If not for the fact that Career Education Corporation (NASDAQ:CECO) is embroiled in a series of shareholder class action lawsuits, and a formal SEC inquiry to boot, this little for-profit educator would make for an unqualified success story. The company posted its third-quarter and year-to-date earnings results yesterday, and they are nothing short of amazing.

Here are just a few of the numbers that have this company's stock holding steady today, despite its report on the initiation of (ongoing) independent investigations by both law firm McDermott, Will & Emery and consulting firm Navigant into Career Education's alleged accounting and registrar improprieties:

  • Quarterly revenue up 39% and profits up 60%, both versus Q3 2003 results.
  • Year-to-date revenue up 53% and profits up 89%, both year-on-year.
  • Quarterly free cash flow up 166% versus Q3 2003.
  • Year-to-date free cash flow up 149% year-on-year.

At this point, you're probably shouting: "Hold up a sec! How did you calculate the company's free cash flow?" Well, that's a good question. Last quarter, I did criticize the company's practice of following the herd and not releasing a cash flow statement with its earnings press release. But for whatever reason -- be it Career Education reading the Fool (could it be true?) or simply the company acknowledging that the shareholder-friendly action in this case makes the company look good from a numbers perspective -- Career Education was thoughtful enough to include a full statement of cash flows with its release yesterday. Thanks are in order.

And congratulations as well: Career Education has racked up free cash flow of $166 million to date. That's right. Whereas last quarter, the company's free cash flow run rate looked on track to hit $160 million for the year, we still have a full quarter to go and Career Education has already zoomed past that mark. Updated target (mine, not the company's): $220 million or thereabouts, which would give Career Education a new enterprise value-to-free cash flow ratio of just 12 (making it better than twice the bargain it looked like just three months ago). That would also make Career Education twice as good a buy as fellow investigat-ee Corinthian Colleges (NASDAQ:COCO) and a little cheaper than yet one more scandal-ridden educator, ITT Educational Services (NYSE:ESI), whose EV/FCF ratio comes in at 14.

Check out the recent performance of Career Education's for-profit educator peers in:

Fool contributor Rich Smith owns no interest in any of the companies mentioned in this article.