BOSTON -- The debt ratings for most public institutions of higher education have remained stable since last June, according to Standard & Poor's Corp.

In yesterday's issue of Creditweek Municipal, the rating agency said that most state-run colleges and universities have withstood declining demographics and state recessions and maintained their ratings.

Over the past year, Standard & Poor's has upgraded three state universities: Ohio University, the University of Missouri, and the Vermont State Colleges System.

No major university had its rating downgraded, according to Mary Ellen Olson, an associate director at Standard & Poor's.

"The report shows that a lot of the schools we rate have cut back on services and budgets to maintain their profitability," Olson said.

She said the trend toward economizing would continue as shifting demographics puts more pressure on schools.

In the report, Standard & Poor's cited a study by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education that projected a 32% increase in the number of high school graduates between 1992 and 2009.

Public colleges and universities enroll more than 75% of students who continue their education following high school. The report noted that states whose population is soaring, like California, will be increasingly pressured for more funding for higher education.

Pressures in California and other fast growing states will be exacerbated by the growing immigrant population, which will result in a larger number of students attending state colleges and universities, Standard & Poor's said.

Problems with state funding will continue to plague institutions of higher education, the report said. Budget gaps in several states, including Maine, New Jersey, California, Kentucky, and Oregon, have led the ratings of those states' universities to be placed on negative outlook.

At the same time, New Hampshire, New York, Tennessee, and West Virginia have seen the outlook of their university system improve as their economic picture has brightened.

Olson said that the close relationship between a state's general obligation bond rating and its university system will continue.

Standard & Poor's rates universities and colleges in 35 states and Puerto Rico.

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