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University of Chicago Is Outlier With Growing Debt Load

The University of Chicago has been trying to stand out from its elite rivals and is doing so in one category: amassing debt. That’s put its credit rating at risk.

The university founded by oil magnate John D. Rockefeller in 1890 is in the midst of a $1.7 billion development plan. As municipal interest rates remain close to generational lows, it may borrow as much as $900 million in the next four years, according to Standard & Poor’s. The plan prompted S&P and Moody’s Investors Service to cut the school’s credit outlook to negative. Chicago already has $3.6 billion of debt -- the most relative to its endowment among the richest U.S. schools.