One of this past quarter's biggest winners was Grand Canyon Education (NASDAQ:LOPE). The online college degree provider specializing in education, business, and health care rose 58% from its initial public offering (IPO) in November to the conclusion of 2008. The showing is strong enough to make the stock the fourth-best performing Nasdaq-listed company during the past three months.

If you're not familiar with the company, it's probably because it hasn't been trading very long. Grand Canyon went public just as the market was bottoming out in late November. Then again, the company's timing of its IPO is probably a big reason for its strong initial gains.

Grand Canyon Education was originally hoping to raise as much as $200 million at a price point of $20 a share. Under the deluge of cascading stock prices, the Web-based educator ultimately had to settle for $12 a stub.

As equities bounced back, Grand Canyon was a natural to gravitate toward its original IPO filing price.

E-learning is a growing industry. We will have a better snapshot tomorrow, when virtual classroom bellwether Apollo Group (NASDAQ:APOL) reports its quarterly results. However, the success of Grand Canyon Education as the country's last IPO of 2008 bodes well for the pipeline of market debutantes.

Beyond the Canyon
There was a three-month gap between the IPOs of web-hosting giant Rackspace (NYSE:RAX) and Grand Canyon Education. It's a spectacular drought, but it's understandable for those who can reflect back on the bleak marketplace between August and November of last year without shielding their eyes.

According to Renaissance Capital, a money management company that has the misfortune of managing a mutual fund dedicated to IPOs, there were just 43 deals for new stateside issues last year. 2007 birthed 272 domestic IPOs. The biggest offering in 2008 was credit card giant Visa (NYSE:V), raising nearly $20 billion in its March debut.

Visa also navigated the swooning market prices, notching a gain of 19% last year for buyers who were lucky enough to get in on the IPO. The bad news here is that Visa's stock closed 28% higher on its first trading day. In other words, the stock actually closed lower last year for investors who got in shortly after it began trading.

Still, using the deal offer prices, five of last year's 43 deals closed out 2008 in the black.


IPO Price

2008 Return

Grand Canyon Education









IPC The Hospitalist (NASDAQ:IPCM)



Heritage-Crystal Clean (NASDAQ:HCCI)



Heading into 2009
Just five winners? That is certainly a crummy batting average, though it should be noted that Visa's offering was so huge that it accounted for all but a third of the $28 billion raised in stateside IPOs last year. In other words, it wasn't that bad.

Now that the market has been showing signs of life in recent weeks, Grand Canyon Education's success may inspire a new wave of IPOs. With credit markets still tight and venture capitalists still shell-shocked, going public makes sense.

FriendFinder Networks, the parent company of hookup site, filed to go public two weeks ago. As long as the stock market remains stable in the near term, the companies that wanted to go public last year, but were rightfully spooked away, should start to tiptoe back into the marketplace.

If the next brave wave of IPOs follows Grand Canyon Education's winning ways, we may even be hopping by the latter half of 2009.

This doesn't mean that I'm sugarcoating the situation. I'll be back tomorrow to take a closer look at last year's worst IPOs. However, everything is falling into place for investors to begin believing in new issues again.

Other ways to go public:

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz went to the Grand Canyon four years ago. It was awesome. Hdoes not own shares in any of the stocks in this story. Rick is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy has several honorary degrees.