Too Cool for School?

Through the end of August, goback to school with The Motley Fool. You'll find more educational book reviews, stock analysis, and financial advice here.

Welcome back, class. Please take your seats, and -- hey -- quit it with the paper airplanes! I'm talking to you, Mister!

Very well. Yesterday, we discussed the rise and fall of America's for-profit educators and introduced you to the three most "academic" of these companies. If you were absent from yesterday's lecture and are just joining us, you may either get the notes from a classmate, or click through to "School's In for the Summer" and read the lesson during study hall.

As promised, today we turn our attention to what Apollo Group's (Nasdaq: APOL  ) former CEO Todd Nelson termed the "vocational/technical" schools -- better known as the "vo-tech" crowd. If you remember back to high school, these were the cool kids. The ones who got all the girls, who owned -- and knew how to change the oil on -- their own cars, and who got to play with power tools all day long, while the rest of us were stuck in trigonometry. (And before you call them the "dumb" kids, ask yourself how many times you use the Pythagorean theorem in the average year, versus how often you need to change the oil on your car.)

My point being, don't diss the schools that specialize in teaching trades versus professions. There's at least as much demand for qualified mechanics in this country as there is for mechanical engineers. And as much as we need doctors and dentists, they'd be helpless to get their work done without trained staffs of medical and dental assistants, and billing and coding specialists.

And who does all of this training? Let's get to know them.

ITT Educational Services (NYSE: ESI  )
Why do teachers always blame the vo-tech kids for trouble in the classroom? Did the vo-tech kid actually do something wrong? Or are the teachers resentful that it took four years of college for them to land their own jobs, while the vo-tech kid will probably earn a higher salary right out of high school, fixing leaky faucets? Whatever the reason, when the government decided to crack down on alleged marketing shenanigans in the for-profit education industry, it fixed its sights on vo-tech educator ITT.

  • Business: ITT operates 87 institutes in 33 states. It offers primarily associate and bachelor's degrees, primarily in technical fields of study, with the aim of producing graduates qualified to assume entry-level positions in their chosen fields. According to the firm's most recent 10-K, it seems ITT has actually "eliminated . shorter, non-degree programs." Courses are taught either entirely on site, partially on site and partially over the Internet, or entirely over the Internet. The firm also operates in conjunction with a Chinese partner, offering education both online and on site in China under license from ITT.
  • Demographics: ITT's 43,000 students are overwhelmingly male, and more than half are younger than 25.
  • Representative degree programs: associate degrees in electronics, software programming, Web development, and computer networks; bachelor's degrees in information systems security and graphic design.

Career Education (Nasdaq: CECO  )
ITT may have been the highest-profile target of the federal probe into the for-profit education industry, but Career Education holds the title of "most popular" with the feds. Investigations into most of the players in this sector wound down early last year, but Career Education does remain on the Department of Education's watch list.

  • Business: Career Education operates 89 campuses, including two online campuses of its American InterContinental University and Colorado Technical University divisions, in the United States, France, Canada, and the U.K. It offers everything from non-degree instruction to associate degrees, to doctoral degrees in career-oriented programs that include business, various technical medical fields (e.g., massage therapy, medical billing, ultrasound technician), culinary arts, information technology, and publishing and design.
  • Demographics: Two-thirds of Career Education's 90,000 students are younger than 30; the majority of its students pursue associate degrees or non-degree certificates.
  • Representative course offerings: business administration, paralegal studies, graphic design, ultrasound diagnosis, and culinary arts.

Corinthian Colleges (Nasdaq: COCO  )
Corinthian was one of the first companies to emerge from the shadow of the federal investigation into this industry, announcing its exoneration way back in January 2005. And how did Mr. Market reward this good behavior? By subtracting 30% from Corinthian's market cap over the past 18 months.

  • Business: Corinthian operates 97 colleges in 25 states and another 34 colleges and 14 corporate training centers in seven Canadian provinces. Like nearly all of its rivals, Corinthian has also been bitten by the Internet bug and offers both entirely and partially online degree programs. Corinthian programs aim to train students "for a variety of entry-level positions," usually in technical trades (e.g., health care, electronics, and automotive), as opposed to academic disciplines.
  • Demographics: The majority of Corinthian's 66,000 students seek "diplomas" rather than degrees. Of those who do pursue degrees, 85% are in associate's-degree programs.
  • Representative course offerings: diplomas in massage therapy, automotive and diesel technology, and HVAC; associate degrees in IT, paralegal studies, and business administration.

DeVry (NYSE: DV  )
DeVry's claim to fame is dual. First, it's been one of the worst-performing stocks in this industry over the past five years. Second, because it has been so beaten down, DeVry has been bid up to the highest earnings multiple of the bunch, on rumors that it will soon be bought out.

  • Business: DeVry's historical roots lay in computer technology education, but it has diversified from that base in recent years. It offers bachelor's and graduate degrees in business, operates medical and veterinary schools in the Caribbean, and offers associate and bachelor's degrees in nursing in the United States. DeVry hopped on the Internet/distance-learning bandwagon just like everyone else. The firm also owns a sizeable test-prep service, Becker Professional Review, which prepares students to take the CPA, CMA, and CFA exams.
  • Demographics: According to its 10-K filing, most of DeVry's 55,000 students are 25 or older. The exception is the firm's nursing students, most of whom are recent high school graduates. Separate from the above, DeVry also has about 40,000 participants in Becker Professional Review.
  • Representative degree programs: Bachelor's degrees in biomedical engineering technology; associate degrees in health information technology; MBA; master's degrees in information systems management.

Universal Technical Institute (NYSE: UTI  )
Many of the stocks we have examined so far today have a distinct "baby" hue to their blue collars, but UTI is as blue-collar as they come. The company, first brought to the attention of Motley Fool Hidden Gems members in our July 2006 edition, educates blue-collar workers for work in one of the most outsourcing-proof of industries: fixing things that break.

  • Business: Illustrative of UTI's hands-on, grease-under-the-fingernails focus is that it's the only one of the colleges we've looked at so far that has not fully caught the Internet bug. (UTI just implemented a FlexTech Program that combines online courses with instructional campus classes.) UTI specializes in educating "qualified service technicians" in the automotive, diesel, collision-repair, motorcycle, and marine (boat) fields. The company operates 12 campuses in the U.S., offering certificates, diplomas, and undergraduate degrees, as well as advanced instruction at 20 training centers specific to various manufacturers.
  • Demographics: UTI has more than 15,000 students. The company's 10-K filing does not provide detailed information on its demographics, but it's perhaps illustrative that in at least some of UTI's programs, applicants can be admitted as young as 16 if they have a G.E.D.
  • Representative degree programs: diplomas and certificates in automotive/diesel technology, collision repair, and automotive, motorcycle, and marine (boat) service and repair; associate degree in "occupational studies."

Lincoln Educational Services (Nasdaq: LINC  )
Class, we have a new student today. Before we break for the weekend, let's get acquainted with Lincoln Educational Services -- more colloquially known for its "Lincoln Tech" commercials -- which joined the ranks of public, for-profit educators by way of a June 23, 2005, IPO.

  • Business: Nearly half of Lincoln's students would fit in just as well at a UTI campus. The firm's specialty is automotive-technology training, but it also prepares students for careers as medical assistants and billing associates, as well as for jobs in IT, the culinary arts, and nursing. Lincoln operates 37 campuses under nine different brand names; all of its campuses offer diploma and certificate programs, and about half also confer associate degrees.
  • Demographics: Lincoln has 18,000 students. The company's 10-K filing does not provide detailed information on their demographics, but it does describe the student body as consisting of "recent high school graduates and working adults," so it's likely that the average age skews young.
  • Representative degree programs: diplomas and certificates in automotive mechanics, collision repair, and medical administrative assisting; associate degrees in auto-service management and mechanical/architectural drafting.

Whew! Quite a big class we have here, Fools. Including relative newcomer Lincoln, we've covered a total of nine publicly traded for-profit educators this week. With so many to choose from, I'm betting we'll find more than one good bargain when class resumes on Monday. See you then.

If you want to make money, it doesn't pay to be elitist. Motley Fool Hidden Gems skipped over the entire white-collar-education crowd to anoint grease monkey UTI as one of its two July 2006 recommendations. Learn why we like UTI -- and find out what the other pick was, by claiming your free trial.

Fool contributorRich Smithdoes not own shares of any companies named above -- but if he did, he'd have to tell you. We Fools have an honor system, you know.


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