When you think of who's offering online, for-profit education in Phoenix, Arizona, chances are pretty good that just one company springs to mind: University of Phoenix, the online arm of Apollo Group (NASDAQ:APOL). But did you know that there's another (partially) online, for-profit educator operating out of Phoenix? Did you know that it specializes in education with a Christian focus, and that it has its own Division 1 basketball team, coached by Phoenix Suns great Dan Majerle?
Its name is Grand Canyon Education (NASDAQ:LOPE), and if you didn't know all this, then don't fret--I'm here to tell you all about it.
Grand Canyon Education is the parent company of Grand Canyon University, a publicly-traded Christian postsecondary educational institution that focuses on graduate and undergraduate degree programs in education, health care, business and liberal arts. Grand Canyon offers a private Southwestern university experience at a lower price than many comparable schools charge -- and prospective students are taking notice.
In an Oct. 29, 2013 earnings call and third quarter press release, Grand Canyon reported impressive financial results. Net revenue increased 14.1% to $152.4 million, continuing the university's sales growth rate of 16% over the last three years. Meanwhile, its two-year student default rate has dropped to 7% from 12% in 2012.
Grand Canyon's revenues are driven by enrollment growth, which in turn depends on upon attractive tuition costs. Undergraduate tuition is approximately $16,000 per year, which is a third less than many other private universities. Enrollment in the third quarter grew by 14.7% to over 59,900 students during the same period last year. Over 80% of the students attend classes online, while 8,200 students attend a physical campus, 4,000 of whom are new students this year.
To accommodate this growth in enrollment, Grand Canyon recently added two new residence halls, three new restaurants, a new intramural field and a new library to its campus in Phoenix, Arizona. The university also expanded its dining facility and student union. And Grand Canyon expects to attract even more students. In the 2014-15 school year, the university will try to attract more than 5,000 new students, which would bring the total campus student body up to 10,000–15,000 students. Online class enrollment is expected to grow 6%–8% per year. Grand Canyon plans to open a second campus in the East Valley in the fall of 2015 which will accommodate 2,500 students.
Apollo Group and two other publicly traded colleges, DeVry (NYSE:DV) and Strayer Education (NASDAQ:STRA), are not faring as well. All three have experienced a decline in enrollment, revenue and EPS. Apollo has 269,000 online and traditional students at over 350 locations throughout the Americas. DeVry boasts over 60,000 students at 90 locations in 26 states, while Strayer provides postsecondary education to over 43,000 students at 100 locations in 24 states. Apollo saw its total student enrollment drop by 18.1% from a year ago, DeVry saw its total student enrollment fall by 14.7% and Strayer saw an enrollment reduction of 17%. The losses in enrollment have led to losses in revenue: Apollo lost 15% in revenue from a year ago, DeVry lost 6%, and Apollo lost 11%.
So if investing in businesses in decline is your thing, by all means invest in one of these three. But if you want a growing business, that's attracting students and raking in increasing piles of cash -- take a road trip to Grand Canyon Education

Fool contributor Johnny Chen 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.