Shares of Corinthian Colleges ( COCO) were being hit hard Wednesday after the company forecast fourth-quarter and full-year 2004 profit below analysts' consensus, despite also reporting an 18% increase in third-quarter earnings.

Separately, the company announced that its president and chief operating officer will leave the company to pursue other interests.

Corinthian expects fourth-quarter earnings of 27 cents a share and fiscal-year 2004 earnings of 94 cents a share, the company said. Analysts had been calling for 29 cents a share in the quarter and 98 cents a share in the year.

In addition, the company forecast fiscal-year 2004 revenue to increase 56% to 57% over 2003 levels. Fiscal-year 2005 revenue is expected to rise 25% over 2004 with earnings of $1.28 a share, ahead of the consensus for $1.26 a share.

The stock was recently down $3.48, or 10.1%, at $30.92.

For its fiscal third quarter, Corinthian said earnings rose $21.2 million, or 23 cents a share, including an impairment charge from $18 million, or 20 cents a share, in the year-earlier period. Revenue increased 60% to $217.3 million from $135.5 million a year ago.

Excluding items, the company earned 25 cents a share in the latest quarter; analysts had been calling for 24 cents a share.

Income from operations in the latest quarter rose 17.9% to $35.6 million, but operating margin fell to 16.4% from 22% a year ago.

"Strong student population gains in both traditional classroom programs and through online courses, an accelerated branch campus opening program, and on-target integration of acquisitions completed in August 2003 continued to drive Corinthian's record results," the company said in a statement. Overall student population rose 52% to 66,239 students in the quarter.

Corinthian said it plans to open three new branch campuses in the fourth quarter.

Anthony Digiovanni, Corinthian's president and operating chief, will be replaced by Chairman and Chief Executive David G. Moore in the interim while a replacement for Digiovanni is found, the Santa Ana, Calif.-based company said. Digiovanni joined Corinthian in November 2002 from Apollo Group ( APOL), where he was executive vice president.

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