Bridgepoint 4Q Profit Drops, Outlook Disappoints

SAN DIEGO (AP) â¿¿ Bridgepoint Education Inc. said Tuesday that fourth-quarter profit dropped as costs grew more than revenue, and the online classes provider projected full-year profit that was short of analyst expectations as it expects another year of moderate enrollments growth.

The company, which operates Ashford University and University of the Rockies, is one of several for-profit educators whose student enrollments growth has been dampened by tightened admissions standards. Enrollment soared early in the recession, as the weak economy and high unemployment made education more appealing for job-seekers. But new, stricter government regulations enacted last summer prompted private education providers to raise admissions standards and that has cut into their enrollment and profitability.

Bridgepoint said it expects to select students with higher potential for success, operate smaller classes and increase other efforts in the coming year to improve students' professional prospects after graduation. This is a response to critics who felt that for-profit educators were graduating students with too much debt and few job prospects. The federal government's new rules tied students' debt loads to schools' access to federal financial aid, the bulk of their revenues.

Bridgepoint predicted a range for enrollment growth for 2012, with the middle of that range being about 10 percent. Enrollments grew 11 percent to 86,642 in 2011. Student sign-ups had shot up 45 percent in 2010 and 70 percent in 2009.

The company anticipates earning between $2.45 and $2.55 per share for the year. That falls short of the $2.78 per share that analysts polled by FactSet forecast. It anticipates revenue of $1.01 to $1.03 billion. Analysts forecast revenue of $967.2 million.

In the October-December quarter, profit fell 13 percent to $22.9 million, or 41 cents per share, from $26.3 million, or 45 cents per share, in the same months in 2010. Analysts predicted earnings of 38 cents per share.

Revenue rose 15 percent to $221.3 million from $192.4 million. Analysts forecast $217.4 million.

The 26 percent increase in costs for teaching, marketing and general operations outstripped the revenue gain.

"We have made and will continue to make investments designed to improve our students' learning outcomes and their educational experience at our institutions," Bridgepoint CEO Andrew Clark said in a statement.

The company earned $172.8 million, or $3.02 per share, for the year versus $127.6 million, or $2.14 per share, in 2010. Revenue rose to $933.3 million from $713.2 million.

Shares of the company, which is based in San Diego, fell 21 cents, less than 1 percent, to $23.28 in midday trading.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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