole judgment, help to meet any of the other objectives outlined herein. The higher savings target reflects the greater complexity and higher risk of derivative financial instruments. Such comparative savings analyses will include, where applicable, the consideration of the probability (based on historical interest rate indices, where applicable, or other accepted analytic techniques) of the realization of savings for both the derivative and traditional structures. Such analysis should also consider structural differences in comparing traditional vs. derivative alternatives, e.g., the non-callable nature of derivative transactions.

3. Use of Tax-exempt vs. Taxable Debt

In general, the University will look to avoid the use of taxable debt where other alternatives are available, including equity financing. However, the University may have to utilize taxable debt in certain situations where Federal tax law limits the use of tax-exempt debt for particular projects, especially those where use of the project includes both private and non-profit purposes. The University may also consider taxable debt under other circumstances where market conditions and debt flexibility make it an appropriate alternative. When utilized, the University will consider structuring taxable debt to shorten its term and allow it to be redeemed at the earliest possible date.

4. Use of Call Options

The University will consider the use of call options to reduce the University’s overall cost of capital and to provide maximum flexibility in its debt portfolio. The use of non-callable debt beyond 10 years requires the approval of the Finance Committee of the Board of Trustees in that under certain circumstances the sale, disposition, or sharing of an asset financed with tax-exempt debt may require the repayment of such debt first. Moreover, in some interest-rate environments and because of potential future tax changes, long-term non-callable debt may be disadvantageous to the University.

Acceptable Approaches for Debt Structure

1. Mix of Fixed and Variable Rate Debt, Derivatives, and Other Hedging Products

The University may structure its overall debt portfolio, using a combination of fixed and variable rate debt, to provide an appropriate and prudent balance between interest rate risk and the cost of capital as well as to integrate asset-liability management.

Variable rate debt can be a valuable tool for the University to use in the management of its assets and liabilities. Variable rate debt allows the University greater diversification in its debt portfolio and reduces its overall interest costs. However, the use of variable rate debt increases interest rate risk that the University must consider as the interest rate is subject to market fluctuations and tax risk.

In considering the use of variable rate debt, the University will assess the amount of short-term investments and cash reserves since the earnings from these funds can serve as a natural hedge, offsetting the impact of higher variable rate debt costs.In order to allow assets and liabilities to move in tandem, the University should also consider other strategies such as entering into interest rate swaps under appropriate circumstances, and in accordance with these guidelines.

In general, and as guidance to the appropriate level of variable rate interest-rate exposure as specified within these guidelines, the University should maintain its flexibility and continuously review new products and opportunities to allow it to take advantage of changing interest rate environments and new products or approaches as they become available. In low interest-rate environments, the University should consider ways to lock in low fixed rates through conversions, fixed-rate debt issuance, and either traditional or synthetic refundings. In high interest-rate environments, the University should consider ways to increase variable rate debt exposure and evaluate other alternatives that will allow the University to reduce its overall cost of capital.

The University should consider maintaining a portion of its portfolio in variable rate debt. In doing so, the University will attempt to increase and manage its variable rate exposure in a manner that takes into consideration its investment portfolio and stays within a range of 20 percent to 30 percent variable rate debt as it relates to all of the University’s outstanding indebtedness. Any synthetic fixed-rate debt, achieved through a swap transaction whereby the University swaps underlying variable rate for fixed rate, should not be counted toward this variable rate ceiling.

2. Approach and Objectives to Interest Rate Swaps

Interest rate swaps and options are appropriate interest rate management tools that can help the University meet important financial objectives. Properly used, these instruments can increase the University’s financial flexibility, provide opportunities for interest rate savings or enhanced investment yields, and help the University manage its balance sheet through better matching of assets and liabilities. Swaps should be integrated into the University’s overall debt and investment management guidelines and should not be used for speculation or leverage.

The total notional amount of interest-rate swaps and options executed by the University will not exceed an amount equal to 50 percent of the total of outstanding debt of the University as a whole.The Vice President for Business Affairs/Treasurer will report to the Finance Committee as outlined in the Ongoing Reporting Requirements (page 16) of the Additional Interest Rate Swap Guidelines in Appendix A.

3. Rationales for Utilizing Interest Rate Swaps and Options

The University may use interest rate swaps and options if it is reasonably determined that the proposed transaction is expected to:

  • Optimize capital structure, including schedule of debt service payments and/or fixed vs. variable rate allocations
  • Achieve appropriate asset/liability match
  • Reduce risk, including: Interest rate risk, Tax risk, or Liquidity renewal risk
  • Provide greater financial flexibility
  • Generate interest rate savings
  • Enhance investment yields
  • Manage exposure to changing markets in advance of anticipated bond issuances (through the use of anticipatory hedging instruments)

4. Permitted Instruments

The University may utilize the following financial products on a current or forward basis, after identifying the objective(s) to be realized and assessing the attendant risks.

  • Interest rate swaps, including fixed, floating and/or basis swaps
  • Interest rate caps/floors/collars
  • Options, including swaptions, caps, floors, collars, and/or cancellation or index-based features

The instruments outlined above are only intended to relate to various interest-rate hedging products. They are not intended to encompass other derivative products that the University may consider.