) -- Shares of

Apollo Group

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plunged in extended trading after the education company withdrew its outlook for fiscal 2011 and said it expects a "significant" year-over-year decline in enrollment in the current quarter.

The news may be a harbinger of things to come for the other publicly traded education companies, as Apollo cited the increased regulatory scrutiny the sector is receiving as the main reason it was abandoning its forecast. The Department of Education is pushing to put in place new guidelines for federal funding of private schools and whether or not such schools adequately prepare students to get jobs after graduation has become a topic of intense debate.

Apollo Group's stock was last quoted at $42.23, down 14.7%, on volume of roughly 3.4 million, according to

. Based on their regular session close at $49.50, the shares were already off about 17% so far in 2010.

Apollo operates the University of Phoenix, which offers both online courses as well as campus classes, and its decision to completely back off its outlook reads like an acknowledgment that public image of the for-profit education companies may have taken an irreparable hit.

"Some of the industry challenges include ongoing regulatory and other scrutiny which has led to heightened media attention, much of which has portrayed the sector in an unflattering light," it said in its press release. "Given the transitional state of the business, and the uncertain regulatory environment, the

Company is withdrawing its prior preliminary business outlook for fiscal 2011."

Apollo's results for the fourth quarter ended in August came in slightly ahead of Wall Street's consensus view but the company's new enrollment figures always get plenty of attention so the year-over-year decline to 92,000 in the latest period from last year's total of 102,000 would have been troubling enough.

On the company's conference call, Apollo executives reportedly projected a 40% drop in new enrollment for the first quarter from last year's equivalent period, according to

. New enrollment totaled 98,100 for the three months ended Nov. 30, 2009, so that would put Apollo on track to add under 60,000 students.

The Senate held a hearing on the subject of the private education companies in late September after the Department of Education

delayed providing details

on the "gainful employment" portion of new funding regulations. The DoE said at the time it still expects to have the regulations in place by July 2012, as originally planned.

The rest of the sector was taking a hit in extended trades as well, including

Career Education Corp.

(CECO) - Get Report

, down nearly 7% to $18.80;



, quoted 7% lower at $46.99;

ITT Educational

(ESI) - Get Report

, off 8% to $60.61;

Bridgepoint Education

(BPI) - Get Report

, falling 6.6% to $16.01;

Strayer Education

(STRA) - Get Report

, tumbling 5.6% to $148.24;

Grand Canyon Education

(LOPE) - Get Report

, losing 4.6% to $21.89; and

Corinthian Colleges


, down 6.2% to $5.65.

Other names to watch in Thursday's session include

Universal Technical Institute

(UTI) - Get Report


American Public Education Inc.

(APEI) - Get Report


Capella Education Co.

(CPLA) - Get Report

, and

Lincoln Educational Services Co.

(LINC) - Get Report



Written by Michael Baron in New York.

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Michael Baron


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