(Corinthian CEO resignation article updated with background details.)

SANTA ANA, Calif. (

TheStreet

) --

Corinthian Colleges

(COCO)

Chief Executive Officer Peter Waller resigned late Tuesday after less than two years on the job.

Corinthian, one of the larger players in the controversial

for-profit education sector, said Waller resigned from both the CEO post and as a member of its board of directors.

>>School Stocks Slammed By Report

The board tapped chairman Jack Massimino, who served as chief executive from Nov. 2004 through July 2009, to resume the role of CEO, effective immediately. Massimino will continue to serve as chairman.

"In Jack Massimino, we have a committed, energized and proven CEO," said Terry Hartshorn, the company's lead independent director, in a statement. "Though Corinthian, like the rest of the industry, faces significant challenges in the current economic and regulatory environment, the company fills a critical need in workforce training and economic recovery in the regions it serves."

"I am fully committed to leading Corinthian at this pivotal time in the company's history," Massimino said in the press release. "The key to our success has been and will continue to be putting students first."

Waller's resignation marked the second top executive departure for Corinthian in a short time span. Last month

Corinthian announced the resignation of another top executive, then president and COO Matt Ouimet.

Ouimet's resignation became effective at the end of October. He had held his position since January 2009, and said he was leaving to pursue other opportunities.

Corinthian said at the time it had no immediate plans to fill Ouimet's post, and made no mention of it its fiscal 2011 first-quarter financial results, released in early November.

>>Corinthian Misses, Bridgepoint Beats

Industry peer

Apollo Group

(APOL)

said earlier this week it cut 700 full-time positions, or around 1.2% of its employee roster, at its University of Phoenix campuses. Apollo told Dow Jones most of the laid off workers had been in its admissions department.

Recently proposed regulations on the for-profit education sector include rules that would restrict incentive-based recruiting practices and may result in less need for admissions department workers.

>>School Stocks Brace for New Regulations

The For-Profit Education Sector

There are many industry watchers who would argue that Corinthian and fellow for-profit education sector peers have not put their students first in recent years.

The industry was once again on the firing line last week on accusations that schools in the sector fail to adequately prepare students for profitable careers yet leave them saddled with heavy debt, and that most students don't even make it to graduation day.

It was not a new claim; for-profit schools' stocks traded sharply lower over the summer when the U.S. government proposed regulations that were seen as hurting the industry's booming earnings growth. The Obama administration argued that for-profit schools like

Apollo Group

(APOL)

,

Everest colleges parent

Corinthian Colleges

,

Strayer Education

(STRA) - Get Strategic Education, Inc. Report

and a number of their peers leave students unequipped for the job market and a means with which to repay their hefty loans.

>>School Stocks Fall on Enrollment Outlook

The Education Trust, a non-profit student advocacy organization, released a report last week rehashing many of the statistics demonstrating the sector's rapid enrollment growth, booming profits, staggeringly low graduation rates and high loan default rates.

The report, titled

Subprime Opportunity: The Unfulfilled Promise of For-Profit Colleges and Universities

, likened the operations of for-profit schools to subprime lenders -- lenders largely held responsible for leading to the collapse of the housing market and ensuing Great Recession.

"As with the collapse of the subprime lending industry, the showdown between for-profit colleges and the government shows how the aspirations of the underserved, when combined with lax regulation, make the rich, richer and the poor, poorer," the report began. "For-profit colleges provide high-cost degree programs that have little chance of leading to high-paying careers, and saddle the most vulnerable students with heavy debt. Instead of providing a solid pathway to the middle class, they pave a path into the subbasement of the American economy."

"It's a heavily recycled report," said RBC Capital Markets analyst Robert C. Wetenhall, offering "nothing new to the whole thesis that's been out all summer."

Lauren Stephens, communications specialist at Education Trust, countered that the advocacy group was "not trying to keep on pace

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with media coverage but needed to examine" the for-profit education sector. She said the report was the tenth in a series of reports looking at college and university graduation rates, and that "it was just time for us to look at the for-profit industry."

Stephens said the differentiating factor in Tuesday's report was underscoring scarily low graduation rates on the campus level, rather than just at the school brand level. "I don't know that anyone else has put that out there," she said, "and it's a step further in making the connection that people have been making."

Education Trust research found that "the ten for-profit schools with the largest entering classes of first-time, full-time, bachelor's degree-seeking students graduate only

one in five students

, although success ranges widely across systems."

Six-year graduation rates at Apollo's University of Phoenix, the largest for-profit college in the U.S., are just 9%, the report said.

DeVry's

(DV)

six-year graduation rate is 31%;

ITT Technical Institute

(ESI) - Get Element Solutions, Inc. Report

fared better with a 66% six-year grad rate.

The Institute for College Access and Success, a separate student-advocacy group, said in August that its research showed

nearly two-thirds of for-profit colleges' students were not repaying their loans.

Repayment rates at for-profit schools were just 36% in fiscal 2009; at private nonprofit schools the repayment rate was 56%; and at state colleges and universities the rate was 54%.

Corinthian and Strayer averaged repayment rates in the low 20s last year. DeVry averaged repayment rates of 40% at its universities last year. Strayer Education, like Corinthian's Everest colleges, averaged in the low 20s.

The Washington Post's

(WPO)

Kaplan came in slightly higher at weighted average of 28%, the company said.

At those levels, Strayer, Kaplan and Everest colleges would be ineligible for federal aid if the proposed legislation is enacted.

The

Department of Education's proposed regulations, aimed to protect students at for-profit colleges, are adding pressure to for-profit education stocks.

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These new rules will help ensure that students are getting from schools what they pay for: solid preparation for a good job," Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said.

Proposed regulations cover everything from restricting incentive-based recruiting practices, the need for new job-training courses and taking action against schools which fail to advertise honestly to requiring schools to notify students of graduation and job placement rates. Institutions will also be required to limit student enrollment to those who have high school diplomas or can readily demonstrate their readiness for university-level education.

Arguably the most controversial of the proposed regulations, known as the "gainful employment" rule, expected to be issued early in 2011, would cut federal aid to schools where less than 45% of students are able to repay their loans.

It will consist of a two-part measurement to determine a program's eligibility to receive federal student aid. The measurement is based on loan repayment rates and debt-to-income ratios, and requires a minimum of four years of repayment history and three years of employment history.

The rules will go into effect in the middle of next year, in time for the fall 2011 semester.

-- Written by Miriam Marcus Reimer in New York.

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