Education Companies: Still Dealing With Low Enrollment

A look at the outlook for Universal Technical Institute, Capella Education, and DeVry Education Group.

Jan 22, 2014 at 4:01PM

The post-secondary education industry continues to suffer the consequences of the financial crisis, and the best way to see this is through the low enrollment levels all across the country. Sluggish demand due to reluctance in taking loans and continued challenges in obtaining student financing, changing regulatory requirements, increased price sensitivity, and affordability concerns are some of the reasons why enrollment has dropped.

Given these circumstances, let's see how Universal Technical Institute (NYSE:UTI), Capella Education (NASDAQ:CPLA), and DeVry (NYSE:DV) are performing.

Good quarter, weak guidance
Capella Education is a provider of online post-secondary education focusing on public service leadership, behavioral health, and human services among others.

Despite the 1.4% year-over-year decline in enrollment this third quarter, better than expected top-line growth and operating margins are offering hope. In fact, revenue grew 1.4% to $100.7 million, and the top-line exceeded management's expectations thanks to better student start, and improvements in tuition as well.

Although the results were relatively decent, Capella's guidance for next quarter was not. You should expect a 1.5% to 2.5% decline in total enrollment compared to last year. Apparently, mid-career professionals are apprehensive of going back to school due to a difficult macroeconomic environment.

Bad quarter
DeVry is a global provider of education with a network of institutions and a wide array of programs.

Its first quarter brought a 57.7% year-over-year decline in adjusted earnings-per-share pushed by higher operating expenses. Nonetheless, DeVry's medical and health care segments grew 11% over prior year, but were not enough to offset the 6% decline in revenue. Enrollment shortfall, especially at the struggling flagship DeVry University is mainly responsible for the weak performance.

However, the institution still offers long-term value thanks to its diversified portfolio of quality programs, strategic acquisitions, and a debt-free balance sheet. This remains a competitive advantage against many of its peers.

In addition, its health care and international businesses remain strong, showing a 36% revenue growth in Brazil versus the prior year. Its Chamberlain College of Nursing is solid with total students increasing 30.2% to 15,690, and online students growing 47.4% to 2,005.

Still struggling
Universal Technical Institute, specializes in offering programs in the fields of professional automotive, diesel, collision repair, and marine.

Fourth-quarter earnings declined 36.4% driven by a 5.4% drop in revenue and weak margins. But, like most companies in the industry, the overall issue here is the decline in enrollments.

The company's tight relationships with 25 leading original equipment manufacturers, or OEMs, and after-market retailers, give it a competitive advantage when it comes to attracting aspiring automotive professionals. These OEMs sometimes even sponsor equipment for students, reducing costs as well as capital investments for the institution.

Universal Technical is making efforts to improve enrollments by increasing the number of scholarships and making small increases in its tuition. Nonetheless, according to the company's guidance, new student starts are expected to drop in the first quarter of 2014, worse than previously expected.

Final thoughts
Next quarter will be more challenging for Capella. Although its fundamentals remain solid, it's hard to see any opportunity for growth in the near term. Despite the company's competitive advantage, it would be wise to remain on the sidelines with DeVry until you see sustained enrollment growth.

Universal Technical's specialization should help it remain competitive against its peers. Its efforts to increase enrollments should be realized soon, but until then, it should be looked at cautiously.

Louie Grint has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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