Post-secondary educator Strayer Education (NASDAQ:STRA) reported its first-quarter 2004 financial results yesterday, continuing the trend of for-profit educators reporting record -- and often double-digit -- numbers. Revenues increased 26% to $46.1 million over Q1 2003 and earnings rose 29% to $11.5 million over the same period. As for per-share diluted earnings, those were up 25% to $11.5 million after 3.4% worth of annual share dilution had taken its toll.

Enrollment at Strayer's 27 campuses (which will grow to 30 by the end of this year) is booming. Total 2004 spring-term enrollments increased 23% to 20,681 students, and that number is continuing to rise: new student enrollments increased 29%. Numbers like these make you wonder how much longer can the growth keep going? Eventually, for-profit educators are going to run out of customers, as the nontraditional student pool dries up, right?

Maybe. But on the other hand, that may not matter. For the most surprising announcement in the company's earnings release, and Strayer's real coup for the year, is this: Strayer has begun poaching students from not-for-profit education!

And moreover, Strayer is doing this with the active cooperation of the public education system itself. Strayer announced yesterday that it has entered into an agreement with one of the nation's most prestigious public universities, the University of Virginia (specifically, its School of Continuing and Professional Studies), to share students.

Students participating in the program will be allowed to take six courses at UVA, six more at Strayer, and in return receive an MBA from Strayer and a graduate certificate from UVA. Now, I am not quite sure what a "graduate certificate" is, but if it were a diploma, I presume they would have said so. More likely, it is a kind of certificate of attendance, a "thank you for giving us money" prize awarded by UVA in lieu of a diploma, the issuance of which might dilute the UVA "brand."

If deals like this become common among other for-profit educators, Apollo Group (NASDAQ:APOL),Corinthian Colleges (NASDAQ:COCO), University of Phoenix Online (NASDAQ:UOPX), ITT Educational Services (NYSE:ESI) or Career Education (NASDAQ:CECO) for example, it may begin to allay some of the concerns that analysts have expressed about the possibility of sustained growth in the sector. What effect this would have on the nation's public education system, on the other hand, remains to be seen.

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Fool contributor Rich Smith owns no interest in any of the companies mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy .