Career Education ( CECO) was hammered Wednesday morning after Wall Street turned up its nose at the company's second-quarter earnings report.

The Hoffman Estates, Ill., secondary-education provider earned $39.7 million, or 38 cents a share, in the three months to June 30, up from $19.6 million, or 20 cents a share, last year. Analysts had been expecting earnings of 34 cents a share in the 2004 quarter. Revenue rose 60% from a year ago to $409.4 million.

Career Education expects to earn 38 cents a share in the third quarter and $1.81 in the full year. The former is in line with estimates while the latter eclipses them. Nevertheless, the stock was recently down $9.90, or 22%, to $34.70, as the company's mostly institutional investor base heeded a handful of downgrades that followed release of the earnings.

Among the skeptics was Banc of America, which said Career Ed had too few students enrolled at its online colleges at the end of the period: 17,600 instead of the 18,500 Wall Street wanted. Merrill Lynch also noted the shortfall, and said students might have been scared off by the company's ongoing legal entanglements, which include an SEC investigation and allegations of bookkeeping malfeasance by former employees.

Several analysts noted that the steady hammering in Career Ed's shares has transformed the stock from growth story to value play. After Wednesday morning's drubbing, the stock currently trades at about 19 times the new 2004 earnings estimate -- a far cry from April, when it was above $70.

Among other publicly traded education companies, Apollo Group ( APOL) was recently down $3.75, or 4.2%, to $86.05; ITT Education ( ESI) was down $1.59, or 4.8%, to $31.49; and Corinthian Colleges ( COCO) was down $2.17, or 10%, to $19.51.

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