Ave Maria School of Law isn’t making the grade when it comes to financial responsibility, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Ave Maria — a Roman Catholic school in Naples, Fla. — was the only law school to receive failing marks on the department’s latest assessment of financial responsibility for nonprofit and for-profit colleges and universities.

The department each year collects and evaluates audited financial statements from such institutions that participate in the federal government’s student financial aid programs. Public universities and colleges generally are exempt from the assessment.

The department assigns schools a composite score between minus-1 and 3 based on their finances. Schools with scores between minus-1 and 1 are “not considered financially responsible” by the department and must post letters of credit equal to at least 10% of the federal student aid they receive. Schools with scores between 1 and 1.5 are considered financially responsible but may be required to accept additional financial oversight. Schools with scores of 1.5 or above are considered financially responsible. This is the first year that the department has made the scores available to the public on its Web site.

Ave Maria received a score of minus-.9 for 2009 — the same score it received in the preceding two years.

Ave Maria administrators declined to discuss the law school’s score, but President and Dean Eugene Milhizer issued a statement playing down the report.

“This represents no change in our fiscal health, and should not be cause for concern,” Milhizer said. “Typical of recently founded institutions (we have graduated only seven classes), Ave Maria School of Law has a low asset-to-debt ratio. We fully anticipate that this situation will reverse itself over time, as we increase net tuition revenue and build endowment.”

Milhizer added that the school has submitted the necessary letters of credit to the Department of Education and that its students will continue to qualify for federal financial aid.

The law school was founded in 1999 by philanthropist Thomas Monaghan, who serves as chairman of its board of governors. Monaghan founded the Domino’s Pizza restaurant chain.

The school recently completed its first academic year in Florida after moving from Ann Arbor, Mich. That move was intended to bring the law school closer to a new Catholic-themed community, also called Ave Maria, that is affiliated with Monaghan.

The move has helped the school’s recruiting and fundraising efforts, Milhizer said. Ave Maria School of Law has 375 students, according to the latest data from the American Bar Association.

Karen Sloan can be contacted at ksloan@alm.com.