Is Apollo the Head of the Class?

The sort of education that Apollo Group (Nasdaq: APOL  ) has given investors depends on when they enrolled. If you bought in the early years, you've learned all about what growth stocks can do for your performance (and maybe a lesson or two about capital gains). If you bought earlier this year, though, you've earned some credits from the school of hard knocks.

Still, its financial performance is looking pretty good. Revenue was up a bit less than 18% in the first quarter, while total enrollments were up by a similar amount. The operating margin improved a bit as well, and operating income was up 20%. One item of note, though, is that promotional expenses were up only 6% from last year.

There always seems to be a bit of controversy and consternation around for-profit education companies. Some of it ranges from downright unethical and/or illegal practices to more vague worries about enrollment, tuition, and so on. In the case of Apollo this quarter, I'm a little puzzled that the company believes that transferring Axia College from its Western International unit to the University of Phoenix unit could lead to revenue coming in 4% lower than previously believed.

I can understand why there would be some costs and disruptions (transferring faculty, getting regulatory clearances, and so forth), but the company pegged the EPS hit at 2% or less. So, is Apollo Group trying to stealthily lower guidance and find a convenient excuse, or is the company just being conservative? I'm skeptical, and some might say pessimistic, by nature, but I'll give Apollo management the benefit of the doubt for now.

I honestly never gave a whole lot of thought to owning Apollo shares, but I can't deny that it looks pretty enticing on a cash flow and earnings basis. Then again, DeVry (NYSE: DV  ) and Educate (Nasdaq: EEEE  ) also look interesting, though those are two very different plays on the education market. In any case, I think the story on for-profit education is far from over, and Fools might want to hit the books with some of these companies.

For more education, Fool style:

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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).


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