10-K 1 ceco-10k_20181231.htm 10-K ceco-10k_20181231.htm

 

SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION

Washington, D.C. 20549

 

FORM 10-K

 

(Mark One)

ANNUAL REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(D) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934

For the fiscal year ended December 31, 2018

or

TRANSITION REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(D) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934

For the transition period from           to           

Commission File Number 0-23245

 

CAREER EDUCATION CORPORATION

(Exact name of Registrant as specified in its charter)

 

 

Delaware

 

36-3932190

(State of or other jurisdiction of

incorporation or organization)

 

(I.R.S. Employer

Identification No.)

231 N. Martingale Road

Schaumburg, Illinois

 

60173

(Address of principal executive offices)

 

(zip code)

 

Registrant’s telephone number, including area code: (847) 781-3600

Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(b) of the Act:

 

Common Stock, $0.01 par value

 

Nasdaq Global Select Market

(Title of Class)

 

(Name of Exchange on which Registered)

 

Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(g) of the Act: None

 

Indicate by check mark whether the Registrant is a well-known seasoned issuer, as defined in Rule 405 of the Securities Act of 1933.     Yes       No  

Indicate by check mark if the Registrant is not required to file reports pursuant to Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.     Yes       No  

Indicate by check mark whether the Registrant (1) has filed all reports required to be filed by Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the Registrant was required to file such reports), and (2) has been subject to such filing requirements for the past 90 days.     Yes       No  

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has submitted electronically every Interactive Data File required to be submitted pursuant to Rule 405 of Regulation S-T (§ 232.405 of this chapter) during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to submit such files).     Yes       No  

Indicate by check mark if disclosure of delinquent filers pursuant to Item 405 of Regulation S-K is not contained herein, and will not be contained, to the best of Registrant’s knowledge, in definitive proxy or information statements incorporated by reference in Part III of this Form 10-K or any amendment to this Form 10-K.     

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a large accelerated filer, an accelerated filer, a non-accelerated filer, smaller reporting company, or an emerging growth company. See the definitions of “large accelerated filer,” “accelerated filer,” “smaller reporting company” and “emerging growth company” in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act.

Large accelerated filer

 

 

Accelerated filer

Non-accelerated filer

 

 

 

Smaller reporting company

Emerging growth company

 

  

 

 

 

If an emerging growth company, indicate by check mark if the registrant has elected not to use the extended transition period for complying with any new or revised financial accounting standards provided pursuant to Section 13(a) of the Exchange Act.

Indicate by check mark whether the Registrant is a shell company, as defined in Rule 12b-2 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.     Yes      No  

The aggregate market value of the Registrant’s voting common stock held by non-affiliates of the Registrant, based upon the $16.17 per share closing sale price of the Registrant’s common stock on June 29, 2018 (the last business day of the Registrant’s most recently completed second quarter), was approximately $955,000,000. For purposes of this calculation, the Registrant’s directors, executive officers and 10% or greater stockholders have been assumed to be affiliates. This assumption of affiliate status is not necessarily a conclusive determination for other purposes. As of February 15, 2019, the number of outstanding shares of Registrant’s common stock was 69,772,910.

Portions of the Registrant’s Notice of Annual Meeting and Proxy Statement for the Registrant’s 2019 Annual Meeting of Stockholders are incorporated by reference into Part III of this Report.

 

 

 


CAREER EDUCATION CORPORATION

FORM 10-K

TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

 

 

 

Page

PART I

 

 

ITEM 1.

BUSINESS

 

1

ITEM 1A.

RISK FACTORS

 

26

ITEM 1B.

UNRESOLVED STAFF COMMENTS

 

38

ITEM 2.

PROPERTIES

 

38

ITEM 3.

LEGAL PROCEEDINGS

 

38

ITEM 4.

MINE SAFETY DISCLOSURES

 

38

 

 

 

PART II

 

 

ITEM 5.

MARKET FOR REGISTRANT’S COMMON EQUITY, RELATED STOCKHOLDER MATTERS AND ISSUER PURCHASES OF EQUITY SECURITIES

 

39

ITEM 6.

SELECTED FINANCIAL DATA

 

41

ITEM 7.

MANAGEMENT’S DISCUSSION AND ANALYSIS OF FINANCIAL CONDITION AND RESULTS OF OPERATIONS

 

43

ITEM 7A.

QUANTITATIVE AND QUALITATIVE DISCLOSURES ABOUT MARKET RISK

 

60

ITEM 8.

FINANCIAL STATEMENTS AND SUPPLEMENTARY DATA

 

60

ITEM 9.

CHANGES IN AND DISAGREEMENTS WITH ACCOUNTANTS ON ACCOUNTING AND FINANCIAL DISCLOSURE

 

61

ITEM 9A.

CONTROLS AND PROCEDURES

 

61

ITEM 9B.

OTHER INFORMATION

 

61

 

 

 

PART III

 

 

ITEM 10.

DIRECTORS, EXECUTIVE OFFICERS AND CORPORATE GOVERNANCE

 

62

ITEM 11.

EXECUTIVE COMPENSATION

 

62

ITEM 12.

SECURITY OWNERSHIP OF CERTAIN BENEFICIAL OWNERS AND MANAGEMENT AND RELATED STOCKHOLDER MATTERS

 

62

ITEM 13.

CERTAIN RELATIONSHIPS AND RELATED TRANSACTIONS, AND DIRECTOR INDEPENDENCE

 

63

ITEM 14.

PRINCIPAL ACCOUNTANT FEES AND SERVICES

 

63

 

 

 

PART IV

 

 

ITEM 15.

EXHIBITS AND FINANCIAL STATEMENT SCHEDULES

 

64

ITEM 16.

FORM 10-K SUMMARY

 

64

 

 

 

SIGNATURES

 

68

 

 

 

 


PART I

Cautionary Note Regarding Forward-Looking Statements

This Annual Report on Form 10-K contains “forward-looking statements,” as defined in Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended, that reflect our current expectations regarding our future growth, results of operations, cash flows, performance and business prospects and opportunities, as well as assumptions made by, and information currently available to, our management. We have tried to identify forward-looking statements by using words such as “anticipate,” “believe,” “expect,” “plan,” “should,” “estimate,” “trend,” ”will,” “continue to,” “outlook,” “focused on” and similar expressions, but these words are not the exclusive means of identifying forward-looking statements. These statements are based on information currently available to us and are subject to various risks, uncertainties, and other factors, including, but not limited to, those matters discussed herein under the caption “Risk Factors” that could cause our actual growth, results of operations, financial condition, cash flows, performance, business prospects and opportunities to differ materially from those expressed in, or implied by, these statements. Except as expressly required by the federal securities laws, we undertake no obligation to update such factors or to publicly announce the results of any of the forward-looking statements contained herein to reflect future events, developments, or changed circumstances or for any other reason.

 

 

ITEM 1.

BUSINESS

Career Education Corporation (“CEC”) was incorporated in Delaware in 1994. When used in this Annual Report on Form 10-K, the terms “we,” “us,” “our,” “the Company” and “CEC” refer to Career Education Corporation and our wholly-owned subsidiaries. The terms “institution” and “university” refer to an individual, branded, for-profit educational institution owned by us and includes its campus locations. The term “campus” refers to an individual main or branch campus operated by one of our institutions.

BUSINESS OVERVIEW

Career Education’s academic institutions offer a quality education to a diverse student population in a variety of disciplines through online, campus-based and blended learning programs. Our two regionally-accredited universities – Colorado Technical University (“CTU”) and American InterContinental University (“AIU”) – provide degree programs through the master’s or doctoral level as well as associate and bachelor’s levels. Both universities predominantly serve students online with career-focused degree programs that are designed to meet the educational needs of today’s busy adults. CTU and AIU continue to show innovation in higher education, advancing new personalized learning technologies like their intellipath® learning platform. Career Education is committed to providing quality education that closes the gap between learners who seek to advance their careers and employers needing a qualified workforce.

CTU places a strong focus on providing industry-relevant degree programs to meet the needs of our non-traditional students for career advancement and of employers for a well-educated workforce and offers academic programs in the career-oriented disciplines of business studies, nursing, computer science, engineering, information systems and technology, cybersecurity, criminal justice and healthcare management. Students pursue their degrees through fully-online programs, local campuses and blended formats, which combine campus-based and online education.

AIU focuses on helping busy non-traditional students get the degree they need to move forward in their career as efficiently as possible and offers academic programs in the career-oriented disciplines of business studies, information technologies, education and criminal justice. Students pursue their degrees through fully-online programs, local campuses and blended formats, which combine campus-based and online education.

We refer to CTU and AIU collectively as our University Group.

Additionally, in 2018 CEC completed the multi-year process of teaching out all campuses within the All Other Campuses segment, as part of the strategic decision to pursue a transformation strategy aimed at reducing the complexity of operations and focusing our attention on our University Group institutions. Students enrolled at these campuses were provided a reasonable opportunity to complete their program of study prior to the final teach-out date. Our All Other Campuses segment previously offered educational programs in career-oriented disciplines complemented by business studies and information technology as well as culinary arts. The Company announced the complete teach-out of all campuses in this segment in 2015, at which time they had 44 campus locations. The teach-out process of these campuses ended at varying dates since 2015 with the final campus closure in the fourth quarter of 2018.

A listing of individual campus locations and web links to Career Education’s University Group institutions can be found at www.careered.com.

Substantially all of the students attending our institutions reside within the United States of America.

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Campus Locations

Our University Group campus locations, as of February 20, 2019 are summarized in the table below. Campuses from the All Other Campuses segment, which ceased operations by December 31, 2018, are not included.

 

Universities and Campus Locations

 

Website

AMERICAN INTERCONTINENTAL UNIVERSITY ("AIU"):

 

www.aiuniv.edu

AIU Atlanta, Atlanta, GA (includes Georgia online programs)

 

 

AIU Houston, Houston, TX

 

 

AIU Online, Schaumburg, IL

 

 

COLORADO TECHNICAL UNIVERSITY ("CTU"):

 

www.coloradotech.edu

CTU Colorado Springs, Colorado Springs, CO

 

 

CTU Denver, Aurora, CO

 

 

CTU Online, Colorado Springs, CO

 

 

 

INDUSTRY BACKGROUND AND COMPETITION

The domestic postsecondary education industry is highly fragmented and competitive, with no one provider having a significant market share. The Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended and reauthorized (“Higher Education Act”), and the related regulations govern all higher education institutions participating in federal student aid and loan programs under Title IV of the Higher Education Act (“Title IV Programs”). According to the National Center for Education Statistics (“NCES”), there were approximately 6,700 Title IV eligible postsecondary education institutions in the United States for the academic year 2017-18, including approximately 2,800 for-profit schools; approximately 2,000 public, non-profit schools; and approximately 1,900 private, non-profit schools. According to the U.S. Department of Education (“ED” or the “Department”), over the 12-month period July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017 approximately 26.7 million students were attending institutions that participate in the various Title IV Programs.

The domestic postsecondary degree-granting education industry was an approximately $564 billion industry for academic year 2015-16, according to a report published in 2018 by the Department. We compete in this industry primarily with other degree-granting regionally accredited colleges and universities, both for-profit and non-profit. In particular, there is growing competition from online programs at these institutions as they increase their online offerings in response to growing demand.

Most postsecondary institutions, regardless of how they are organized, face significant challenges, including:

 

a continued focus on the cost and availability of a college education;

 

concerns over the high level of college student indebtedness;

 

questions about the quality of academic programs and the ability to translate the value of a postsecondary education into economic mobility;

 

competition from lower cost alternatives and from non-traditional competitors or new alternative educational paths; and

 

the importance of preparing students with relevant skills to manage new and rapidly changing technologies and supporting employers in their efforts to optimize and advance their workforce.

Postsecondary institutions are also subject to significant regulations which provide for a regulatory triad by mandating specific regulatory responsibilities for each of the following:

 

The accrediting agencies recognized by ED;

 

the federal government through ED; and

 

state higher education regulatory bodies.

Extensive and increasingly complex ED regulations governing postsecondary institutions have been enacted, including regulations applicable only to for-profit institutions. These regulations, coupled with the increased focus by the U.S. Congress on the role that for-profit educational institutions play in higher education, as well as the evolving needs and objectives of students and employers, economic constraints affecting educational institutions and increased focus on affordability and value may cause increased competition across the industry as well as contribute to continued changes in business operating strategies.

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We believe that the competitive factors in the online postsecondary degree-granting education industry include:

 

quality of the academic programs offered;

 

affordability;

 

breadth of degree offerings;

 

convenient and flexible delivery of instruction;

 

technological advancements and capability;

 

experienced faculty members engaged in the practice of their fields;

 

effectiveness of student support and outreach strategies; and

 

reputation among prospective students and employers.

The majority of our degree-seeking students today have one or more non-traditional characteristics (e.g., did not enroll immediately after high school graduation, work full-time, are financially independent for purposes of financial aid eligibility, have dependents other than a spouse or are single parents). These non-traditional students typically are looking to improve their skills and enhance their earning potential within the context of their careers or in pursuit of new careers. As the industry has shifted to more students with non-traditional characteristics, an increasing proportion of colleges and universities are addressing the needs of working students. This includes colleges with well-established brand names that were historically focused on traditional students.

Although competition exists, for-profit educators serve a segment of the market for postsecondary education that we believe has not been fully addressed by traditional public and private universities. Non-profit public and private institutions can face limited financial resources to expand their offerings in response to growth or changes in the demand for education, due to a combination of state funding challenges, significant expenditures required for research and the professor tenure system. Certain private institutions also may control enrollments to preserve the perceived prestige and exclusivity of their degree offerings. For-profit providers of postsecondary education offer potential students the greater flexibility and convenience of their institutions' programmatic offerings and learning structure and an emphasis on applied content and the use of technology in the delivery of the education. At the same time, the share of the postsecondary education market that has been captured by for-profit providers remains relatively small. As a result, we believe that in spite of regulatory and other challenges facing the industry, for-profit postsecondary education providers continue to have significant opportunities to address the demand for postsecondary education.

We believe that the online postsecondary education market continues to grow and gain acceptance across employers seeking qualified candidates for employment. Growth in the postsecondary education industry is being driven by online enrollment for a variety of reasons, including:

 

a growing demographic of adult learners;

 

a current gap in attainment of higher education for adult learners; and

 

continued increased economic benefit for employees who hold a bachelor’s degree as compared to those with lower-level degrees.

Our Competitive Strengths

We believe that the following strengths differentiate our business:

Strong level of support for student retention and academic outcomes. The successful execution of our transformation strategy has enabled us to continue investing in student-serving processes and initiatives which we believe will contribute to improved student experiences, retention and academic outcomes. Our universities have also continued to focus on refining and executing operational changes with the same goal. We believe our admissions and advising operating models have improved accountability and coordination between the functions, ultimately helping our students. There is accountability at the advisor and manager levels to promote and enhance student engagement. As an education company, academic outcomes are the most relevant and critical measure of our success. Our institutions are dedicated to recruiting and retaining quality faculty and instructors with relevant industry experience and appropriate academic credentials. We continue to invest and leverage technology to further enhance student learning and promote faculty engagement. This is evidenced by our advancements in mobile technology for our students and faculty that has made overall classroom activities easier to complete. We have also redesigned the academic calendar within AIU, which better aligns with student lives. We seek to identify emerging industry trends in order to understand the evolving educational needs of our students and graduates and we continue to work with our university regulators to expand our program offerings to provide students with increased choices.

Flexibility in delivery models. Development of a virtual campus that engages online students with their instructor, their peers and the content is critical to the achievement of improved student learning outcomes. CEC’s online instructional delivery is accomplished utilizing an innovative, student-focused proprietary learning management system. While online content delivery is very common today, CEC’s course content delivery system, M.U.S.E. (My Unique Student Experience), has several features that make it

3


distinctive in the education marketplace. Designed around the students, M.U.S.E. is a rich, engaging student experience that represents an innovative online method of delivering content that includes the following capabilities:

 

supports multiple learning styles, allowing students to choose their preferred method of engaging with the content;

 

enables students to choose the order of topics to study within a predetermined framework of learning objectives; and

 

provides search capability that allows students to interact with the content more efficiently and effectively.

 

In addition, CTU and AIU each have a student mobile application which was created to complement students’ mobile-centric lives. The mobile applications offer users the ability to connect with their university, track grades and degree progress in real-time and participate in courses from the palm of their hand. The student benefits of the mobile applications include motivating students and helping them connect with the university and remain on track with their course of study. CTU and AIU also have a faculty mobile application which provides informative dashboards, ability to complete tasks on the go and enhanced outreach and communication capabilities that we believe will make teacher-student interactions easier and more effective.

 

Both CTU and AIU have also fully implemented a two-way messaging platform within the mobile application to support effective and efficient student outreach and communication with advising, admissions and financial aid personnel. Our students and staff are increasingly using the messenger due to its ease and simplicity.

Innovative personalized learning technology. Through our equity investment in CCKF, a Dublin-based educational technology company that provides intelligent, adaptive systems to power the delivery of personalized learning, we have strengthened our leadership position as a technology innovator in higher education and as a company dedicated to student success. Our personalized learning content was developed by teams of our own instructors and has been integrated across many of our curricula. We have a perpetual license to this technology, which, when integrated with our proprietary learning management system, we refer to as intellipath.® This academic and technological breakthrough continues to advance our understanding of the learning process and support improved student academic outcomes. Personalized learning, supported by intellipath technology, allows us to visualize how each student learns through their interaction with the material.

Intellipath serves as a powerful platform to help our students learn. It identifies and gives more time in areas where students need more help, while moving past areas they already know. In many respects, personalized learning serves as an excellent way to facilitate and demonstrate mastery in a competency-based learning environment. Personalized learning is changing the nature of higher education by measuring real-time knowledge growth minute-by-minute and understanding of the material on a student-by-student basis.

The success of this personalized learning platform lies in the abundance of data it collects, which in turn helps our instructors determine how to structure courses, deliver material to students, predict and mitigate individual student challenges and identify teaching practices that yield the strongest results. A major difference between our platform and others is that it focuses on student learning achievements rather than solely on student satisfaction or how fast it facilitates a student to complete assignments.

Strong student outreach strategies. We have invested significant resources in developing processes and implementing technologies that allow us to effectively recruit and retain qualified students. We develop and participate in various marketing activities which build awareness of the CTU and AIU brands among prospective students. Our marketing programs are designed to differentiate our brands in the marketplace and maximize each institution’s opportunity to serve a targeted section of the potential student population.

Over the past two years we have invested in two new admissions and advising centers in Chandler and Tempe, Arizona and increased our investments within the student advising, admissions and academic functions. These investments have enabled us to support the increased demand we experienced during 2018.

Additionally, we have invested in technologies that allow us to customize outreach strategies based on student interest before contacting students. This technology consolidates data into a single prospective student contact center platform and provides us with flexible outreach strategies and improves time utilization. Some other key benefits include work force scheduling and improved call and call recording analytics. We have seen improvement in the number of students we are able to connect with and we believe students have an improved overall experience in communications with our staff.

Seasonality

Our quarterly net revenues and income may fluctuate primarily as a result of the pattern of student enrollments. For CTU, the seasonality of our business has decreased over the last several years due to an increased percentage of students enrolling in online programs, which generally experience less seasonal fluctuations than campus-based programs. Within AIU, a calendar redesign was implemented during 2017 which impacts quarterly comparability in the foreseeable future as each quarter may have non-comparable revenue-earnings days. While operating costs for our institutions generally do not fluctuate significantly on a quarterly basis, we do traditionally increase our marketing investments during the first and third fiscal quarters in relation to the back to school seasons.

4


Revenues, operating income (loss) and net income (loss) by quarter for each of the past two fiscal years are included in Note 19 “Quarterly Financial Summary” of the notes to our consolidated financial statements.

BUSINESS AND OPERATING STRATEGY

To compete successfully in today’s demanding economy, people benefit from higher education that provides a foundation of knowledge and skills they can use in the workplace and to build meaningful careers. We aim to provide effective, industry-relevant postsecondary education to a diverse population, providing our students the opportunity to use their education to advance personally and professionally.

Our strategy is aimed at leveraging near-term demands for higher education with a career focus, while continuing to build the capabilities necessary to deliver sustainable and responsible long-term growth for our organization and its institutions. Within our University Group, we are focused on increasing the efficacy of our programs while seeking operational efficiencies in an effort to improve the student experience across the student lifecycle - for our campus-based students as well as our online students.

The importance of quality education at our institutions cannot be overstated. The quality of the education we provide and the manner in which we provide it can directly lead to better student outcomes. We will strive to offer new programs at institutions and particular campuses as there is both student demand for the education, as well as workplace demand for graduates in that field of study. As we continue to innovate in our delivery of online education, we will continue to build upon that history and continue developing new education technologies that enhance the learning experience for students. We believe our intellipath® personalized learning platform provides our organization and its institutions a strategic advantage by providing a more customized student experience and we will continue to expand its use as a key differentiator.

Growing the academic and economic value of our university platforms by enhancing student retention and academic outcomes also aligns with the interest of creating stockholder value. Our successful execution and completion of our transformation efforts has given us the ability to focus our resources and attention on our university institutions. We are committed to investing in our university brands, technology and faculty, all of which contribute to positive student experiences, retention and academic outcomes.

Our business and operating strategy is built upon core guiding principles, including:

 

sustainable and responsible growth;

 

student retention and academic outcomes;

 

academic quality and integrity;

 

compliance with regulations; and

 

innovation and collaboration.

In addition to the Company’s core business and operating strategy, the Company has been focused on building a strong balance sheet while prudently investing in organic growth projects. As we further build our cash balances, we will continue to evaluate diverse strategies to enhance shareholder value, including acquisitions of quality educational institutions and programs, while emphasizing organic student-serving investments at our universities and maintaining liquidity.

Sustainable and Responsible Growth

Student Recruitment and Marketing

Our institutions seek highly motivated students with both the desire and ability to complete their academic programs of choice. To promote interest among potential students, each of our universities engages in a wide variety of marketing activities. Our marketing programs are designed to differentiate our brands in the marketplace and maximize each institution’s opportunity to serve a targeted section of the potential student population.

Within our University Group, we continue our focus on expanding strategic relationships with corporate partners. We expect these relationships to result in new student interest through increased awareness of our brands for the employees of our corporate partners. Corporate partnerships provide us with an opportunity to educate students that are not as easily accessible through our standard marketing. Students who attend our institutions through corporate partnerships are awarded grants from the applicable university to partially offset their tuition costs, the amount of which depends on the agreement with each respective corporate partner. The lower tuition billed to these students results in lower revenue per student on a daily basis, yet recruiting, marketing and support costs associated with these students are lower. Further, these students are more likely to start class and tend to be more persistent in their pursuit of long-term learning, which we believe will result in higher life-time value per student. We continue to see student enrollments from corporate partnerships increase as we continue to expand the program to new corporate partners. Approximately 16.7% and 6.4% of CTU and AIU’s total student population as of December 31, 2018, respectively, are a result of corporate partnership agreements.

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Admissions

CEC serves a diverse student population. Our students represent a broad range of educational and employment experiences, contributing to their college-level readiness. Each of our University Group institutions has an admissions department that is responsible for interacting with individuals interested in applying to an institution. Admissions advisors serve as prospective students’ primary contacts, providing information to help them make informed enrollment decisions and assisting them with the completion of the enrollment process. The admission advisors also have a responsibility to provide guidance and support through the application process and orientation as well as assist each student as they transition to their first class.

CEC has invested in multiple admissions center locations in order to better assist students through the admissions process. CEC has made additional investments in its Illinois admissions and advising centers along with opening two new admissions and advising centers in Chandler and Tempe, Arizona. These investments have been made over the past two years and have enabled us to better meet student demand.

The admissions and entrance processes for our institutions are intended to identify students who are interested in meeting the requirements of their chosen program of study. We believe that a success-oriented student body ultimately results in higher student retention, increased student and employer satisfaction, and lower default rates on government loans utilized by a student. Generally, to be qualified for admission to one of our institutions, an applicant must have received a high school diploma or a recognized equivalent, such as a General Education Development certificate. Some of our programs may also require applicants to meet other program admissions requirements.

Our student financial aid team works with students so that they are able to start their education with the knowledge of what loans and grants are available to them and complete the financial aid application process in a timely manner, thus providing them with the capability of funding their education. Our staff assists students so they can determine an appropriate funding solution for their educational needs as well as provides information regarding the transfer of credit into the institution.

Our online orientation process encourages students to engage actively in preparatory activities which can include a personalized learning module, a discussion board assignment and an individual project. This orientation program also provides the opportunity for students to understand our academic and support services. We believe completion of these activities will better prepare a student to make an informed decision about pursuing their education as well as to be more successful as it simulates their classroom experience both online and in a campus-based environment. Campus-based students have the opportunity to engage with faculty, staff and current students during orientation which builds confidence and a comfort level in their new learning environment. Orientation is offered to all students; completion of orientation does not financially obligate students nor does it require students to continue their education with the university.

Student Retention and Academic Outcomes

We emphasize the importance of student retention at each of our institutions. As is the case at any postsecondary educational institution, a portion of our students fail to complete their academic programs for a variety of academic, financial or personal reasons. We employ student advisors that provide feedback and assistance to students during their course of study. We seek to improve retention rates by building a strong connection between our faculty and students and promoting instructional innovation, such as our M.U.S.E. instructional platform and our student and faculty mobile applications. These efforts, as well as our intellipath personalized learning technology, are designed to assist our students to remain in school and succeed.

Our student advising model promotes specific and deliberate collaboration between faculty and advisors which we believe elevates accountability and effectiveness between these two areas, which in turn, provides students with consistent support and communication. Student advisors continue to work with students throughout their program to provide relevant and specific feedback and guidance as they progress through their classes. Additionally, a team of staff members from advising, admissions and financial aid work directly with each new student creating a student-service atmosphere and encouraging quality interactions.

Coupled with the student advising model, CTU and AIU have made changes to course sequencing to build workload levels slowly as students develop skills and acclimate to course expectations. Courses have been redesigned to accommodate skill development holistically in the first eight courses, which we believe will support incremental and progressive learning.

AIU has fully transitioned to a graduate team model operating structure. The graduate team model structure personalizes student facing services in financial aid, admissions and advising and we believe this structure helps increase accountability and ultimately improves overall student experiences and retention. This cross-functional strategy is aimed at improving student engagement prior to beginning school and continuing through their academic program, with particular emphasis on the important onboarding phase and first academic term as the students adjust to their academic program. These teams also facilitate completion of the financial aid process and continue to provide support as students work towards graduating in their field of study.

We have also implemented a new student engagement and retention analytics tool at CTU during the fourth quarter of 2018. This tool is intended to better help us reach the right student at the right time with the right support, which we expect will increase rates of overall course completion by our students.

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Preparing students to find employment in their field of study is also an important element of our educational mission. To this end, each of our institutions provides career services assistance to help prepare students to conduct a successful job search and to help identify job opportunities with employers.

Student Enrollments Statistics

Our total University Group student enrollments as of December 31, 2018 and 2017 was approximately 34,400 students and 34,700 students, respectively. Included in total student enrollments were approximately 32,100 students and 32,300 students, respectively, enrolled in our University Group fully-online academic programs. Related student enrollment demographic information for our University Group as of December 31, 2018 and 2017 was as follows:

University Group Student Enrollments by Age Group

 

 

 

As a Percentage of Total University Group

 

 

 

Student Enrollments as of

 

 

 

December 31,

 

 

 

2018

 

 

2017

 

Over 30

 

 

61

%

 

 

61

%

21 to 30

 

 

35

%

 

 

36

%

Under 21

 

 

4

%

 

 

3

%

 

University Group Student Enrollments by Core Curricula

 

 

 

As a Percentage of Total University Group

 

 

 

Student Enrollments as of

 

 

 

December 31,

 

 

 

2018

 

 

2017

 

Business Studies

 

 

74

%

 

 

74

%

Information Technology

 

 

14

%

 

 

15

%

Health Education

 

 

12

%

 

 

11

%

 

University Group Student Enrollments by Degree Granting Program

 

 

 

As a Percentage of Total University Group

 

 

 

Student Enrollments as of

 

 

 

December 31,

 

 

 

2018

 

 

2017

 

Doctoral and Master's Degree

 

 

13

%

 

 

12

%

Bachelor's Degree

 

 

71

%

 

 

72

%

Associate Degree

 

 

16

%

 

 

16

%

 

Academic Quality and Integrity

We believe academic outcomes and career readiness are attained by our students as a result of the quality learning experience they are provided. Those learning experiences are facilitated by career-oriented program development, engaging instructional delivery and qualified faculty.

Program Development

Our universities develop and deliver a variety of programs resulting in the award of credentials ranging from certificates to master’s and doctoral degrees in career-oriented programs of study in core curricula areas of business studies, information technology and health education.

CEC’s curricula, instructional delivery tools, and experienced faculty comprise the learning experience that appeals to our student population and provides them with a unique opportunity to develop the knowledge, skills and competencies required for specific careers. The curriculum development process focuses on desired career needs, while considering relative competencies necessary to achieve these career needs, as well as recommendations set forth by advisory boards, programmatic accrediting agencies

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and industry standards. Subsequently, learning objectives are identified and courses are developed which foster student engagement in activities and optimally result in the attainment of program learning outcomes.

Instructional Delivery

CEC’s instructional delivery is based upon the belief that learning is dependent upon instructional methodologies that facilitate student engagement with the instructor, with other students and with the course content. This engagement is fundamental to student learning outcomes, regardless of whether instruction occurs within a physical or virtual classroom.

Construction of, and ongoing enhancement to, a virtual campus that engages online students with their instructor, their peers and the content is critical to the achievement of student learning outcomes. CEC’s online instructional delivery is accomplished utilizing an innovative, student-focused learning management system. While online content delivery is very common today, CEC’s course content delivery system, M.U.S.E. (My Unique Student Experience), has several features that make it distinctive in the education marketplace. Designed around the students, M.U.S.E. is a rich, engaging student experience that represents an innovative online method of delivering content.

CEC continues to invest in its methods for delivering online education. CEC has implemented the use of sophisticated personalized learning technologies, referred to as intellipath, within our university institutions. Our roll-out of these technological tools is coupled with extensive faculty training. Continuous assessment facilitates the development of individualized, dynamic learning maps that both illustrate where student mastery has been achieved and where additional work is needed. Both the student and the instructor can see in real time where learning has taken place and where effort still needs to be applied. Additionally, students have access to a mobile application and two-way messaging platform which were created to complement students’ mobile-centric lives. The student benefits of these enhancements include motivating students and helping them connect with the university and remain on track with their course of study.

Faculty

CEC institutions employ approximately 1,900 credentialed, geographically disbursed, full-time and adjunct (i.e., part-time) faculty who facilitate learning in our classrooms and virtual classrooms. Our faculty are hired, assigned, developed and evaluated in accordance with current accepted higher education practices and in accordance with state, institutional accreditation and programmatic accreditation standards. Generally, our institutions require the instructor to have a degree at least one level higher than the level of course being taught (with the exception of faculty in our doctoral programs) plus teaching and/or industry experience. General education faculty members must possess at least a master’s degree. The average tenure of a CEC faculty member is greater than six years. We believe the longevity of our instructors is a testament to the focus we place on student learning and the consistent quality we strive for in our classrooms.

Faculty Competencies

With the input of faculty and academic leadership at our institutions, we have developed a set of instructor competencies that we believe are critical to student success and institutional effectiveness. These competencies provide the basis for faculty recruitment, hiring, orientation, evaluation and development. The competencies apply to all instructors, regardless of content area, instructional platform (campus-based or online) and employment status (full-time or part-time). Faculty hired by any CEC institution must demonstrate proficiency in each of the following competencies:

 

communication;

 

assessment of student learning;

 

instructional methodology (pedagogy);

 

subject matter expertise;

 

utilization of technology to enhance teaching and learning;

 

acknowledgement and accommodation of diversity in learners;

 

student engagement;

 

promotion of active student learning;

 

compliance with academic and institution policy; and

 

demonstration of scholarship.

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Compliance with Regulations

We focus on operating and achieving results in a compliant and ethical manner. Specialized staff review, interpret and establish procedures for compliance with regulations governing financial assistance programs and processing financial aid applications. Because Title IV Programs are required to be administered in accordance with the standard of care and diligence of a fiduciary, any regulatory violation can be the basis for disciplinary action, including suspension of participation in Title IV Programs, as well as a limitation or termination proceeding against one or both of our institutions.

Our institutions undergo an annual independent compliance audit for all Title IV Programs as well as a variety of other compliance submissions to and reviews from ED, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, various state licensing agencies and institutional accreditors. CEC’s efforts to maintain compliance with all of these regulatory requirements are extensive and include:

 

corporate and institutional resource teams that respond to student concerns;

 

robust institutional effectiveness programs at each institution focused on continuous improvement;

 

a centralized corporate financial aid quality assurance team that continuously audits financial aid packaging, awarding, disbursements and returns to ensure compliance with ED, Department of Veterans Affairs or other requirements;

 

a centralized data and reporting team responsible for consistency in methodologies for calculating and supporting the various reports to regulators or the public;

 

an internal audit function reporting directly to the Audit Committee of the Board of Directors that audits and regularly monitors our operations, including compliance with regulations;

 

a legal and regulatory group that assists with the development and implementation of procedures and process controls and monitors execution to maintain compliance with federal and state regulations, as well as monitoring of federal and state regulatory developments;

 

a compliance team that is responsible for the review and approval of student and public communications and media including advertising materials, web content and maintaining internal and external advertising standards;

 

regular monitoring of recorded phone calls in order to support efforts to maintain quality student interactions;

 

use of compliance-approved materials when speaking to potential and current students; and

 

required annual ethics training for all employees and quarterly compliance certifications for staff engaged in student marketing, recruitment, financial aid counseling and processing, career services and campus leadership.

Innovation and Collaboration

We focus on driving a culture of innovation and collaboration. This is evidenced by our technology innovations in recent years, including our personalized learning platform, student and faculty mobile applications with the addition of two-way messaging and a student engagement and retention analytics tool, all of which are discussed further above. We believe that these innovations continue to provide students with tools that enable them to focus on educational content in a manner that is best suited to their personal learning style. Our focus on collaboration is evidenced by the successful implementation of these technology initiatives as well as how these innovations are designed to promote more effective and efficient collaboration between faculty, advisors and students. AIU’s implementation of the graduate team model is another example of this focus on collaboration which drives a student-service atmosphere and encourages quality interactions. Our teams have also collaborated to implement operational efficiencies in an effort to improve the student experience across the student lifecycle. We will continue our focus on innovation and collaboration to improve student experiences, retention and academic outcomes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Employees

As of December 31, 2018, we had a total of 4,244 employees, including 137 students employed on a part-time basis at certain of our institutions, as follows:

 

 

 

Full-time Non-student Employees

 

 

Part-time Non-student Employees

 

 

Part-time Student Employees

 

 

Full-time Faculty

 

 

Part-time Faculty (adjunct)

 

 

Total

 

CTU

 

 

736

 

 

 

-

 

 

 

64

 

 

 

63

 

 

 

1,177

 

 

 

2,040

 

AIU

 

 

674

 

 

 

8

 

 

 

73

 

 

 

58

 

 

 

582

 

 

 

1,395

 

Total University Group

 

 

1,410

 

 

 

8

 

 

 

137

 

 

 

121

 

 

 

1,759

 

 

 

3,435

 

Corporate and Other

 

 

787

 

 

 

13

 

 

 

-

 

 

 

-

 

 

 

-

 

 

 

800

 

Subtotal

 

 

2,197

 

 

 

21

 

 

 

137

 

 

 

121

 

 

 

1,759

 

 

 

4,235

 

All Other Campuses

 

 

3

 

 

 

1

 

 

 

-

 

 

 

-

 

 

 

5

 

 

 

9

 

Total employees

 

 

2,200

 

 

 

22

 

 

 

137

 

 

 

121

 

 

 

1,764

 

 

 

4,244

 

 

ACCREDITATION AND JURISDICTIONAL AUTHORIZATIONS

Institutional Accreditation

In the United States, accreditation is a process through which an institution subjects itself to qualitative review by an organization of peer institutions. Accrediting agencies primarily examine the academic quality of the instructional programs of an institution, and a grant of accreditation is generally viewed as confirmation that an institution’s programs meet generally accepted academic standards. Accrediting agencies also review the administrative and financial operations of the institutions they accredit to ensure that each institution has the resources to meet its educational mission.

Pursuant to provisions of the Higher Education Act, ED relies on accrediting agencies to determine whether institutions’ educational programs qualify the institutions to participate in Title IV Programs. The Higher Education Act and its implementing regulations specify certain standards that all recognized accrediting agencies must adopt in connection with their review of postsecondary institutions.

Both CTU and AIU are accredited by The Higher Learning Commission (“HLC”) (www.hlcommission.org), one of six regional accreditation agencies recognized by ED. AIU’s next re-affirmation of accreditation is scheduled for 2023-24. AIU had a comprehensive evaluation in 2018, during which HLC found that AIU continued to meet HLC’s criteria for accreditation. CTU’s next re-affirmation of accreditation is scheduled for 2022-23. CTU had a comprehensive evaluation in 2017, during which HLC found that CTU continued to meet HLC’s criteria for accreditation, while requesting that CTU complete some interim reporting prior to its next re-affirmation of accreditation review.

Programmatic Accreditation

In addition to the institutional accreditation described above, CTU and AIU have specialized programmatic accreditation for particular educational programs. Many states and professional associations require professional programs to be accredited at a program level, and require individuals who must pass professional license exams to have graduated from accredited programs. Programmatic accreditation does not satisfy ED requirements to confer Title IV Program eligibility; however, it does provide additional quality review by peers in a given field and may enable or assist graduates to practice, sit for licensing or certification exams (in some cases) or otherwise secure appropriate employment in their chosen field. In addition to programmatic accreditation, some states have licensing boards which regulate who in a state is licensed to practice in a given profession.

Our schools pursue programmatic accreditation if that accreditation is required by employers or licensing bodies in order for a graduate to practice the profession or if it is required in order for a graduate to sit for a licensing or certification exam in order to practice or advance in the profession. In some cases, programmatic accreditation is sought because it is desired by employers and may enhance the ability of our graduates to compete for employment in their field.

Programmatic accreditation has been granted by the following accrediting agencies for the following individual programs offered by our University Group institutions.

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Programmatic Accreditation Table (1)

 

Accreditor

 

Campus

 

Program Accredited

 

 

 

 

 

ABET

 

Colorado Technical University, Colorado Springs

 

Electrical engineering and computer engineering

 

 

 

 

 

Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs

 

American InterContinental University: Atlanta, Houston and Schaumburg; Colorado Technical University: Colorado Springs and Denver

 

Business

 

 

 

 

 

Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education

 

Colorado Technical University, Colorado Springs

 

Nursing

 

 

 

 

 

Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation

 

American InterContinental University, Schaumburg

 

Education

 

 

 

 

 

Project Management Institute Global Accreditation Center

 

Colorado Technical University: Colorado Springs and Denver

 

Project management

_____________________

(1)

Status as of February 15, 2019.

State Authorization

State licensing agencies are responsible for the oversight of educational institutions, and continued approval by such agencies is necessary for an institution to operate and grant degrees or certificates to its students. State laws establish standards for, among other things, student instruction, qualifications of faculty, location and nature of facilities, and financial policies. State laws and regulations may limit our campuses’ ability to operate or to award degrees or certificates or offer new programs. Moreover, under the Higher Education Act, approval by such agencies is necessary to maintain eligibility to participate in Title IV Programs. As a result, we are subject to regulation in the states where our physical campuses or administrative offices are located. Currently, each of our ground-based campuses is authorized by the state in which it is located. Additionally, our online institutions have sought separate state approval or recognition from the relevant state agency via participation in a consortia program called the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (“SARA”) in the states in which they enroll and/or recruit students.

SARA is an agreement among member states, districts and U.S. territories that establishes comparable national standards for interstate offering of postsecondary distance education courses and programs. States, districts and territories apply to become members of SARA (which, in many cases, requires action by state legislators) and if accepted, institutions approved in their “home” state may apply to become participants in the SARA compact and the “home” state authorization is deemed acceptable to operate an online program in other states that also participate in SARA as long as they do not establish a “physical presence” in those other states (as defined by SARA). As of January 1, 2019, 49 states plus the District of Columbia are SARA participants (www.nc-sara.org). AIU and CTU are approved to participate in SARA by their home states (Illinois and Colorado, respectively). California is the only state which is not a part of SARA; CTU and AIU hold the appropriate approval in that state.

          ED had published new regulations, to be effective July 1, 2018, that condition Title IV Program eligibility on confirmation that an institution has the appropriate state approvals from any state which requires institutions to obtain its approval. These new regulations recognize SARA participation as a means to qualify in a state through reciprocity. However, the implementation of these regulations was delayed until July 1, 2020, based on concerns raised by regulated parties and ED is currently considering potential modifications to the regulations through a negotiated rulemaking process focused on accreditation and innovation.

Additional State Regulatory Matters

In recent years, states have increased their focus on the private, postsecondary education sector. This includes increased activity by state attorneys general in their review of the sector. In this regard, on January 3, 2019, the Company entered into agreements with attorneys general from 48 states and the District of Columbia to bring closure to multi-state inquiries ongoing since January 2014. As part of the agreements, the Company expressly denies any allegations of wrongdoing but agreed to, among other things, work with a third-party administrator that will report annually on the Company’s compliance with various obligations the Company committed to in the agreements. Operationally, the Company committed to:

 

provide students with additional communication of important policies, academic program information and financial aid information during the enrollment process, including a single page program disclosure as well as disclosure of applicable refund policies;

 

provide newly enrolling students an online financial aid interactive tool that can assist them in understanding their financial commitments;

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continue its existing practice of offering a no cost orientation and/or an introductory course with materials designed to support new college students (if they have less than 24 college credits); and

 

permit undergraduate students to withdraw with no monetary obligation up to seven days after their first class at on-campus schools and up to 21 days after the start of the term at online programs (if they have less than 24 online college credits).

From a compliance standpoint, the Company committed to:

 

continue many of its existing compliance programs that it uses to monitor for accurate communication with prospective students;

 

continue its monitoring of third-party marketing vendors and agreed on a process to continue to hold them accountable for complying with the Company’s advertising guidelines;

 

continue to monitor and review conversations that its admissions and financial aid staff have with prospective students during the student recruitment process; and

 

enhance current training to staff working with students regarding the additional information and tools that are part of the commitments in the agreements.

Generally, the operational aspects we agreed to as part of the agreements with the attorneys general are for a six-year period. See Note 12 “Contingencies” to our consolidated financial statements and Item 1A, “Risk Factors – Risks Related to the Highly Regulated Field in Which We Operate – Any failure to comply with state laws and regulatory requirements, or new state legislative or regulatory initiatives affecting our institutions, could have a material adverse effect on our total student enrollments, results of operations, financial condition and cash flows,” for more information about these agreements.

          Additionally, on August 19, 2013, the Company entered into an Assurance of Discontinuance with the New York Attorney General. Under the terms of this agreement, without admitting or denying any findings by the New York Attorney General, the Company agreed to, among other things: calculate and disclose placement rates according to agreed upon procedures and retain an independent consultant or audit firm to independently verify and report on such placement rates and to teach out programs going forward that do not achieve a 47.5% minimum placement rate. CTU Online and AIU Online have each reported and published this additional agreed upon placement rate which only includes New York resident graduates. For the 2018 reporting year, none of the rates required to be calculated for CTU Online and AIU Online were below the minimum threshold required by the Assurance of Discontinuance. The Company’s remaining campus in New York closed in 2018 and therefore no further action should be necessary with respect to programs which report rates below the minimum threshold. The Company has now completed all material terms of this agreement.

STUDENT FINANCIAL AID AND RELATED FEDERAL REGULATION

Many of our students require assistance in financing their education. Our institutions are approved to participate in the U.S. Department of Education’s Title IV federal aid programs. Our institutions also participate in a number of state financial aid programs, tuition assistance programs of the United States Armed Forces and education benefits administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Our institutions that participate in federal and state financial aid programs are subject to extensive regulatory requirements imposed by federal and state government agencies, and other standards imposed by educational accrediting bodies.

Nature of Federal Support for Postsecondary Education in the United States

The U.S. government provides a substantial portion of its support for postsecondary education in the form of Title IV Program grants, loans and work-study programs to students who can use those funds to finance certain education related expenses at any institution that has been approved to participate by ED. These federal programs are authorized by the Higher Education Act. While most students are eligible for a Title IV loan, typically, financial aid administered under Title IV is awarded on the basis of financial need, which is generally defined under the Higher Education Act as the difference between the costs associated with attending an institution and the amount a student’s family can reasonably be expected to contribute based on a federally determined formula. Among other things, recipients of Title IV Program funds must maintain a satisfactory grade point average and progress in a timely manner toward completion of their program of study.

Students at our institutions may receive grants, loans and work-study opportunities to fund their education under the Title IV Programs described in the sections below. In addition, some students at our institutions receive education related benefits pursuant to certain programs for veterans and military personnel, the most significant of which are described further below.

Federal Student and Parent Loans

ED’s major form of aid includes loans to students and parents through the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan (“Direct Loan”) Program. Direct Loans are loans made directly by the U.S. Government to students or their parents. The Direct Loan program offers Federal Direct Stafford, Federal Direct PLUS (which provides loans to parents of dependent students and to graduate or professional students, known as Parent PLUS and Grad PLUS) and Federal Direct Consolidation Loans.

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Undergraduate students who have demonstrated financial need may be eligible to receive a Direct Subsidized Loan, with ED paying the interest on this loan while the student is enrolled at least half-time in school. Graduate and undergraduate students who do not demonstrate financial need may be eligible to receive a Direct Unsubsidized Loan. Graduate/professional students may only receive Direct Unsubsidized Loans. With Direct Unsubsidized Loans the student is responsible for the interest while in school and after leaving school, although actual interest payments generally may be deferred by the student until after he or she has left school. Students who are eligible for a Direct Subsidized Loan may also be eligible to receive a Direct Unsubsidized Loan.

A student is not required to meet any specific credit scoring criteria to receive a Direct Loan, but any student with a default on a prior loan made under any Title IV Program or who has been convicted under federal or state law of selling or possessing drugs while receiving federal aid may not be eligible. ED has established maximum annual and aggregate borrowing limits for Direct Loans.

The Direct PLUS Loan Program provides loans to either the parents of dependent students (Direct Parent PLUS) or to graduate students (Direct Grad PLUS). Parents and graduate students who have an acceptable credit history may borrow a Direct PLUS Loan to pay the education related expenses of a child who is a dependent (Direct Parent PLUS) or a graduate student (Direct Grad PLUS) enrolled at least half-time at our eligible institutions. The amount of a Direct PLUS Loan cannot exceed the student’s cost of attendance less all other financial aid received.

Federal Pell Grant and Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant

Title IV Program grants are generally made to our students under the Federal Pell Grant (“Pell Grant”) program and the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (“FSEOG”) program. The 2018-19 maximum annual Pell Grant is $6,095, excluding any additional amount awarded pursuant to a year-round Pell Grant. Beginning with the 2017-18 award year, eligible students may receive year-round Pell Grant funds. A year-round Pell Grant program allows students to receive up to 150% of the student’s regular grant award over the course of the academic year, allowing students to maintain their enrollment status and receive Pell Grant funds for the entire calendar year so that they can continue taking classes and work toward graduating more quickly. To be eligible for the additional Pell Grant funds, the student must be enrolled at least half-time in the payment period(s) for which the student receives the additional Pell Grant funds in excess of 100% of the student’s regular Pell Grant award.

The FSEOG program awards are designed to supplement Pell Grants up to a maximum amount of $4,000 per academic year for the neediest students. Our institutions are required to provide matching funding for FSEOG awards that represent not less than 25% of the total FSEOG award to be received by eligible students. The matching may be accomplished through institutional, private and/or state funds.

Federal Work-Study Program

Generally, under the federal work-study program, federal funds are used to pay 75% of the cost of part-time employment of eligible students to perform work for the institution or certain off-campus organizations. The remaining 25% is paid by the institution or the student’s employer. In select cases, these federal funds under the federal work-study program are used to pay up to 100% of the cost of part-time employment of eligible students.

Veterans Benefits Programs

Some of our students who are veterans use their benefits under the Montgomery GI Bill or the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008, as amended (“Post-9/11 GI Bill”), to cover their tuition. A certain number of our students are also eligible to receive funds from other education assistance programs administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The Yellow Ribbon program under the Post-9/11 GI Bill expanded education benefits for veterans who have served on active duty on or after September 11, 2001, including reservists and members of the National Guard. As originally passed, the Post-9/11 GI Bill provided that eligible veterans could receive benefits for tuition purposes up to the cost of in-state tuition at the most expensive public institution of higher education in the state where the veteran was enrolled. In addition, veterans who were enrolled in classroom-based programs or “blended programs” (programs that combine classroom learning and distance learning) could receive monthly housing stipends, while veterans enrolled in wholly distance-based programs were not entitled to a monthly housing stipend. The provisions regarding education benefits for post-9/11 veterans took effect August 1, 2009. The Post-9/11 GI Bill also increased the amount of education benefits available to eligible veterans under the pre-existing Montgomery GI Bill. The legislation also authorized expansion of service members’ ability to transfer veterans’ education benefits to family members.

On January 4, 2011, the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act of 2010 (“Improvements Act”) was adopted, which amends the Post-9/11 GI Bill in several respects. The Improvements Act alters the way benefits related to tuition and fees are calculated. For nonpublic U.S. institutions, the Improvements Act bases the benefits related to tuition and fees on the net cost to the student (after accounting for state and federal aid, scholarships, institutional aid, fee waivers, and similar assistance paid directly to the institution for the sole purpose of defraying tuition cost) rather than the charges established by the institution. The Improvements Act also replaced the state-dependent benefit cap with a single national cap which is adjusted annually and as of August 1, 2018 is $23,672. In addition, veterans pursuing a program of education solely through distance learning on a more than half-time basis are eligible to receive up to 50% of the national average of the basic housing allowance available to service members who are at

13


military pay grade E-5 and have dependents. Most “Improvements Act” changes took effect on August 1 or October 1, 2011, though changes to rules regarding eligibility for benefits were effective immediately or retroactively to the effective date of the Post-9/11 GI Bill. The Improvements Act did not change the Post-9/11 GI Bill’s provision that allows veterans to receive up to $1,000 per academic year for books, supplies, equipment and other education costs.

U.S. Military Tuition Assistance

Service members of the United States Armed Forces are eligible to receive tuition assistance from their branch of service through the Uniform Tuition Assistance Program of the Department of Defense (“DoD”). Service members may use this tuition assistance to pursue postsecondary degrees at postsecondary institutions that are accredited by accrediting agencies that are recognized by ED. Each branch of the armed forces has established its own rules for the tuition assistance programs of DoD.

In 2010, both the U.S. Congress and DoD increased their focus on DoD tuition assistance that is used for distance education and programs at for-profit institutions. The DoD Voluntary Education Partnership Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”) was established as part of the revised DoD Instruction 1322.25, Voluntary Education Programs dated March 15, 2011. The MOU increases oversight of educational programs offered to active duty service members and conveys the commitments and agreements between the educational institution and DoD prior to accepting funds under the tuition assistance program. For example, the MOU requires an institution to agree to support DoD regulatory guidance, adhere to a bill of rights that is specified in the regulations, and participate in the proposed Military Voluntary Education Review program. Under the MOU, institutions must also agree to adhere to the principles and criteria established by the Service Members Opportunity Colleges Degree Network System regarding the transferability of credit and the awarding of credit for military training and experience. Both CTU and AIU signed this earlier version of the DoD’s standard MOU.

In August 2013, DoD began incorporating the Principles of Excellence outlined in the President’s 2012 Executive Order into their current MOU. Refer to the section below for more information on the Principles of Excellence.

In May 2014, DoD released a final version of its revised MOU and its changes include efforts to enhance departmental oversight of voluntary education programs as well as incorporate the remaining requirements as stated in the President's 2012 Executive Order. The new provisions apply to all educational institutions providing education programs through the DoD tuition assistance program. Among other things, the MOU requests that participating institutions provide meaningful information to students about the financial cost and attendance at an institution so military students can make informed decisions on where to attend school, will not use unfair, deceptive, and abusive recruiting practices and will provide academic and student support services to service members and their families. The revised MOU also implemented rules to strengthen existing procedures for access to DoD installations by educational institutions, a DoD postsecondary education complaint system for service members, spouses, and adult family members to register student complaints and established authorization for the military departments to establish service-specific tuition assistance eligibility criteria and management controls. In September 2014, both CTU and AIU signed DoD’s revised MOU.

2012 Executive Order Regarding Military and Veterans Education Benefits

On April 27, 2012, the President issued an executive order regarding the establishment of Principles of Excellence for educational institutions receiving funding from federal military and veterans educational benefits programs, including those provided by the Post-9/11 GI Bill and Uniform Tuition Assistance Program of the DoD. The executive order requires DoD, the Department of Veterans Affairs and ED to establish and implement “Principles of Excellence” to apply to educational institutions receiving such funding. The goals of the Principles are broadly stated in the order and relate to disclosures of costs and amounts of costs covered by federal educational benefits, marketing standards, state authorization, accreditation approvals, standard institutional refund policies, educational plans and academic and financial advising. Various implementation mechanisms are included, along with the development and implementation of the “VA Shopping Sheet,” a standardized cost form with federal aid information. While additional administrative support has been required to comply with the executive order, the overall impact to the Company has not been material.

Institutional Payment Plans

Some of our students will enter into institutional payment plans with our institutions to pay a portion, or occasionally all, of their institutional charges directly to the school. This is more common for students who have a gap between their Title IV financial aid funding and other third party aid available to them and the institutional charges. We offer these payment plans over the in-school period, and up to 12 months beyond graduation. The payment plans do not include any interest or fees.

Eligibility and Certification by ED

Under the provisions of the Higher Education Act, an institution must apply to ED for continued certification to participate in Title IV Programs at least every six years or when it undergoes a change of control. In addition, an institution must obtain ED approval for certain substantial changes in its operations, including changes in an institution’s accrediting agency or state authorizing agency or changes to an institution’s structure or certain basic educational features.

14


Institutions approved to participate in Title IV sign a program participation agreement provided by ED that describes the terms of participation and includes a number of certifications and assurances made by the chief executive officer of the institutions. As long as an institution has submitted an application for re-certification prior to the expiration of its current program participation agreement, the institution’s eligibility to participate in Title IV Programs continues on a month-to-month basis until ED completes its review. ED may issue full certification to an institution, it may deny certification or it may elect to issue provisional certification, in which case the program participation agreement outlines additional requirements that the institution must meet.

ED may place an institution on provisional certification status if it finds that the institution does not fully satisfy all required eligibility and certification standards. Provisional certification does not generally limit an institution’s access to Title IV Program funds. ED may withdraw an institution’s provisional certification without advance notice if ED determines that the institution is not fulfilling all material requirements.

Our institutions are currently operating on provisional program participation agreements. CTU and AIU each have a program participation agreement that expired on September 30, 2018 and as a result are operating on a month-to-month approval pending ED’s review and processing of their pending applications for recertification. During the period of provisional certification, our institutions must obtain prior ED approval to add an educational program, open a new location or make any other significant change. See Item 1A, “Risk Factors – Risks Related to the Highly Regulated Field in Which We Operate – If ED denies, or significantly conditions, recertification of any of our institutions to participate in Title IV Programs, that institution could not conduct its business as it is currently conducted,” and other risk factors in Item 1A for additional information about the risks surrounding continued participation in Title IV Programs.

Scrutiny of the For-Profit, Postsecondary Education Sector

In recent years, Congress, ED, states, accrediting agencies, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”), the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”), state attorneys general and the media have scrutinized the for-profit, postsecondary education sector. Congressional hearings and roundtable discussions were held regarding various aspects of the education industry, including issues surrounding student debt as well as publicly reported student outcomes that may be used as part of an institution’s recruiting and admissions practices, and reports were issued that are highly critical of for-profit colleges and universities. A group of influential U.S. senators, consumer advocacy groups and some media outlets have strongly and repeatedly encouraged ED, the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs and its state approving agencies to take action to limit or terminate the participation of institutions such as ours in existing tuition assistance programs.

Any actions that limit our participation in Title IV Programs or the amount of student financial aid for which our students are eligible would negatively impact our business. See Item 1A, “Risk Factors – Risks Related to the Highly Regulated Field in Which We Operate.”

Legislative Action and Recent ED Regulatory Initiatives

The U.S. Congress must periodically reauthorize the Higher Education Act and other laws governing Title IV Programs and annually determines the funding level for each Title IV Program.

The Higher Education Opportunity Act (“HEOA”) was the most recent reauthorization of the Higher Education Act and was signed into law on August 14, 2008. It was immediately effective for many items with others effective in subsequent years. The HEOA authorized increases in the Federal Pell Grants, changed certain grant eligibility requirements, expanded Stafford Loan deferment options, provided changes to needs analysis, changed treatment of Veterans Administration benefits effective with the 2010-11 award year and revised many of the regulations governing an institution’s eligibility to participate in Title IV Programs.

Historically, Congress has reauthorized the Higher Education Act every five to six years. The last full reauthorization took place in 2008 and Congress has subsequently taken several actions which effectively extend the Higher Education Act and various Title IV Programs on a temporary basis. We anticipate that Congress will work to either reauthorize the Higher Education Act in its entirety or pass a series of smaller bills that focus on individual parts of the Higher Education Act, primarily Title IV Programs. Certain legislation has been introduced that is focused on simplifying both access to and repayment of Title IV funds. While it is uncertain whether those proposals will be enacted into law, simplifying the federal student aid programs and reducing the complexity of repayment should be of benefit to our students. However, scrutiny of the for-profit postsecondary education sector and the ongoing policy differences in Congress regarding spending levels could lead to significant regulatory changes in connection with the upcoming reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, and many of these changes may be adverse to postsecondary institutions generally or for-profit institutions specifically. See Item 1A, “Risk Factors – Risks Related to the Highly Regulated Field in Which We Operate – Congress may revise laws governing Title IV Programs or reduce funding for those programs which could reduce our enrollments and revenue and increase costs of operations.”

In recent years, ED has engaged in significant rulemaking efforts intended to develop new regulations focused on various topics. These efforts led to adoption of the new gainful employment regulation and “borrower defense to repayment” regulations. See the “Compliance with Federal Regulatory Standards and Effect of Federal Regulatory Violations” section below for a description of these regulations as they were adopted. ED convened new negotiated rulemaking committees to consider modifications to these borrower

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defense to repayment regulations as well as the gainful employment regulation in late 2017 and early 2018. On July 31, 2018, ED published for public comment proposed regulations with respect to “borrower defense to repayment” and on August 14, 2018 ED published for public comment a proposed rescission of the gainful employment regulations. ED has not indicated when it plans to publish final regulations on either topic and there have been various legal challenges to ED’s rulemaking processes and administrative decisions; however, any regulations published in final form by November 1, 2019 typically would take effect on July 1, 2020. The outcome of these rulemaking initiatives and the impact of any new or modified regulations are uncertain at this time.

Compliance with Federal Regulatory Standards and Effect of Federal Regulatory Violations

To be eligible to participate in Title IV Programs, an institution must comply with the Higher Education Act and regulations thereunder that are administered by ED. We and our institutions are regularly subject to audits and compliance reviews and periodically subject to inquiries, lawsuits, investigations, and/or claims of non-compliance from federal and state regulatory agencies, accrediting agencies, ED, present and former students and employees, and others that may allege violations of statutes, regulations, accreditation standards or other regulatory requirements applicable to us or our institutions. If the results of any such audits, reviews, investigations, claims or actions are unfavorable to us, we may be required to pay monetary damages or be subject to fines, operational limitations, loss of federal funding, injunctions, additional oversight and reporting, provisional certification or other civil or criminal penalties. In addition, if ED or another regulatory agency determined that one of our institutions improperly disbursed Title IV Program funds or violated a provision of the Higher Education Act or ED’s regulations, that institution could be required to repay such funds, and could be assessed an administrative fine. See Note 12 “Contingencies” to our consolidated financial statements for discussion of current matters.

In July 2015, ED conducted an ordinary course on-site program review of AIU’s administration of Title IV Programs in which the institution participates. The review covered the 2014-2015 award year with a specific focus on the programs the institution offers via distance education. We have remained responsive to any information requests from ED in this regard; however, we have not yet received the initial program review report.  

The Higher Education Act also requires that an institution’s administration of Title IV Program funds be audited annually by an independent accounting firm and that the resulting audit report be submitted to ED for review. In September 2016, ED’s Office of Inspector General released a revised audit guide applicable specifically to proprietary schools and third-party servicers administering Title IV programs. The updated guide is effective for fiscal years beginning after June 30, 2016. The revised audit guide was effective for us for the year ending December 31, 2017 and applies to annual compliance audits due June 30, 2018 and thereafter. The new guide significantly increases the requirements and testing procedures necessary when filing our annual Title IV compliance audits.

Gainful Employment

CEC institutions, and most other for-profit institutions, qualify for Title IV Program participation on the basis that they offer programs that, in addition to meeting other requirements, “prepare students for gainful employment in a recognized occupation.” During 2013, ED established negotiated rulemaking committees, one specifically designed to limit Title IV availability for programs at for-profit institutions by defining gainful employment in a recognized occupation. On October 30, 2014, ED published a new complex final regulation, effective July 1, 2015, to define “gainful employment” as meeting certain standards measuring the general amount students borrow for enrollment in a program against an amount of their reported earnings. Prior to this rulemaking, the term gainful employment had been used in the Higher Education Act for forty years, and had not been further defined by Congress or ED. A summary of the gainful employment regulation that took effect on July 1, 2015 is set forth below.

On June 14, 2017, ED announced its intention to convene new negotiated rulemaking committees to consider modifications to the gainful employment regulation. Committee negotiations commenced in late 2017. During negotiations, ED considered different options for adopting a uniform set of requirements that could be applicable to all schools and not specifically targeted at for-profit institutions. On August 14, 2018, ED published for public comment a proposal to rescind the gainful employment regulation which became effective on July 1, 2015. In lieu of the complex gainful employment regulation designed to eliminate program eligibility, ED indicated its intent to update the college scorecards ED had developed, which apply to all Title IV eligible institutions, with relevant information for prospective students. ED has not indicated when or if it will publish a final regulation rescinding the existing gainful employment regulation; however there have been various legal challenges to ED’s rulemaking processes and administrative decisions which may impact the outcome of the timing or finalization of the proposed rescission. The outcome of these rulemaking initiatives and the impact of any new or modified regulations are uncertain at this time.

Current Regulation. The definition effective July 1, 2015 establishes a formula by which ED will determine if a program is eligible to participate in Title IV Programs. The regulation requires graduates of programs within three years (or less) beyond graduation to, on average, have debt with annual loan payments that are less than 8% of their annual earnings or 20% of their discretionary income. Programs whose graduates have debt with annual loan payments that accounts for between 8% and 12% of their annual earnings, or between 20% and 30% of their discretionary income, will be considered to be in the “zone” for meeting the gainful employment standard. Programs whose graduates have debt with annual loan payments that are greater than 12% of annual earnings or 30% of discretionary income will fail the gainful employment test. Institutions with a program that fails to meet the gainful employment test for two out of three consecutive years, or that is in the zone (or fails) for four consecutive years, lose eligibility for

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that program to participate in Title IV Programs for at least three years. Institutions with a program that is within a year of potentially disqualifying for participation in Title IV must notify current and prospective students of the program of its potential loss of access to Title IV Program funds and the plan for continuation of the program or refunding tuition to students should the program fail to pass the gainful employment threshold in the subsequent year.

Under the gainful employment regulation, debt is calculated based on the lesser of actual median or mean debt, or the cost of tuition, fees, books, supplies and equipment. For the first five to seven years after ED begins to report gainful employment results, depending upon the length of the academic program, ED will allow the substitution of the average debt of the most recent graduating cohort for the average debt of the measurement cohort. Earnings are to be based on data provided by the Social Security Administration to ED; however, the information sharing agreement that provided ED with access to this earnings information lapsed in May 2018 and ED has indicated that the SSA has no current intentions of renewing the agreement or providing any new earnings data to ED. As a result, only one year of gainful employment rates have been published and it is unclear if a second or subsequent year of GE program rates will ever be published. Under the regulations, institutions have an opportunity to review and correct the list of students submitted to the Social Security Administration for the earnings query, but do not have an opportunity to inspect, review, question or appeal the results provided by the Social Security Administration.

The gainful employment regulation includes a requirement that institutions disclose program level cohort default rates if directed to do so by ED.

On January 8, 2017, final initial year gainful employment rates were published publicly for all institutions subject to the rules. The announcement was made with an ED press release stating that over 800 programs had not met its new criteria for gainful employment and another 1,239 programs were in the “zone” for meeting the gainful employment standard. In line with our expectations, AIU had two, and CTU had three, of its continuing programs in the “zone” for meeting the gainful employment standard. Each university also had one active program that initially failed to meet the standard for the first year, but that timely filed an appeal that is pending with ED.

Of the programs that were in the zone or failed to meet the standard, the most significant of these are the Criminal Justice programs at CTU and AIU. These programs represent approximately 16% of University Group total enrollments as of December 31, 2018. Under the current regulation, a program does not lose Title IV Program eligibility unless it fails the gainful employment test for two out of three consecutive years, or is in the zone (or fails) for four consecutive years. Because we rely on ED to provide us with the historical salary and debt information that is used in these calculations and due to the historical nature of the data used in the test, there can be no assurance that our actions will result in future compliance and the regulation could adversely affect the eligibility of the programs we offer. ED has not indicated when or if it intends to publish a second year of data for the gainful employment regulation due to both (i) the lapse of its information sharing agreement with the Social Security Administration and (ii) its proposed elimination of the regulation and associated program eligibility test. We continue to closely monitor the status of these matters and to consider new or modified programs or specializations that we believe might have improved outcomes under the current gainful employment regulation.

The current gainful employment regulation included significant new disclosure requirements and created additional certifications to which the chief executive officer of an institution must attest, including that the programs offered by the institution meet the requirements of states or professional licensing bodies in order for graduates to practice in the field. Also included in the regulation is a requirement that any new or re-enrolled student must receive, either in person or by email, and acknowledge program level gainful employment disclosures, prior to signing an enrollment agreement, registering for classes or entering into a financial commitment with the institution. On June 30, 2017, ED announced that it was delaying aspects of the regulation requiring these program disclosures be distributed in person or via email until July 1, 2018; then subsequently in early 2018 ED announced it was again delaying this particular notification until July 1, 2019. However, the requirement that updated gainful employment disclosures be published on an institution’s program websites remains in effect and ED periodically revises the required template and data elements for these disclosures. We do not know, to the extent it becomes effective, if the new disclosure process that requires a separate email acknowledgement from our online students of program level gainful employment disclosures will have any material impact on our enrollments in the future.

Until ED publishes a final rule rescinding the gainful employment regulation, the existing regulation remains in effect, with some aspects such as the requirement to deliver program level gainful employment disclosures to every student subject to formally announced delays, while other aspects such as the timing for publishing any second year of gainful employment rates are informally delayed pending periodic updates from ED. There can be no assurance that our future actions will result in compliance with the existing regulation or any new or modified regulation and the eligibility of the programs we offer could be adversely affected. See Item 1A, “Risk Factors – Risks Related to the Highly Regulated Field in Which We Operate - ED’s gainful employment regulation may limit the programs we can offer students and increase our cost of operations,” for more information about risks associated with the gainful employment regulation.

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“90-10 Rule”

Under a provision of the Higher Education Act commonly referred to as the “90-10 Rule,” any of our institutions that, on modified cash basis accounting, derives more than 90% of its cash receipts from Title IV sources for a fiscal year will be placed on provisional participation status for its next two fiscal years. If an institution does not satisfy the 90-10 Rule for two consecutive fiscal years, it will lose its eligibility to participate in Title IV Programs for at least two fiscal years. We have substantially no control over the amount of Title IV student loans and grants sought by or awarded to our students. If an institution violates the 90-10 Rule and becomes ineligible to participate in Title IV Programs but continues to disburse Title IV Program funds, ED could require repayment of all Title IV Program funds received by it after the effective date of the loss of eligibility.

We have implemented various measures intended to reduce the percentage of our institution’s cash basis revenue attributable to Title IV Program funds, including emphasizing employer-paid and other direct-pay education programs; the use of externally funded scholarships and grants; and counseling students to carefully evaluate the amount of necessary Title IV Program borrowing.

The ability of our institutions to maintain 90-10 rates below 90% will depend on the impact of future changes in our enrollment mix, and regulatory and other factors outside of our control, including any reduction in government assistance for military personnel, including veterans, or changes in the treatment of such funding for purposes of the 90-10 rate calculation. Changes in, or new interpretations of, the technical aspects of the calculation methodology or other industry practices under the 90-10 Rule could further significantly impact our compliance with the 90-10 Rule.

For our 2018 fiscal year, our preliminary review of our institutions’ 90-10 Rule percentages results in none of our institutions exceeding the 90% limit.

See Item 1A, “Risk Factors – Risks Related to the Highly Regulated Field in Which We Operate – Our institutions could lose their eligibility to participate in federal student financial aid programs if the percentage of their revenues derived from those programs is too high,” for additional information regarding risks relating to the 90-10 Rule.

Student Loan Default Rates

An institution may lose eligibility to participate in some or all Title IV Programs if the rates at which its former students default on the repayment of their federally-guaranteed or federally-funded student loans exceed specified percentages. This is determined by an institution’s cohort default rate which is calculated on an annual basis as a measure of administrative capability. Each cohort is the group of students who first enter into student loan repayment during a federal fiscal year (ending September 30). The measurement period for the cohort default rate is a three-year period.  

If an institution’s three-year cohort default rate exceeds 10% for any one of the three preceding years, it must delay for 30 days the release of the first disbursement of U.S. federal student loan proceeds to first time borrowers enrolled in the first year of an undergraduate program. As a matter of regular practice, all of our institutions have implemented a 30-day delay for such disbursements.

If an institution’s three-year cohort default rate exceeds 30% for any given year, it must establish a default prevention task force and develop a default prevention plan with measurable objectives for improving the cohort default rate.

Excessive three-year cohort default rates will result in the loss of an institution’s Title IV eligibility, as follows:

 

Annual test. If the three-year cohort default rate for any given year exceeds 40%, the institution will cease to be eligible to participate in Title IV Programs; and

 

Three consecutive years test. If the institution’s three-year cohort default rate exceeds 30% for three consecutive years, the institution will cease to be eligible to participate in Title IV Programs.

We have student loan default management initiatives aimed at reducing the likelihood of our students’ failure to repay their loans in a timely manner. These initiatives emphasize the importance of students’ compliance with loan repayment requirements and provide for loan counseling and communication with students after they cease enrollment. Our efforts supplement the counseling, processing and other student loan servicing work performed by ED through contracts it has with select third parties. The quality and nature of the student loan servicing work performed by ED has a direct impact on our cohort default rates and we have experienced past performance failures by ED in outreach to students which adversely impact the cohort default rates at our institutions. On January 18, 2017, the largest of ED’s student loan servicers, Navient, was sued by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Illinois and Washington Attorneys General for allegedly failing to properly counsel and support student loan borrowers. We know many of our students have Navient as their designated student loan servicer, however we are not able to determine what impact the alleged conduct, if accurate, may have had or will have on cohort default rates.

See Item 1A, “Risk Factors – Risks Related to the Highly Regulated Field in Which We Operate – Our institutions could lose their eligibility to participate in federal student financial aid programs or have other limitations placed upon them if their student loan cohort default rates are greater than the standards set by ED,” for additional information regarding risks relating to cohort default rates.

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In September 2018, ED released the official three-year cohort default rates for the 2015 cohort. Each of our institutions had cohort default rates under the 30% threshold for the 2015 cohort. A listing of the official 2015, 2014 and 2013 three-year cohort default rates, for our universities is provided in the table below.

 

 

 

Cohort Default Rates

3-year rate

 

Institution, Main Campus Location

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Additional locations as defined by accreditors are in parentheses)

 

2015

 

 

2014

 

 

2013

 

American InterContinental University

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Schaumburg, IL (Online) (Atlanta, GA and Houston, TX)

 

19.7%

 

 

16.2%

 

 

14.7%

 

Colorado Technical University

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Colorado Springs, CO (Denver, CO and Online)

 

19.5%

 

 

15.7%

 

 

14.0%

 

 

We continued to see an increase in both institutions’ cohort default rates through the 2015 cohort. We believe these increases were a result of multiple factors, including that certain operational changes adversely affected the 2014 and 2015 cohorts, and that the 2013 and 2014 cohorts benefitted from some timing related factors impacting the percentage of students that graduated relative to the percentage of students that withdrew without completing their program. We increased focus in this area beginning in late 2016 and as a result we do not currently anticipate further increase in our cohort default rates in the near future.

 

Borrower Defense to Repayment

2016 Regulations - Status

On October 28, 2016, ED issued complex, significant new regulations that cover multiple issues including the processes and standards for the discharge of student loans, which are commonly referred to as “borrower defense to repayment.” The 2016 regulations were published in the Federal Register on November 1, 2016 and were generally to become effective on July 1, 2017. However, in response to pending litigation by the California Association of Private Postsecondary Schools (“CAPPS”) challenging the legality of the borrower defense to repayment regulations, on June 14, 2017 ED announced an indefinite delay in the effective date of the 2016 regulations while it conducted further review and a new negotiated rulemaking process to replace the previously adopted regulations. On October 24, 2017, ED published two related notices in the Federal Register. The first, again citing the pending litigation and uncertain outcome, was an interim final rule setting the effective date of the delayed regulations as July 1, 2018. The second, was a proposed extension of the delay for an extra year, through July 1, 2019, to permit ED to conclude its negotiated rulemaking to amend the 2016 regulations and to provide adequate time for institutions to prepare for the implementation of its modified requirements. A group of attorneys general filed a lawsuit on July 6, 2017 in federal court in the District of Columbia to challenge the legal authority for ED’s delay of the effectiveness of the 2016 borrower defense to repayment regulations. On September 12, 2018, the court ruled ED had not adequately justified its delay of the rule and offered ED 30 days to provide further justification for its delay. Separately, the rule’s legality had been challenged in the same court by CAPPS. ED declined to further justify its decision to delay the rule from becoming effective. Before the court ruled on the lifting of ED’s delay of the rule, it heard a CAPPS request for an injunction on the the rule becoming effective. On October 16, 2018 the court ruled against CAPPS’ request for an injuction and ordered the 2016 regulations to go immediately into effect. ED has publicly stated that it intends to issue guidance to institutions regarding how these regulations are to be implemented.

2018 Proposed Regulations - Status

Following its June 14, 2017 announcement of its intention to convene new negotiated rulemaking committees to consider modifications to the borrower defense to repayment regulations, committee negotiations commenced in late 2017. On July 31, 2018, ED published proposed regulations for public comment with respect to “borrower defense to repayment.” ED has not indicated when it plans to publish final regulations replacing the 2016 regulations. Due to the various legal challenges to ED’s rulemaking processes and administrative decisions regarding this rule, the timing for when a new rule may become effective is uncertain; however, any regulations published in final form by November 1, 2019 typically would take effect on July 1, 2020. The outcome of these rulemaking initiatives and legal proceedings and the impact of any new or modified regulations are uncertain at this time.

2016 Regulations – Summary

A summary of the 2016 borrower defense to repayment regulations is set forth below.

Loan Discharge. The 2016 borrower defense to repayment regulations provide three categories of borrower defenses that can be asserted by students with student loans disbursed on or after July 1, 2017, including:

 

the institution has had a judgment issued against it in an action brought by a student or a government official or entity related to the loan or educational services in a contested proceeding;

 

the institution failed to perform its obligations under the terms of a contract with the student; and

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the institution made a “substantial misrepresentation” about the nature of its programs, financial charges or employability of its graduates that the borrower reasonably relied upon on when he or she decided to attend or continue attending the institution.

In addition, the 2016 regulations authorize ED to grant loan discharge relief to an individual or group of individuals, including individuals who have not sought relief. In particular, ED may automatically discharge loans borrowed to attend schools that have closed on or after November 1, 2013 if a student that did not complete his or her program of study has not subsequently re-enrolled in another Title IV eligible school within three years. In most cases, the regulations provide that ED may seek reimbursement from the institution for any loans discharged under the new procedures. ED’s procedures permit it to draw funds from letters of credit or other collateral posted to ED to secure these types of payments or to offset against future disbursements which would adversely impact cash balances by the amount of the offset.

In the closed school context, ED engaged in significant student outreach and actively encouraged and promoted loan discharge through its Borrower Defense Unit and in a report dated October 28, 2016, ED noted that there were over 4,000 pending applications for loan discharge from students that are unrelated to the collapse of Corinthian Colleges, a former for-profit public company competitor. On January 17, 2017, ED utilized its authority under the borrower defense to repayment rules to automatically discharge student loans for approximately 4,500 students that attended American Career Institute, a former for-profit institution with five campuses in Massachusetts. ED also has pending requests from other outside groups and State Attorneys General for further blanket discharges.

Financial Responsibility. The 2016 regulations also make significant modifications to the existing rules governing an institution’s required financial responsibility and administrative capability. The regulations specify a number of triggering events that, if they occur after July 1, 2017, would result in an institution not qualifying as financially responsible or administratively capable. Those include, but are not limited to:

 

failure to satisfy the 90-10 Rule in any year;

 

failure to timely file quarterly or annual financial statements with the SEC;

 

a warning from the SEC that it may suspend trading in our stock;

 

notification by NASDAQ that our stock is not in compliance with its exchange requirements and/or may be delisted; and

 

cohort default rates in excess of 30% for two consecutive years.  

Additionally, the 2016 regulations include a number of potential financial events that, if they occur on or after July 1, 2017, would cause ED to re-calculate an institution’s most recent financial responsibility composite score to determine whether the losses or potential losses from the event cause the composite score to fall below 1.0. The composite score is one measure ED uses to evaluate an institution’s financial responsibility using annual financial statements. Triggering events arising on or after July 1, 2017 that can lead to the recalculation of a composite score include, but are not limited to:

 

 

incurring a debt or liability arising from a final judgment in a judicial or administrative proceeding or settlement;

 

being sued in an action by a federal or state authority for financial relief that is based on claims related to the making of federal loans or the provision of educational services and the suit has been pending for 120 days;

 

being sued in any other lawsuit not referenced above that survives certain procedural steps such as the denial of an institution’s motion for summary judgment;

 

the institution submitting a teach-out plan to its accreditor, including voluntarily teaching-out a location; and

 

programs failing to meet gainful employment regulations.

 

         ED also adopted a number of discretionary triggering events that, if they occur on or after July 1, 2017, it may consider in assessing whether an institution is financially responsible. They include, but are not limited to:

 

significant fluctuations in Title IV aid between award years;

 

citation from a state licensing or authorizing agency of failing to meet state or agency requirements;

 

failure of a to-be-developed financial stress test ED may develop;

 

an institution has high annual drop-out rates;

 

an institution is placed on show-cause, probation or similar adverse action threatening an institution’s accreditation for failure to meet an accreditation standard;

 

violation of a provision or requirement in a loan agreement; and

 

pending claims for borrower relief.

All of these triggers introduce considerable uncertainty and provide ED broad discretion regarding periodic determinations of our financial responsibility and associated enhanced financial protection it determines is required.

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If any of the triggering events materialize, our institutions may be required to post a letter of credit equal to 10% or more of the institution’s previous year’s annual Title IV disbursements and to provide warnings to prospective and current students that the institution has been required to provide enhanced financial protection to ED.

Additional Disclosures. The 2016 regulations establish a new student loan repayment rate measure only for for-profit institutions that assesses the rate at which student loan borrowers are repaying the principal balance of their federal student loans in the years immediately after leaving the institution. Those institutions for which the median borrower has not paid down any principal are required to provide prospective and current students with a disclosure that notes a majority of recent student loan borrowers that attended the institution are not paying down their loans. We will need to rely upon ED for the repayment rates. According to data previously provided by ED, the repayment rates for each of CTU and AIU would trigger the required warning to students. The disclosure is required to be broadly disseminated and included prominently in all advertising materials. ED’s promotion and endorsement of income based repayment options for students has adversely impacted the rate that student borrowers pay off their loans, particularly during the earlier period where students may be earning lower entry level wages, which may impact compliance with this new measure.

Arbitration Agreements. The 2016 regulations prohibit an institution participating in Title IV Programs from incorporating any class action waiver provisions, or any arbitration clauses, in any agreements with students. If an institution’s contracts currently contain a pre-dispute arbitration provision or a class waiver, the institution will be required to amend the agreement or provide a specific notice to students, using language provided by ED that explains that those provisions have been changed, in order to continue its participation in Title IV Programs. This requirement applies to any existing agreements at the time the rule becomes effective, not just for those agreements entered into after July 1, 2017.

2018 Proposed Regulations – Summary

The proposed regulations that were published on July 31, 2018 for public comment with respect to “borrower defense to repayment” sought input on a variety of proposed modifications to the 2016 regulations. These proposed regulations if published in final form by November 1, 2019, would generally apply for loans first made after July 1, 2020. Several of the key differences are described below.

Loan Discharge. The 2018 proposed borrower defense to repayment regulations would significantly alter how loan discharge applications would be treated by ED in the future. In addition to raising the burden of proof to a “preponderance of the evidence” standard, the 2018 proposed rules eliminated the three broad categories of evidence a student could use in a borrower defense proceeding and replaced it with a single new federal standard for a misrepresentation claim a student could assert against its school. Under the proposed standard, an individual borrower could assert a defense to repayment based on the institution’s statement, act, or omission that is false, misleading, or deceptive. To be eligible for relief, the borrower would be required to demonstrate that the misrepresentation (1) was made with knowledge of its false, misleading, or deceptive nature or with a reckless disregard for the truth, (2) was relied upon by the borrower in making an enrollment decision, and (3) caused the student financial harm.

In addition, the 2018 proposed regulations would eliminate the concept of automatic group loan discharges and would require individual claims to be made by students and include a process for the institution to provide a defense to any claims asserted. In the public comment notice, ED specifically asked for public feedback on whether students should be permitted to affirmatively apply for loan discharge or whether they should only be permitted to raise a misrepresentation claim as a defense to a collections proceeding on their student loans.    

Financial Responsibility. The 2018 proposed regulations would keep significant modifications to the existing rules governing an institution’s required financial responsibility and administrative capability by maintaining a number of triggering events that, if they occur after effective date of the rule, would result in an institution not qualifying as financially responsible or administratively capable. The 2018 proposed regulations would narrow the list of the mandatory and discretionary triggers making them a more objective set of measures. They include:

 

a warning from the SEC that it may suspend trading in our stock; and

 

notification by NASDAQ that our stock is not in compliance with its exchange requirements and/or may be delisted.

Additionally, the 2018 proposed regulation include more definitive financial events that, if they occur on or after the effective date of the rule, would cause ED to re-calculate an institution’s most recent financial responsibility composite score to determine whether the losses or reduction in owner’s equity from the event cause the composite score to fall below 1.0. The composite score is one measure ED uses to evaluate an institution’s financial responsibility using annual financial statements. Triggering events arising on or after July 1, 2017 that can lead to the recalculation of a composite score include, but are not limited to:

 

 

incurring a debt or liability arising from a final judgment in a judicial or administrative proceeding or settlement including loan discharge proceedings; and

 

if our composite score is below 1.5 and we withdraw owner’s equity.

 

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         The 2018 proposed regulations also keep select discretionary triggering events that, if they occur on or after the effective date of the regulation, allow ED to designate an institution as not financially responsible. They include, but are not limited to:

 

failure to satisfy the 90-10 Rule in any year;

 

cohort default rates in excess of 30% for two consecutive years;

 

citation from a state licensing or authorizing agency of failing to meet state or agency requirements;

 

an institution is placed on show-cause, probation or similar adverse action threatening an institution’s accreditation for failure to meet an accreditation standard; and

 

violation of a provision or requirement in a loan agreement.

The trigger events in the 2018 proposed regulations are significantly less subjective than a number of the eliminated triggering events that were included in the 2016 regulations. If any of the triggering events materialize, our institutions may be required to post a letter of credit equal to 10% or more of the institution’s previous year’s annual Title IV disbursements.

Additional Repayment Rate Disclosure Eliminated. The 2018 proposed regulations eliminated the separate repayment rate disclosure obligation from the 2016 regulations that applied only to for-profit institutions. ED has indicated it favors a more universally applicable set of disclosures it is working to incorporate into its college scorecards.  

Arbitration Agreements. The 2018 proposed regulations eliminate the prohibition on class action waiver provisions and arbitration clauses in agreements with students that was included in the 2016 regulations and instead requires plain language disclosures of internal grievance procedures and alternative dispute resolution processes.

Unless the 2016 borrower defense to repayment regulations are modified, we expect to experience additional administrative burdens associated with monitoring, reporting and disclosure obligations as well as responding to future claims for loan discharge. We expect the absence of arbitration agreements will make dispute resolution more difficult and more expensive. We are uncertain what impact the 2016 regulations or any new or modified regulations will have on student enrollments, the volume of claims for loan discharge we may receive or our future financial responsibility as determined by ED. See Item 1A, “Risk Factors – Risks Related to the Highly Regulated Field in Which We Operate - Currently effective or modified “borrower defense to repayment” regulations may subject us to significant repayment liability to ED for discharged federal student loans, posting of substantial letters of credit and other requirements that could have a material adverse effect on us,” for more information about risks associated with the borrower defense to repayment regulations.

 

Financial Responsibility Standards

To participate in Title IV Programs, our institutions must either satisfy standards of financial responsibility prescribed by ED, or post a letter of credit in favor of ED and possibly accept other conditions on its participation in Title IV Programs. Pursuant to the Title IV Program regulations, each eligible higher education institution must, among other things, satisfy a quantitative standard of financial responsibility that is based on a weighted average of three annual tests which assess the financial condition of the institution. The three tests measure primary reserve, equity and net income ratios. The Primary Reserve Ratio is a measure of an institution’s financial viability and liquidity. The Equity Ratio is a measure of an institution’s capital resources and its ability to borrow. The Net Income Ratio is a measure of an institution’s profitability. These tests provide three individual scores that are converted into a single composite score. The maximum composite score is 3.0. If the institution achieves a composite score of at least 1.5, it is considered financially responsible without conditions or additional oversight. A composite score from 1.0 to 1.4 is considered to be in “the zone” of financial responsibility, and a composite score of less than 1.0 is not considered to be financially responsible. If an institution is in “the zone” of financial responsibility, the institution may establish eligibility to continue to participate in Title IV Programs on the following alternative bases:

Zone Alternative. Under what is referred to as the “zone alternative,” an institution may continue to participate in Title IV Programs for up to three years under additional monitoring and reporting procedures but without having to post a letter of credit in favor of ED. These additional monitoring and reporting procedures include being transferred from the “advance” method of payment of Title IV Program funds to cash monitoring status (referred to as Heightened Cash Monitoring 1, or “HCM1”, status) or to the “reimbursement” or Heightened Cash Monitoring 2 (“HCM2”) methods of payment. If an institution does not achieve a composite score of at least 1.0 in one of the three subsequent years or does not improve its financial condition to attain a composite score of at least 1.5 by the end of the three-year period, the institution must satisfy another alternative standard to continue participating in Title IV Programs.

Letter of Credit Alternative. An institution that fails to meet one of the standards of financial responsibility, including by having a composite score less than 1.5, may demonstrate financial responsibility by submitting an irrevocable letter of credit to ED in an amount equal to at least 50% of the Title IV Program funds that the institution received during its most recently completed fiscal year.

Provisional Certification. If an institution fails to meet one of the standards of financial responsibility, including by having a composite score less than 1.5, ED may permit the institution to participate under provisional certification for up to three years. If ED

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permits an institution to participate under provisional certification, an institution must comply with the requirements of the “zone alternative,” including being transferred to the HCM1, HCM2 or “reimbursement” method of payment of Title IV Program funds, and must submit a letter of credit to ED in an amount determined by ED which can range from 10%-100% of the Title IV Program funds that the institution received during its most recently completed fiscal year. If an institution is still not financially responsible at the end of the period of provisional certification, including because it has a composite score of less than 1.0, ED may again permit provisional certification subject to the terms ED determines appropriate.

ED applies its quantitative financial responsibility tests annually based on an institution’s audited financial statements and may apply the tests if an institution undergoes a change in control or under other circumstances. ED also may apply the tests to the parent company of our institutions, and to other related entities. Our composite score for the consolidated entity for the year ended December 31, 2017 was 3.0, and our preliminary calculation for the year ended December 31, 2018 is 3.0, which are considered financially responsible without conditions or additional oversight. If in the future we are required to satisfy ED’s standards of financial responsibility on an alternative basis, including potentially by posting irrevocable letters of credit, we may not have the capacity to post these letters of credit.

Accreditor and state regulatory requirements also address financial responsibility, and these requirements vary among agencies and also are different from the ED requirements. Any developments relating to our satisfaction of ED’s financial responsibility requirements may lead to additional focus or review by our accreditors or applicable state agencies regarding their respective financial responsibility requirements.

See Item 1A, “Risk Factors – Risks Related to the Highly Regulated Field in Which We Operate – A failure to demonstrate ‘financial responsibility’ or ‘administrative capability’ would have negative impacts on our operations,” for additional information regarding risks relating to the financial responsibility standards.

Return and Refunds of Title IV Program Funds

An institution participating in Title IV Programs must correctly calculate the amount of unearned Title IV Program funds that were disbursed to students who withdrew from educational programs before completing the programs, and must return those funds in a timely manner.

The portion of tuition and fee payments billed to students but not yet earned is recorded as deferred tuition revenue and reflected as a current liability on our consolidated balance sheets, as such amounts represent revenue that we expect to earn within the next year. If a student withdraws from one of our institutions prior to the completion of the academic term, we refund the portion of tuition and fees already paid that we are not entitled to retain, pursuant to applicable federal and state law and accrediting agency standards and our refund policy. The amount of funds to be refunded on behalf of a student is calculated based upon the period of time in which the student has attended classes and the amount of tuition and fees paid by the student as of the student’s withdrawal date. Such refunds typically result in a reduction to deferred tuition revenue and cash on our consolidated balance sheets, because generally, we do not recognize tuition revenue in our consolidated statements of income (loss) and comprehensive income (loss) until related refund provisions have lapsed.

Institutions are required to return any unearned Title IV funds within 45 days of the date the institution determines that the student has withdrawn. An institution that is found to be in non-compliance with ED refund requirements for either of the last two completed fiscal years must post a letter of credit in favor of ED in an amount equal to 25% of the total Title IV Program returns that were paid or should have been paid by the institution during its most recently completed fiscal year. As of December 31, 2018, we have posted no letters of credit in favor of ED due to non-compliance with ED refund requirements.

Change of Ownership or Control

When an institution undergoes a change of ownership resulting in a change of control, as that term is defined by the state in which it is located, its accrediting agency and ED, it must secure the approval of those agencies to continue to operate and to continue to participate in Title IV Programs. If the institution is unable to re-establish state authorization and accreditation requirements and satisfy other requirements for certification by ED, the institution may lose its authority to operate and its ability to participate in Title IV Programs. An institution whose change of ownership or control is approved by the appropriate authorities is nonetheless provisionally re-certified by ED for a period of up to three years. Transactions or events that constitute a change of control by one or more of the applicable regulatory agencies, including ED, applicable state agencies, and accrediting bodies, include the acquisition of an institution from another entity or significant acquisition or disposition of an institution’s equity. It is possible that some of these events may occur without our control. Our failure to obtain, or a delay in obtaining, a required approval of any change in control from ED, applicable state agencies, or accrediting agencies could impair our ability or the ability of the affected institutions to participate in Title IV Programs. If we were to undergo a change of control and a material number of our institutions failed to obtain the required approvals from applicable regulatory agencies in a timely manner, our student population, financial condition, results of operations and cash flows could be materially adversely affected.

When we acquire an institution that is eligible to participate in Title IV Programs, that institution undergoes a change of ownership resulting in a change of control as defined by ED. Each of our acquired institutions has undergone a certification review

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under our ownership and has been certified to participate in Title IV Programs on a provisional basis, per ED requirements, until such time that ED signs a new program participation agreement with the institution. Currently, neither of our institutions are subject to provisional certification status due to ED’s change of ownership criteria. The potential adverse effects of a change of control under ED regulations may influence future decisions by us and our stockholders regarding the sale, purchase, transfer, issuance or redemption of our common stock.

Opening New Institutions, Start-up Campuses and Adding Educational Programs

The Higher Education Act generally requires that for-profit institutions be fully operational for two years before applying to participate in Title IV Programs. However, an institution that is certified to participate in Title IV Programs may establish a start-up branch campus or location and participate in Title IV Programs at the start-up campus without reference to the two-year requirement if the start-up campus has received all of the necessary state and accrediting agency approvals, has been reported to ED, and meets certain other criteria as defined by ED. Nevertheless, under certain circumstances, a start-up branch campus may also be required to obtain approval from ED to be able to participate in Title IV Programs.

In addition to ED regulations, certain of the state and accrediting agencies with jurisdiction over our institutions have requirements that may affect our ability to open a new institution, open a start-up branch campus or location of one of our existing institutions, or begin offering a new educational program at one of our institutions. If we establish a new institution, add a new branch start-up campus, or expand program offerings at any of our institutions without obtaining the required approvals, we would likely be liable for repayment of Title IV Program funds provided to students at that institution or branch campus or enrolled in that educational program, and we could also be subject to sanctions. Also, if we are unable to obtain the approvals from ED, applicable state regulatory agencies, and accrediting agencies for any new institutions, branch campuses, or program offerings where such approvals are required, or to obtain such approvals in a timely manner, our ability to grow our business would be impaired and our financial condition, results of operations and cash flows could be materially adversely affected.

Administrative Capability

ED regulations specify extensive criteria that an institution must satisfy to establish that it has the requisite administrative capability to participate in Title IV Programs. These criteria relate to, among other things, institutional staffing, operational standards such as procedures for disbursing and safeguarding Title IV Program funds, timely submission of accurate reports to ED and various other procedural matters. If an institution fails to satisfy any of ED’s criteria for administrative capability, ED may require the repayment of Title IV Program funds disbursed by the institution, place the institution on provisional certification status, require the institution to receive Title IV Program funds under another funding arrangement, impose fines or limit or terminate the participation of the institution in Title IV Programs.

Restrictions on Payment of Commissions, Bonuses and Other Incentive Payments

An institution participating in Title IV Programs cannot provide any commission, bonus, or other incentive payment based directly or indirectly on success in securing enrollments or Title IV financial aid to any persons or entities engaged in any student recruiting or admission activities or in making decisions regarding the award of student financial assistance. Regulations issued in October 2010 which became effective July 1, 2011 rescinded previously issued ED guidance and “safe harbors” relied upon by higher education institutions in making decisions how they managed, compensated and promoted individuals engaged in student recruiting and the awarding of financial aid and their supervisors. The elimination of these “safe harbor” protections and guidance required us to terminate certain compensation payments to our affected employees and to implement changes in contractual and other arrangements with third parties to change structures formerly allowed under ED rules, and has had an impact on our ability to compensate, recruit, retain and motivate affected admissions and other affected employees as well as on our business arrangements with third-party lead generators and other marketing vendors. In September 2016, ED’s Office of Inspector General released a revised audit guide applicable specifically to for-profit schools that requires an annual audit to review compliance with the incentive compensation restrictions.

Further, ED provided very limited published guidance regarding this rule and does not establish clear criteria for compliance for many circumstances. If ED determined that an institution’s compensation practices violated these standards, ED could subject the institution to monetary fines, penalties or other sanctions.

Substantial Misrepresentation

The Higher Education Act prohibits an institution participating in Title IV Programs from engaging in substantial misrepresentation of the nature of its educational programs, financial charges, graduate employability or its relationship with ED. Under ED’s rules, a "misrepresentation" is any statement (made in writing, visually, orally or otherwise) made by the institution, any of its representatives or a third party that provides educational programs, marketing, advertising, recruiting, or admissions services to the institution, that is false, erroneous or has the likelihood or tendency to deceive, and a "substantial misrepresentation" is any misrepresentation on which the person to whom it was made could reasonably be expected to rely, or has reasonably relied, to that person’s detriment. Considering the broad definition of “substantial misrepresentation,” it is possible that, despite our training efforts

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and compliance programs, our institutions' employees or service providers may make statements that could be construed as substantial misrepresentations. In addition, ED’s gainful employment regulation requires the disclosure of select student outcome metrics and includes disclosure of a number of new metrics on institutional websites and during enrollment to all new students. Errors or omissions in these metrics may be used by ED as the basis for a finding of “substantial misrepresentation.” If ED determines that one of our institutions has engaged in substantial misrepresentation, ED may revoke the institution’s program participation agreement, deny applications from the institution for approval of new programs or locations or other matters, or initiate proceedings under its borrower defense to repayment regulations to fine the institution or limit, suspend, or terminate its eligibility to participate in Title IV Programs; the institution could also be exposed to increased risk of action under the Federal False Claims Act.

OTHER INFORMATION

Our website address is www.careered.com. We make available within the “Investor Relations” portion of our website under the caption “Financial Information,” free of charge, our annual reports on Form 10-K, quarterly reports on Form 10-Q, and current reports on Form 8-K, including any amendments to those reports, as soon as reasonably practicable after we electronically file or furnish such materials to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”). Also, the SEC maintains an Internet site at www.sec.gov that contains reports, proxy and information statements, and other information that we file electronically with the SEC. Information contained on our website is expressly not incorporated by reference into this Form 10-K.

 

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Item 1A.

RISK FACTORS

Risks Related to the Highly Regulated Field in Which We Operate

If our institutions fail to comply with the extensive regulatory requirements applicable to our business, we could incur financial penalties, restrictions on our operations, loss of federal and state financial aid funding for our students, or loss of our authorization to operate our institutions.

We are subject to extensive federal and state regulation as a provider of postsecondary education. The applicable regulatory requirements cover virtually all phases of the operations of our institutions, including educational program offerings, facilities, instructional and administrative staff, administrative procedures, marketing and recruiting, financial operations, payment of refunds to students who withdraw, financial aid to students, acquisitions or openings of new institutions, additions of new educational programs, closure or relocation of existing locations and changes in corporate structure and ownership. ED is our primary federal regulator pursuant to the Higher Education Act.

A significant portion of our U.S.-based students rely on Title IV Programs, and we derive a substantial portion of our revenue and cash flows from Title IV Programs. For example, for the year ended December 31, 2018, approximately 83% of our U.S.-based students who were in a program of study at any date during that year participated in Title IV Programs, which resulted in Title IV Program cash receipts recorded by the Company of approximately $435 million.

Our institutions participate in Title IV Programs and are subject to extensive regulation by ED, various state agencies and accrediting commissions. To participate in Title IV Programs, an institution must receive and maintain authorization by the appropriate state education agencies, be accredited by an accrediting commission recognized by ED, and be certified by ED as an eligible institution. Most ED requirements are applied on an institutional basis, with each institution assigned an identification number known as an OPEID, or Office of Postsecondary Education Identification number. Each institution’s branches and other locations, regardless of whether they are campus-based or online, are assigned to the institution’s OPEID.

The regulations, standards and policies of our regulators change frequently and are subject to interpretation, particularly where they are crafted for traditional, academic term-based institutions rather than our non-term academic delivery model. Changes in, or new interpretations of, applicable laws, regulations or standards could have a material adverse effect on our accreditation, authorization to operate in various states, permissible activities, receipt of funds under Title IV Programs, or costs of doing business. We cannot predict with certainty how all of the requirements applied by our regulators will be interpreted or whether our institutions will be able to comply with these requirements in the future.

If we are found to have violated any applicable regulations, standards or policies, we may be subject to the following sanctions, among others, imposed by any one or more of the relevant regulatory agencies or other government bodies:

 

imposition of monetary fines or penalties, including imposition of a letter of credit requirement;

 

repayment of funds received under Title IV or other federal programs or state financial aid programs;

 

restrictions on, or termination of, our institutions' eligibility to participate in Title IV or other federal programs or state financial aid programs;

 

limits on, or termination of, our institutions' operations or ability to grant degrees and certificates;

 

restrictions on, or revocation of, our institutions' accreditations;

 

limitations on our ability to open new institutions or offer new programs;

 

costly investigations, litigation or other adversarial proceedings; and

 

civil or criminal penalties being levied against us or our institutions.

In addition, findings or allegations of noncompliance may subject us to qui tam lawsuits under the Federal False Claims Act, under which private plaintiffs seek to enforce remedies on behalf of the U.S. and, if successful, are entitled to recover their costs and to receive a portion of any amounts recovered by the U.S. in the lawsuit. We may also be subject to other types of lawsuits or claims by third parties. The costs of these proceedings may be significant and we may not have sufficient resources to fund any material adverse outcomes.

Any of the penalties, injunctions, restrictions, lawsuits or other forms of censure listed above could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations and cash flows. If we lose Title IV Program eligibility, we would experience a dramatic decline in revenue and we would be unable to continue our business as it currently is conducted.

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Any failure to comply with state laws and regulatory requirements, or new state legislative or regulatory initiatives affecting our institutions, could have a material adverse effect on our total student enrollments, results of operations, financial condition and cash flows.

Our institutions are subject to the laws and regulations of the states where our physical campuses are located, and our online institutions are also subject to laws and regulations in other states in which they enroll and/or recruit students. State laws establish standards for, among other things, student instruction, qualifications of faculty, location and nature of facilities and financial policies. In addition, we are subject to state consumer protection laws.  

Attorneys general in many states have become more active in enforcing consumer protection laws, in particular related to recruiting practices and the financing of education at for-profit educational institutions. Further, some state attorneys general have partnered with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission to review industry practices. These actions increase the likelihood of scrutiny of the marketing and advertising practices of educational institutions and may result in unforeseen consequences, increasing risk and making our operating environment more challenging. To the extent that multiple states or government agencies commence investigations or act in concert, the cost of responding to inquiries and investigations could increase significantly, and the potential impact on our business could be substantially greater. See Note 12 "Contingencies" to our consolidated financial statements for a description of the Company’s recent agreements with attorneys general in 48 states and the District of Columbia to bring closure to multi-state inquires ongoing since January 2014 relating to state consumer protection laws. These agreements could ultimately have negative impacts on the Company’s business, any one of which could be material. For example, pursuant to the agreements the Company agreed to work with a third-party administrator that will report annually on the Company’s compliance with various obligations the Company committed to in the agreements with the attorneys general. Any negative findings by the third-party administrator may result in negative consequences to the Company, such as an extension of the time period during which the Company must work with the third party administrator and or an action by one or more attorneys general seeking enforcement of the agreements. Further, our provision of materials and information in accordance with the terms of the agreements that do not align with those provided by other institutions could impact student decisions to enroll or remain enrolled at our institutions, which would negatively impact our results of operations and cash flows.

Adverse media coverage regarding the allegations of state consumer protection law violations by us or other for-profit education companies could damage our reputation, result in deceased enrollments, revenues and profitability, and have a negative impact on our stock price. Such coverage could also result in continued scrutiny and regulation by ED, Congress, accrediting commissions, state legislatures, state attorneys general or other governmental authorities of for-profit educational institutions generally or the Company specifically.

State education laws and regulations may limit our institutions’ ability to operate or to award degrees or certificates or offer new programs. Moreover, under the Higher Education Act, approval by such agencies is necessary to maintain eligibility to participate in Title IV Programs. State legislatures often consider legislation affecting regulation of postsecondary educational institutions. Enactment of this legislation and ensuing regulations, or changes in interpretation of existing regulations, may impose substantial costs on our institutions and require them to modify their operations in order to comply with the new regulations.  

If we are unable to comply with current or future state consumer protection, licensing, authorization or other requirements, or determine that we are unable to cost effectively comply with new or changed requirements, we could be subject to monetary fines or penalties or limitations on the manner in which we conduct our business, or we could lose enrollments, eligibility to participate in Title IV Programs and revenues, in any affected states, which could materially affect our results of operations and our growth opportunities. Loss of authorization in one or more states could increase the likelihood of additional scrutiny and potential loss of authority in other states, which would further impact our business.

Additional ED or other rulemaking could materially and adversely affect our operations, business, results of operations, financial condition and cash flows.

ED has promulgated a substantial number of new regulations in recent years that impact our business, including but not limited to the “borrower defense to repayment” and gainful employment regulations discussed in the risk factors below, as well as compensation rules for persons engaged in certain aspects of admissions and financial aid, state authorization, determination of attendance and definitions of a “credit hour” and a “substantial misrepresentation” which became effective on July 1, 2011. These and other regulations have had significant impacts on our business, requiring a large number of reporting and operational changes and resulting in changes to and elimination of certain educational programs.  

In addition, ED convened new negotiated rulemaking committees to consider modifications to the borrower defense to repayment regulations as well as the gainful employment regulation in late 2017 and early 2018. On July 31, 2018, ED published for public comment proposed regulations with respect to “borrower defense to repayment” and on August 14, 2018, ED published for public comment a proposed rescission of the gainful employment regulation. ED has not indicated when it plans to publish final regulations on either topic and there have been various legal challenges to ED’s rulemaking processes and administrative decisions; however, any regulations published in final form by November 1, 2019 typically would take effect on July 1, 2020.

Future regulatory actions by ED or other agencies that regulate our institutions are likely to occur and to have significant

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impacts on our business, require us to change our business practices and incur costs of compliance and of developing and implementing changes in operations, as has been the case with past regulatory changes. We cannot predict with certainty the ultimate combined impact of the regulatory changes which have occurred over recent years, nor can we predict the effect of future legislative or regulatory action by federal, state or other agencies regulating our education programs or other aspects of our operations, how any resulting regulations will be interpreted or whether we and our institutions will be able to comply with these requirements in the future. Any such actions by legislative or regulatory bodies that affect our programs and operations could have a material adverse effect on our student population and our institutions, including the need to cease offering a number of programs.

If one or more of our institutions fails to maintain institutional accreditation, or if certain of our programs cannot obtain or maintain programmatic accreditation, our student enrollments would diminish and our business would suffer.

Institutional Accreditation. In the U.S., accrediting agencies periodically review the academic quality of an institution's instructional programs and its administrative and financial operations to ensure that the institution has the resources to perform its educational mission. ED relies on accrediting agencies to assess whether an institution's educational programs qualify the institution to participate in Title IV Programs. See Item 1, “Business – Accreditation and Jurisdictional Authorizations – Institutional Accreditation.”

The failure to comply with accreditation standards will subject an institution to additional oversight and reporting requirements, accreditation proceedings such as a show-cause directive, an action to defer or deny action related to an institution's application for a new grant of accreditation or an action to suspend an institution's accreditation or a program's approval. For example, in August 2016 HLC adopted policy changes giving the Commission discretion to designate an institution as a school “in financial distress” or “under government investigation.” These designations may result in additional monitoring and/or financial reporting by the institution and a strict scrutiny review by HLC of any requests for substantive change at the institution, requiring the institution to demonstrate a compelling reason for the change and that it has sufficient resources to support the change. The breadth of the conditions that could result in these designations may cause our HLC-accredited institutions, CTU and AIU, to be labeled with one or possibly both. See Note 12 “Contingencies” to our consolidated financial statements for information regarding certain pending and recently resolved governmental inquiries.

If our institutions or programs are subject to accreditation actions or are placed on probationary accreditation status, we may experience additional adverse publicity, impaired ability to attract and retain students and substantial expense to obtain unqualified accreditation status. The inability to obtain reaccreditation following periodic reviews or any final loss of institutional accreditation after exhaustion of the administrative agency processes would result in a loss of Title IV Program funds for the affected institution and its students. Such events and any related claims brought against us could have a material adverse impact on our business, reputation, financial condition, results of operations and cash flows.

Programmatic Accreditation. Many states and professional associations require professional programs to be accredited. While programmatic accreditation is not a sufficient basis to qualify for institutional Title IV Program certification, programmatic accreditation may improve employment opportunities for program graduates in their chosen field. Those of our programs that do not have such programmatic accreditation, where available, or fail to maintain such accreditation, may experience adverse publicity, declining enrollments, litigation or other claims from students or suffer other adverse impacts, which could result in it being impractical for us to continue offering such programs.

ED Recognition of Accrediting Agencies. Our participation in Title IV Programs is dependent on ED continuing to recognize the accrediting agencies that accredit our institutions. The standards and practices of these agencies have become a focus of attention by state attorneys general, members of Congress, ED’s Office of Inspector General and ED over recent years. This focus may make the accreditation review process longer and potentially more challenging for our institutions when they undergo their normal accreditation review processes. It may also be making the process by which ED evaluates and recognizes accreditors as appropriate Title IV gatekeepers similarly longer and more challenging for our accreditors. HLC, which accredits CTU and AIU, along with other ED recognized accreditors are facing increased political pressure as part of this recognition process to apply heightened levels of scrutiny or review and/or apply new requirements or standards to for-profit institutions. These pressures may result in future modifications to HLC’s accreditation criteria, practices or other policies and procedures, which our universities may not be able to comply with.

Congress may revise the laws governing Title IV Programs or reduce funding for those programs which could reduce our enrollments and revenue and increase costs of operations.

The U.S. Congress must periodically reauthorize the Higher Education Act and other laws governing Title IV Programs and annually determines the funding level for each Title IV Program. Both major political parties have conveyed significantly different views on how they would propose to reauthorize the Title IV Programs and the various conditions on program or institutional eligibility they would require. As a result, we cannot predict with any certainty the outcome of the Higher Education Act reauthorization process nor the extent to which any legislation, if adopted, could materially affect our business, financial condition and results of operations. However, scrutiny of the for-profit postsecondary education sector and the ongoing policy differences in Congress regarding spending levels could lead to significant regulatory changes in connection with the upcoming reauthorization of

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the Higher Education Act, and many of these changes may be adverse to postsecondary institutions generally or for-profit institutions specifically.

ED’s gainful employment regulation may limit the programs we can offer students and increase our cost of operations.

Under the Higher Education Act, for-profit institutions are generally eligible to participate in Title IV Programs only in respect of educational programs that “prepare students for gainful employment in a recognized occupation.” On October 30, 2014, ED published a new complex final regulation to define “gainful employment,” a term used in the Higher Education Act which historically was not defined by Congress or ED. In addition to significant new disclosure requirements, the new regulation establishes debt to earnings ratio thresholds a program’s students must achieve for the program to remain eligible to participate in Title IV Programs. See Item 1, “Business—Student Financial Aid and Related Federal Regulation—Compliance with Federal Regulatory Standards and Effect of Federal Regulatory Violations—Gainful Employment,” for more information about the gainful employment regulation.

On October 20, 2016, ED provided our institutions with their first program level draft debt-to-earnings rates under the new gainful employment regulation and in January 2017, ED finalized these rates. AIU had two, and CTU had three, of its continuing programs in the “zone” for meeting the gainful employment standard. Each university also had one active program that failed to meet the standard for the first year. The most significant of the continuing programs within our University Group that are in the zone are the Criminal Justice programs at CTU and AIU, which represent approximately 16% of University Group total enrollments at December 31, 2018. The continuing eligibility of our educational programs for Title IV Programs is at risk due to factors beyond our control, such as changes in the actual or deemed income level of our graduates, changes in student borrowing levels, increases in interest rates, changes in the federal poverty income level relevant for calculating discretionary income, the Affordable Care Act’s incentive for businesses to reduce employee work schedules, pending immigration reform proposals and labor supply impacts on starting wages generally, changes in the percentage of our former students who are current in repayment of their student loans, and other factors. The exposure to these external factors could reduce our ability to continue certain types of programs for which there is market demand, and therefore would impact our ability to maintain or grow our business.

In addition, the disclosure and reporting requirements of the new regulation increase our costs of operations and could adversely impact student enrollments and retention and the reputation of our institutions. If we are required to include a warning notice for any of our programs based on the debt-to-earnings rate, enrollments in those programs may decline materially.

In 2017, ED implemented negotiated rulemaking committees to consider modifications to the gainful employment regulation, following which, on August 14, 2018, ED published for public comment a proposal to rescind the gainful employment regulation. ED has not indicated when or if it will publish a final regulation rescinding the existing gainful employment regulation; however there have been various legal challenges to ED’s rulemaking processes and administrative decisions which may impact the outcome of the timing or finalization of the proposed rescission. The outcome of these rulemaking initiatives and the impact of any new or modified regulations are uncertain at this time. Until ED publishes a final rule rescinding the gainful employment regulation, the existing regulation remains in effect.

If a particular program ceased to be eligible for Title IV Programs, in most cases it would not be practical to continue offering that program under our current business model, which could reduce our enrollments and have a material adverse effect on our cash flows, results of operations and financial condition. Further, if any of our programs require a warning notice or cease to be eligible for Title IV student financial aid, we may incur substantial cost and lost revenue in providing appropriate assistance to the affected students to complete their academic programs or transition to other programs inside or outside of our universities.

Currently effective or modified “borrower defense to repayment” regulations may subject us to significant repayment liability to ED for discharged federal student loans, posting of substantial letters of credit and other requirements that could have a material adverse effect on us.

On October 28, 2016, ED issued complex, significant new regulations that cover multiple issues including the processes and standards for the discharge of student loans, which are commonly referred to as “borrower defense to repayment.” Subsequently, in 2017 ED delayed the effective date of the 2016 regulations and implemented a negotiated rulemaking committee to consider modifications to the borrower defense to repayment regulations, following which, on July 31, 2018, ED published proposed regulations for public comment. ED has not indicated when it plans to publish final regulations replacing the 2016 regulations. Due to various legal challenges to ED’s rulemaking processes and administrative decisions regarding this rule, the timing for when a new rule may become effective is uncertain; however, any regulations published in final form by November 1, 2019 typically would take effect on July 1, 2020.  

However, as a result of litigation, the 2016 borrower defense to repayment regulations went into effect in October 2018. The 2016 regulations set forth categories of borrower defenses that could be asserted by students with respect to student loans disbursed on or after July 1, 2017 and established an automatic discharge process associated with closed schools. In most cases, the 2016 regulations entitle ED to seek reimbursement from the institution for any loans discharged under new standards which are designed to be lenient and accommodating of student claims.  

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We have in the past had claims made against us that if successfully made in the future could provide a basis for borrower claims for discharge of student loans. We cannot predict the extent to which any new regulation seeking recoupment from institutions for student loans that ED discharges may impact us.

Both the 2016 borrower defense to repayment regulations and the proposed 2018 regulations include discussion of triggering events that would provide ED discretion regarding periodic determinations of our financial responsibility and associated enhanced financial protection in the form of a letter of credit or other security it determines it needs. If in the future we are required to post a letter of credit pursuant to these new regulations, we may not have the capacity to do so. Even if we are able to post any required letter of credit, doing so may impact our ability to make investments in our business which could have a material adverse effect on our future growth prospects, financial condition, results of operations and cash flows. See Item 1, “Business—Student Financial Aid and Related Federal Regulation—Compliance with Federal Regulatory Standards and Effect of Federal Regulatory Violations - Borrower Defense to Repayment,” for more information about the 2016 borrower defense to repayment regulations and the 2018 proposed regulations.

We expect to experience additional administrative burdens associated with monitoring, reporting and disclosure obligations in connection with the 2016 regulations if they are not substantially modified, as well as responding to future claims for loan discharge, and these burdens may be material. Some aspects of the 2016 regulations are unclear and many involve significant discretion by ED. Further, certain procedural aspects are pending future rulemaking by ED. The content of additional rulemaking and future interpretations of the regulations by ED are unknown and could have a material negative impact on the Company.

We cannot predict the impact the defense to repayment regulations, including any modifications thereto, will have on student enrollments, the volume of future claims for loan discharge, or our future financial responsibility as determined by ED, all of which could be materially adverse.

A failure to demonstrate "financial responsibility" or "administrative capability" would have negative impacts on our operations.

All higher education institutions participating in Title IV Programs must, among other things, satisfy financial and administrative standards. Failure to meet these standards will subject an institution to additional monitoring and reporting procedures, the costs of which may be significant; alterations in the timing and process for receipt of cash pursuant to Title IV Programs; a requirement to submit an irrevocable letter of credit to ED in an amount equal to 10-100% of the Title IV Program funds that the institution received during its most recently completed fiscal year; or provisional certification for up to three years; depending on the level of compliance with the standards and ED’s discretion. See Item 1, “Business – Student Financial Aid and Related Federal Regulation – Compliance with Federal Regulatory Standards and Effect of Federal Regulatory Violations,” for more information about the standards of financial responsibility and administrative capability and the alternative ways an institution may establish eligibility to continue to participate in Title IV Programs.

If in the future we are required to satisfy ED's standards of financial responsibility on an alternative basis, including potentially by posting irrevocable letters of credit, we may not have the capacity to post these letters of credit.

Accreditor and state regulatory requirements also address financial responsibility, and these requirements vary among agencies and also are different from the ED requirements. Any developments relating to our satisfaction of ED's financial responsibility requirements may lead to additional focus or review by our accreditors or applicable state agencies regarding their respective financial responsibility requirements.

If our institutions fail to maintain financial responsibility or administrative capability, they could lose their eligibility to participate in Title IV Programs, have that eligibility adversely conditioned or be subject to similar negative consequences under accreditor and state regulatory requirements, which would have a material adverse effect on our business. In particular, limitations on, or termination of, participation in Title IV Programs as a result of the failure to demonstrate financial responsibility or administrative capability would limit students' access to Title IV Program funds, which would materially and adversely reduce the enrollments and revenues of our institutions.

Our institutions could lose their eligibility to participate in federal student financial aid programs if the percentage of their revenues derived from those programs is too high.

Any of our institutions or OPEIDs may lose eligibility to participate in Title IV Programs if, on modified cash basis accounting, the percentage of the cash receipts derived from Title IV Programs for two consecutive fiscal years is greater than 90%. Under the 90-10 Rule, an OPEID that derives more than 90% of its cash receipts from Title IV sources for a fiscal year will be placed on provisional participation status for its next two fiscal years. We have substantially no control over the amount of Title IV student loans and grants sought by or awarded to our students. In addition, if the OPEID violates the 90-10 Rule and becomes ineligible to participate in Title IV Programs but continues to disburse Title IV Program funds, ED would require repayment of all Title IV Program funds received by it after the effective date of the loss of eligibility.

Several factors such as the increase in Title IV Program aid availability, including year-round Pell Grant funds, and budget-related reductions in state grant programs, workforce training programs and other alternative funding sources have adversely affected

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our institutions' 90-10 Rule percentages in recent years, and we expect this negative impact to continue. We have implemented various measures intended to reduce the percentage of our institution's cash basis revenue attributable to Title IV Program funds, but they have had only limited impact to date and they may not be adequate to prevent our institutions' 90-10 Rule percentages from exceeding 90% in the future. One such measure is delaying the disbursement and subsequent receipt of Title IV Program funds. Another is adjusting tuition, which could adversely affect our enrollments and our cohort default rates. The ability of our institutions to maintain 90-10 rates below 90% will depend on the impact of future changes in our enrollment mix and regulatory and other factors outside of our control, including any reduction in government assistance for military personnel, including veterans, or changes in the treatment of such funding for purposes of the 90-10 rate calculation. In addition, there is a lack of clarity regarding some of the technical aspects of the calculation methodology under the 90-10 Rule, which may lead to regulatory action or investigations by ED. Changes in, or new interpretations of, the calculation methodology or other industry practices under the 90-10 Rule could further significantly impact our compliance with the 90-10 Rule, and any review or investigation by ED involving us could require a significant amount of resources.

ED has broad discretion to impose additional sanctions on institutions that fail the 90-10 Rule limit, but there is only limited precedent available to predict what those additional sanctions might be in the future. ED could specify a wide range of additional conditions as part of the provisional certification and the institutions' continued participation in Title IV Programs. These conditions may include, among other things, restrictions on the total amount of Title IV Program funds that may be distributed to students attending the institutions; restrictions on programmatic and geographic expansion; requirements to obtain and post letters of credit; and additional reporting requirements to include additional interim financial or enrollment reporting.

See Item 1, “Business – Student Financial Aid and Related Federal Regulation – Compliance with Federal Regulatory Standards and Effect of Federal Regulatory Violations - ‘90-10 Rule,’” for more information about the 90-10 Rule and the measures we have implemented to improve our compliance.

If any of our institutions lose eligibility to participate in Title IV Programs due to violation of the 90-10 Rule, such institutions' operating and financial results would be materially adversely affected. Efforts to reduce the 90-10 Rule percentage for our institutions have and may in the future involve taking measures that involve interpretations of the 90-10 Rule that are without clear precedent, reduce our revenue or increase our operating expenses (or all of the foregoing, in each case perhaps significantly). If the 90-10 Rule is not changed to provide relief for for-profit institutions, we may be required to make structural changes to our business to remain in compliance, which changes may materially alter the manner in which we conduct our business and materially and adversely impact our business, financial condition, results of operations and cash flows. Furthermore, these required changes could make more difficult our ability to comply with other important regulatory requirements, such as the cohort default rate regulations.

Our institutions could lose their eligibility to participate in federal student financial aid programs or have other limitations placed upon them if their student loan cohort default rates are greater than the standards set by ED.

To remain eligible to participate in Title IV Programs, our institutions must maintain student loan cohort default rates below specified levels. Each cohort is the group of students who first enter into student loan repayment during a federal fiscal year (ending September 30). The applicable cohort default rate for each cohort is the percentage of the students in the cohort who default on their student loans prior to the end of the two following federal fiscal years, which represents a three-year measuring period. If an educational institution’s cohort default rate exceeds the applicable standards, it may be required to delay for 30 days the release of the first disbursement of U.S. federal student loan proceeds to first time borrowers, establish a default prevention task force and develop a default prevention plan with measurable objectives for improving the cohort default rate, be subject to provisional certification imposing various additional requirements for participating in Title IV Programs or, depending on the duration or magnitude of the compliance failure, cease participation in Title IV Programs.

See Item 1, “Business – Student Financial Aid and Related Federal Regulation – Compliance with Federal Regulatory Standards and Effect of Federal Regulatory Violations – Student Loan Default Rates,” for more information about cohort default rates, ED’s standards and penalties applicable thereto as well as the Company’s rates for its institutions.

If any of our institutions were to lose eligibility to participate in Title IV Programs due to student loan default rates being higher than ED’s thresholds and we could not arrange for adequate alternative student financing sources, we would most likely have to close those institutions, which could have a material adverse effect on our total student enrollments, financial condition, results of operations and cash flows.

If ED denies, or significantly conditions, recertification of any of our institutions to participate in Title IV Programs, that institution could not conduct its business as it is currently conducted.

Under the provisions of the Higher Education Act, an institution must apply to ED for continued certification to participate in Title IV Programs at least every six years or when it undergoes a change of control. Each institution is assigned an identification number by ED known as an OPEID, or Office of Postsecondary Education Identification number, with each institution’s branches and additional locations assigned to the main campus’ OPEID. Generally, the recertification process includes a review by ED of an institution’s educational programs and locations, administrative capability, financial responsibility and other oversight categories. CTU and AIU are currently operating on a provisional program participation agreement. CTU and AIU each have a program

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participation agreement that expired on September 30, 2018 and as a result are operating on a month-to-month approval pending ED’s review and processing of their pending applications for recertification. During the period of provisional certification, our institutions must obtain prior ED approval to add an educational program, open a new location or make any other significant change, which could negatively impact our ability to take these actions.

The most recent provisional program participation agreements distributed to CTU and AIU in July and August 2017, respectively, provided that they were provisional because of matters relating to the Assurance of Discontinuance the Company entered into in August 2013 with the New York Attorney General (see Item 1, “Business—Accreditation and Jurisdictional Authorizations—Additional State Regulatory Matters”), inquiries from various state attorneys general (see Note 12 “Contingencies – Multi-State AGs” to our consolidated financial statements), student complaints and, with respect to AIU, an open ED program review. It is uncertain what impact, if any, these matters and the existing provisional certification status of CTU and AIU may have on their current recertification process.

If ED finds that any of our institutions do not fully satisfy all required eligibility and certification standards, ED could limit, suspend or terminate the institution’s participation in Title IV Programs. Continued Title IV program eligibility is critical to the operation of our business. If our institutions become ineligible to participate in Title IV Programs, or have that participation significantly conditioned, we could not conduct our business as it is currently conducted and it would have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations and cash flows.

Government and regulatory agencies and third parties may conduct compliance reviews and audits or bring actions against us that could result in monetary liabilities, injunctions, loss of eligibility for Title IV Programs or other adverse outcomes.

Because we operate in a highly regulated industry, we are subject to compliance reviews and audits as well as claims of noncompliance and lawsuits by government agencies, regulatory agencies and third parties. In this regard,. see Note 12 "Contingencies" to our consolidated financial statements and Item I, “Business – Student Financial Aid and Related Federal Regulation – Compliance with Federal Regulatory Standards and Effect of Federal Regulatory Violations,” for discussion of a recently resolved and certain pending matters.

It is possible for one or more of our employees to engage in non-compliant behavior or make statements that violate some aspect of the extensive regulations governing our institutions and business despite our compliance programs. Resource constraints caused by our significant personnel and cost reductions in prior years to stabilize our business may have increased the likelihood of a compliance failure during that period. From time to time, we identify compliance deficiencies that we must address and, where appropriate, report such deficiencies to ED. Such reporting, even in regard to a minor or inadvertent compliance issue, could result in a more significant compliance review by ED or even a full recertification review, which may require the expenditure of substantial administrative time and resources to address.

If the result of any pending or future proceeding is unfavorable to us, we may be required to pay monetary damages or be subject to fines, limitations, loss of Title IV funding, injunctions or other penalties. Even if we adequately address issues raised by an agency review or successfully defend a lawsuit or claim, we may have to divert significant financial and management resources from our ongoing business operations to address issues raised by those actions. Claims and lawsuits brought against us may damage our reputation or adversely affect our stock price, even if such actions are eventually determined to be without merit.

We need timely approval by applicable regulatory agencies to offer new programs or make substantive changes to existing programs.

We believe regulatory agencies are generally seeing significant increases in the volume of requests as a result of the industry adjusting to the significant volume of new regulations and challenging economic circumstances which have affected students and institutions. Regulatory capacity constraints have at times resulted in delays to various approvals our institutions are requesting. To establish a new educational program or substantive changes to existing programs, we are required to obtain the appropriate approvals from ED and applicable state and accrediting regulatory agencies, which may be conditioned, delayed or denied in a manner that could significantly affect our strategic plans and future growth. Approval by these regulatory agencies may be negatively impacted due to regulatory inquiries or reviews and any adverse publicity relating to such matters or the industry generally.

Risks Related to Our Business

Our financial performance depends on the level of student enrollments in our institutions.

Stagnant wage growth and heightened financial worries could continue to affect the willingness of students to incur loans to pay for postsecondary education and to pursue postsecondary education in general. An improving economy and improving job prospects may lead prospective students to choose to work rather than to pursue postsecondary education. Our enrollments could suffer from any of these circumstances.

Enrollment of students at our institutions is impacted by many of the regulatory risks discussed above and business risks discussed below, many of which are beyond our control. If the costs of Title IV loans increase and if availability of alternate student

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financial aid decreases, students may decide not to enroll in a postsecondary institution, including our institutions. We could experience decreasing enrollments in our institutions due to changing demographic trends in family size, overall declines in enrollment in postsecondary institutions, job growth in fields unrelated to our core disciplines or other societal factors.

Reduced enrollments at our institutions, for any of the reasons mentioned or otherwise, generally reduces our profitability and is likely to have a negative impact on our business, results of operation, financial condition and cash flows, which, depending on the level of the decline, could be material.

We compete with a variety of educational institutions, especially in the online education market, and if we are unable to compete effectively, our total student enrollments and revenue could be adversely impacted.

The postsecondary education industry is highly fragmented and increasingly competitive. Our institutions compete with traditional public and private two-year and four-year colleges and universities, other for-profit institutions, other online education providers, and alternatives to higher education, such as immediate employment and military service. Some public and private institutions charge lower tuition for courses of study similar to those offered by our institutions due, in part, to government subsidies, government and foundation grants, tax-deductible contributions and other financial resources not available to for-profit institutions, and this competition may increase if additional subsidies or resources become available to those institutions. For example, a typical community college is subsidized by local or state government and, as a result, tuition rates for associate’s degree programs are much lower at community colleges than at our institutions. Several states have adopted or proposed programs to enable residents to attend community colleges for free.

Further, our competitors may have substantially greater brand recognition and financial and other resources than we have or may be subject to fewer regulatory burdens on enrollment and financial aid processes, which may enable them to compete more effectively for potential students. In particular, some of our publicly traded for-profit competitors have converted to a structure where a for-profit service company provides services to a non-profit educational institution, which reduces the impact of certain regulations on their operations, such as the gainful employment regulation and the 90-10 Rule.

We also expect to experience increased competition as more postsecondary education providers increase their online program offerings (in particular programs that are geared towards the needs of working adults), including traditional and community colleges that had not previously offered online education programs, and increase their use of personalized learning technologies. This trend has been accelerated by companies that provide and/or manage online learning platforms for traditional colleges and community colleges. We may also face increased competition in maintaining and developing new corporate partnerships and other relationships with employers, particularly as employers become more selective as to which online universities they will encourage or offer scholarships to their employees to attend and from which online universities they will hire prospective employees.

An increase in competition, particularly from traditional colleges with well-established reputations for excellence, may affect the success of our recruiting efforts to enroll and retain students who are likely to succeed in our educational programs, or cause us to reduce our tuition rates and increase our marketing and other recruiting expenses, which could adversely impact our profitability and cash flows.

Our financial performance depends on our ability to develop awareness among, and enroll and retain, students in our institutions and programs in a cost effective manner.

If our institutions are unable to successfully market and advertise their educational programs, our institutions' ability to attract and enroll prospective students in those programs could be adversely affected. We have been investing in our student admissions and advising centers and other initiatives to improve student experiences, retention and academic outcomes. If these initiatives do not succeed, our ability to attract, enroll and retain students in our programs could be adversely affected. Consequently, our ability to increase revenue or maintain profitability could be impaired. Some of the factors that could prevent us from successfully marketing our institutions and the programs that they offer include, but are not limited to: student or employer dissatisfaction with educational programs and services; diminished access to prospective students; our failure to maintain or expand our brand names or other factors related to our marketing or advertising practices; FTC or Federal Communications Commission restrictions on contacting prospective students, Internet, mobile phone and other advertising and marketing media; costs and effectiveness of Internet, mobile phone and other advertising programs; and changing media preferences of our target audiences. In addition, we use third-party lead aggregators to help us identify potential students. The practices of some lead aggregators have been questioned by various regulatory bodies, which could lead to changes in the quality and number of the leads provided by these lead aggregators as well as the cost thereof, which could in turn result in a reduction in the number of students we enroll.

If we are unable to successfully resolve pending or future litigation and regulatory and governmental inquiries involving us, or face increased regulatory actions or litigation, our financial condition and results of operations could be adversely affected.  

From time to time, we and certain of our current and former directors and executive officers are named as defendants in various lawsuits, investigations and claims covering a range of matters, including, but not limited to, violations of the federal securities laws, breaches of fiduciary duty and claims made by current and former students and employees of our institutions. Claims have included

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qui tam actions filed in federal court by individual plaintiffs on behalf of themselves and the federal government alleging violations of the False Claims Act. Qui tam actions are filed under seal, and remain under seal until the government decides whether it will intervene in the case. If the government elects to intervene in an action, it assumes primary control of that matter; if the government elects not to intervene, then individual plaintiffs may continue the litigation at their own expense on behalf of the government.

We and our institutions also are subject to and have pending audits, compliance reviews, inquiries, investigations, claims of non-compliance and litigation by ED, federal and state regulatory agencies, accrediting agencies, state attorney general offices, present and former students and employees, and others that may allege violations of statutes, regulations, accreditation standards, consumer protection and other legal and regulatory requirements applicable to us or our institutions.

See Note 12 "Contingencies" to our consolidated financial statements and Item 1, “Business – Student Financial Aid and Related Federal Regulation – Compliance with Federal Regulatory Standards and Effect of Federal Regulatory Violations” for discussion of a recently resolved and certain pending matters. If the results of any current or future audits, reviews, inquiries, investigations, claims, or actions are unfavorable to us, we may be required to pay monetary damages or be subject to fines, operational limitations, loss of federal funding, injunctions, undertakings, additional oversight and reporting, or other civil or criminal penalties.

Even if we maintain compliance with applicable governmental and accrediting body regulations, regulatory scrutiny or adverse publicity arising from allegations of non-compliance may increase our costs of regulatory compliance and adversely affect our financial results, growth rates and prospects. For example, Congressional hearings and the state attorneys general, CFPB and FTC investigations affecting for-profit institutions may spur plaintiffs’ law firms or others to initiate additional litigation against us and other for-profit education providers.

We are subject to a variety of other claims and litigation that arise from time to time alleging non-compliance with or violations of state or federal regulatory matters including, but not limited to, claims involving students, graduates and employees. In the event the extensive changes in the overall federal and state regulatory construct results in additional statutory or regulatory bases for these types of matters, or other events result in more of such claims or unfavorable outcomes to such claims, there exists the possibility of a material adverse impact on our business, reputation, financial position, cash flows and results of operations for the periods in which the effects of any such matter or matters becomes probable and reasonably estimable. In addition, proposals have been made to limit the use of pre-dispute resolution clauses and class action waivers in student enrollments agreements. Implementation of these initiatives may result in increased litigation costs.

We cannot predict the ultimate outcome of these and future matters and expect to continue to incur significant defense costs and other expenses in connection with them. We may be required to pay substantial damages or settlement costs in excess of our insurance coverage related to these matters. Government investigations, including the pending FTC inquiry in which we are involved, and any related legal and administrative proceedings may result in the institution of administrative, civil injunctive or criminal proceedings against us and/or our current or former directors, officers or employees, or the imposition of significant fines, penalties or suspensions, or other remedies and sanctions. Any such costs and expenses could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition and results of operations and the market price of our common stock.

Our financial performance depends, in part, on our ability to keep pace with changing market needs and technology.

Increasingly, prospective employers of students who graduate from our institutions demand that their new employees possess appropriate technological skills and also appropriate “soft” skills, such as communication, critical thinking and teamwork skills. These skills can evolve rapidly in a changing economic and technological environment, so it is important for our institutions’ educational programs to evolve in response to those economic and technological changes. Current or prospective students or the employers of our graduates may not accept expansion of our existing programs, improved program content and the development of new programs. Even if our institutions are able to develop acceptable new and improved programs in a cost-effective manner, our institutions may not be able to begin offering them as quickly as prospective employers would like or as quickly as our competitors offer similar programs. If we are unable to adequately respond to changes in market requirements due to regulatory or financial constraints, rapid technological changes or other factors, our ability to attract and retain students could be impaired, the rates at which our graduates obtain jobs involving their fields of study could decline, and our results of operations and cash flows could be adversely affected.

We may not be able to successfully identify, complete or integrate acquisitions.

We continue to evaluate diverse strategies to enhance shareholder value, including acquisitions of high-quality educational institutions and programs. We may have difficulty identifying suitable acquisition opportunities that complement our strategic direction or successfully completing transactions at prices we deem acceptable. Further, the successful integration and profitable operation of an acquired institution or program involves significant risks and uncertainties, including:

 

the inability to successfully integrate the acquired operations and personnel into our institutions and maintain uniform standards, controls, policies and procedures;

 

the failure to realize anticipated cost savings and additional revenue opportunities;

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the assumption of known and unknown liabilities;

 

the diversion of significant attention of our senior management from day-to-day operations; and

 

issues not discovered in our due diligence process, including compliance issues, commitments and/or contingencies.

An acquisition related to an institution or other educational business often requires one or multiple regulatory approvals. If we are unable to obtain such approvals, or we obtain them on unfavorable terms, our ability to consummate a transaction may be impaired or we may be unable to operate the acquired business in a manner that is favorable to us. If we fail to properly evaluate an acquisition, we may be required to incur costs in excess of what we anticipated, and we may not achieve the anticipated benefits of the acquisition.

Our future financial condition and results of operations could be materially adversely affected if we are required to write down the carrying value of non-financial assets and non-financial liabilities, including long-lived assets, deferred tax assets and goodwill and intangible assets, such as our trade names.

In accordance with U.S. GAAP, we review our non-financial assets and non-financial liabilities, including goodwill and indefinite-lived intangible assets, such as our trade names, for impairment on at least an annual basis through the application of fair value-based measurements. On an interim basis, we review our assets and liabilities to determine if a triggering event had occurred that would result in it being more likely than not that the fair value would be less than the carrying amount for any of our reporting units or indefinite-lived intangible assets. We determine the fair value of our reporting units using a combination of an income approach, based on discounted cash flow, and a market-based approach. To the extent the fair value of a reporting unit is less than its carrying amount, we will be required to record an impairment charge in the consolidated statements of income (loss) and comprehensive income (loss). We determine the fair value of our trade names using a relief from royalty method which is based on the assumption that, in lieu of ownership of an intangible asset, a company would be willing to pay a royalty in order to enjoy the benefits of the asset. To the extent the fair value of the trade name is less than its carrying amount, we record an impairment charge in the consolidated statements of income (loss) and comprehensive income (loss). Our estimates of fair value for these are based primarily on projected future results and expected cash flows consistent with our plans to manage the underlying businesses. However, should we encounter unexpected economic conditions or operational results or need to take additional actions not currently foreseen to comply with current and future regulations, the assumptions used to calculate the fair value of our assets, estimate of future cash flows, revenue growth, and discount rates, could be negatively impacted and could result in an impairment of goodwill or other long-lived assets which could materially adversely affect our financial condition and results of operations.

Furthermore, we believe that our evaluation of deferred tax assets and the need for a valuation allowance against such assets involve critical accounting estimates because they are subject to, among other things, estimates of future taxable income and future changes in the effective corporate tax rate. These estimates are susceptible to change and are dependent on events that may or may not occur. Our assessment of the need for or release of a valuation allowance is material to the assets reported on our consolidated balance sheets and changes in any of the assumptions utilized in this assessment could result in an increase or decrease to the valuation allowance recorded as of December 31, 2018. As of December 31, 2018, we have recorded a partial valuation allowance in the amount of $48.0 million related to that portion of our deferred tax assets which we determined were not more likely than not to be realized based upon the existing positive and negative evidence. Future changes in circumstances that cause a change in judgment about the realizability of the deferred tax asset could result in an increase or decrease to the valuation allowance recorded within the consolidated balance sheet in future periods and could cause our income tax provision to vary significantly among financial reporting periods.

The loss of our key personnel could harm us.

Our future success depends largely on the skills, efforts and motivation of our executive officers and other key personnel, as well as on our ability to attract and retain qualified managers and our institutions' ability to attract and retain qualified faculty members and administrators. Many leadership positions within the Company were transitioned during the Company’s transformation into a simpler organization focusing on its universities, including several changes in the offices of Chief Executive Officer and Chief Financial Officer. Loss of key personnel in the future could slow implementation of key initiatives, lead to changes in or create uncertainty about our business strategies or otherwise impact management's attention to operations. We face competition in attracting, hiring and retaining executives and key personnel who possess the skill sets and experiences that we seek. In particular, our performance is dependent upon the availability and retention of qualified personnel for our ongoing investments in our student support operations. The negative publicity surrounding our industry makes it difficult and more expensive to attract, hire and retain qualified and experienced personnel. In addition, key personnel may leave us and subsequently compete against us after any period they are contractually obligated not to pursue such activities. The loss of the services of our key personnel, or our failure to attract, integrate and retain other qualified and experienced personnel on acceptable terms and in a timely manner could adversely affect our results of operations or growth prospects.

Our credit facility and letters of credit are required to be 100% secured by cash and marketable securities and therefore may impact our liquidity.

The loans and letter of credit obligations under our credit facility are required to be 100% secured by cash and marketable

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securities deposited with the bank. Further, any settlements or negative decisions in regulatory proceedings or other legal actions against us may reduce existing available cash balances. We therefore may have liquidity needs in the future which the credit facility will not meet. For example, we may not have the capacity to post required letters of credit we may need in the future for state licensing requirements, if we are required to satisfy ED's standards of financial responsibility on an alternative basis or for other purposes due to insufficient cash available to provide security. If cash generated by operations and existing cash balances are insufficient in the future to support our cash requirements, we would need to pursue other sources of liquidity, if available, such as additional sources of credit which may be more expensive, issuance of stock to new investors or a sale of assets.

We rely on proprietary rights and intellectual property in conducting our business, which may not be adequately protected under current laws, and we may encounter disputes from time to time relating to our use of intellectual property of third parties.

Our success depends in part on our ability to protect our proprietary rights. We rely on a combination of copyrights, trademarks, service marks, trade secrets, domain names and agreements to protect our proprietary rights. We rely on service mark and trademark protection in the United States and select foreign jurisdictions to protect our rights to our marks as well as distinctive logos and other marks associated with our services. These measures may not be adequate, and we can’t be certain that we have secured, or will be able to secure, appropriate protections for all of our proprietary rights. Unauthorized third parties may attempt to duplicate the proprietary aspects of our curricula, online resource material and other content despite our efforts to protect these rights. Our management’s attention may be diverted by these attempts, and we may need to use funds for lawsuits to protect our proprietary rights against any infringement or violation.

These and other risks exist with respect to our intellipath® personalized learning technology, which incorporates technology that we have a perpetual but non-exclusive license to use. We receive software support for the intellipath technology from CCKF, a Dublin-based educational technology company in which we have an equity investment. If CCKF ceases to operate or otherwise becomes unable to work with our institutions, it would be necessary to either develop the ability to support the software using our own resources or engage another third party vendor to provide these services, which transition could be economically disadvantageous, cause an interruption in the use of the technology and present a distraction to management and applicable institution, any of which could negatively impact our business.

We may encounter disputes from time to time over rights and obligations concerning intellectual property, and we may not prevail in these disputes. Third parties may raise a claim against us alleging an infringement or violation of the intellectual property of that third party. Some third party intellectual property rights may be extremely broad, and it may not be possible for us to conduct our operations in such a way as to avoid those intellectual property rights. Any such intellectual property claim could subject us to costly litigation and impose a significant strain on our financial resources and management personnel regardless of whether such claim has merit.

Risks Related to Our Business Technology Infrastructure

Government regulations relating to the Internet could increase our cost of doing business or otherwise have a material adverse effect on our business.

The increasing popularity and use of the Internet and other online services has led and may lead to the adoption of new laws and regulatory practices in the United States or in foreign countries and to new interpretations of existing laws and regulations. These new laws and interpretations may relate to issues such as online privacy, copyrights, trademarks and service marks, sales taxes, fair business practices and the requirement that online education institutions qualify to do business as foreign corporations or be licensed in one or more jurisdictions where they have no physical location or other presence. New laws, regulations or interpretations related to doing business over the Internet could increase our costs and adversely affect enrollments.

We are subject to privacy and information security laws and regulations due to our collection and use of personal information, and any violations of those laws or regulations, or any breach, theft or loss of that information, could adversely affect our reputation and operations.

Our efforts to attract and enroll students result in us collecting, using and keeping substantial amounts of personal information regarding applicants, our students, their families and alumni, including social security numbers and financial data. We also maintain personal information about our employees in the ordinary course of our activities. Our services, the services of many of our health plan and benefit plan vendors, and other information can be accessed globally through the Internet. We rely extensively on our network of interconnected applications and databases for day to day operations as well as financial reporting and the processing of financial transactions. Our computer networks and those of our vendors that manage confidential information for us or provide services to our students may be vulnerable to unauthorized access, inadvertent access or display, theft or misuse, hackers, computer viruses, or third parties in connection with hardware and software upgrades and changes. Such unauthorized access, misuse, theft or hacks could evade our intrusion detection and prevention precautions without alerting us to the breach or loss for some period of time or may never be detected. We have experienced malware and virus attacks on our systems which went undetected by our virus detection and prevention software. Regular patching of our computer systems and frequent updates to our virus detection and

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prevention software with the latest virus and malware signatures may not catch newly introduced malware and viruses or “zero-day” viruses, prior to their infecting our systems and potentially disrupting our data integrity, taking sensitive information or affecting financial transactions. Because our services can be accessed globally via the Internet, we may be subject to privacy laws in countries outside the U.S. from which students access our services, which laws may constrain the way we market and provide our services. While we utilize security and business controls to limit access to and use of personal information, any breach of student or employee privacy or errors in storing, using or transmitting personal information could violate privacy laws and regulations resulting in fines or other penalties. The adoption of new or modified state or federal data or cybersecurity legislation could increase our costs and/or require changes in our operating procedures or systems. A breach, theft or loss of personal information held by us or our vendors, or a violation of the laws and regulations governing privacy could have a material adverse effect on our reputation or result in lawsuits, additional regulation, remediation and compliance costs or investments in additional security systems to protect our computer networks, the costs of which may be substantial.

System disruptions and vulnerability from security risks to our online technology infrastructure could have a material adverse effect on our ability to attract and retain students.

For our online and ground-based campuses, the performance and reliability of program infrastructure is critical to their operations, reputation and ability to attract and retain students. Any computer system error or failure, significant increase in traffic on our computer networks, or any significant failure or unavailability of our computer networks, including but not limited to those as a result of natural disasters and network and telecommunications failures could materially disrupt our delivery of these programs. Any interruption to our institutions’ computer systems or operations could have a material adverse effect on our total student enrollments, our business, financial condition, results of operations and cash flows.

Our computer networks may also be vulnerable to unauthorized access, computer hackers, computer viruses and other security threats. A user who circumvents security measures could misappropriate proprietary information or cause interruptions or malfunctions in our operations. Due to the sensitive nature of the information contained on our networks hackers may target our networks. We may be required to expend significant resources to protect against the threat of these security breaches or to alleviate problems caused by these breaches. We cannot ensure that these efforts will protect our computer networks against security breaches despite our regular monitoring of our technology infrastructure security.

Our institutions’ online programs’ success depends, in part, on our institutions’ ability to expand the content of their programs, develop new programs in a cost-effective manner, maintain good standing with regulators and accreditors, and meet students’ needs in a timely manner. New programs can be delayed due to current and future unforeseen regulatory restrictions. Furthermore, our regulators may impose additional restrictions or conditions on the manner in which we offer online courses to our students, any one of which could negatively impact our business or results of operations.

Any general decline in Internet use for any reason, including security or privacy concerns, cost of Internet service or changes in government regulation, could result in less demand for online educational services and inhibit growth in our online programs.

We may incur liability for the unauthorized duplication or distribution of class materials posted online for class discussions.

In some instances our faculty members or our students may post various articles or other third-party content on class discussion boards or download third-party content to personal computers. We may incur claims or liability for the unauthorized duplication or distribution of this material. Any such claims could subject us to costly litigation and could impose a strain on our financial resources and management personnel regardless of whether the claims have merit.

Risk Related to Our Common Stock

The trading price of our common stock may continue to fluctuate substantially in the future.

The trading price of our common stock has and may fluctuate significantly as a result of a number of factors, some of which are not in our control. These factors include:

 

general conditions in the postsecondary education field, including declining enrollments;

 

the outcomes and impacts on our business of ED’s rulemakings, and other changes in the legal or regulatory environment in which we operate;

 

negative media coverage of the for-profit education industry;

 

the initiation, pendency or outcome of litigation, accreditation reviews, regulatory reviews, inquiries and investigations, including the pending FTC inquiry in which we are involved, and any related adverse publicity;

 

failure of certain of our institutions or programs to maintain compliance under the gainful employment regulation, 90-10 Rule or with financial responsibility standards;

 

loss of key personnel;

 

our ability to meet or exceed, or changes in, expectations of analysts or investors, or the extent of analyst coverage of our

37


 

company;

 

decisions by any significant investors to reduce their investment in us;

 

quarterly variations in our operating results;

 

price and volume fluctuations in the overall stock market, which may cause the market price for our common stock to fluctuate significantly more than the market as a whole; and

 

general economic conditions.

Further, the trading volume of our common stock is relatively low, which may cause our stock price to react more to these various and other factors and may impact an investor’s ability to sell their shares at the desired time at a price considered satisfactory. These factors may adversely affect the trading price of our common stock, regardless of our actual operating performance, and could prevent an investor from selling shares at or above the price at which the investor acquired them.

 

ITEM 1B.

UNRESOLVED STAFF COMMENTS

None.

ITEM 2.

PROPERTIES

Our University Group ground-based campuses are located in Colorado, Georgia and Texas. These campuses generally consist of teaching facilities, including classrooms and laboratories, and admissions and administrative offices. Additionally, we have admissions and administrative facilities located in the areas of Chicago, Illinois and Phoenix, Arizona, which are used for our universities and corporate functions.

All of our campus and administrative facilities are leased except one (Houston, TX). As of December 31, 2018 we leased approximately 1.4 million square feet under lease agreements related to our continuing operations that have remaining terms ranging from less than one year through 2028. Of the 1.4 million square feet, 0.6 million square feet relate to our campuses that have completed their teach-out process but have leases remaining which terminate at varying dates through 2021. As of December 31, 2018, we owned less than 0.1 million square feet of real property utilized by AIU located in Houston, Texas.  

See Item 1, “Business,” for a listing of our campus locations. The listing excludes institutions that have been sold and campuses that have ceased operations.

We actively monitor our real estate needs in light of our current utilization and projected student enrollment levels. A key goal is to mitigate overall operating expenses by disposing of excess properties related to campuses which have completed their teach-out.

ITEM 3.

LEGAL PROCEEDINGS

Note 12 “Contingencies” to our consolidated financial statements in Part IV, Item 15 of this Annual Report on Form 10-K is incorporated herein by reference.

ITEM 4.

MINE SAFETY DISCLOSURES

Not applicable.

 

 

38


PART II

ITEM 5.

MARKET FOR REGISTRANT’S COMMON EQUITY, RELATED STOCKHOLDER MATTERS AND ISSUER PURCHASES OF EQUITY SECURITIES

Our common stock is listed on the NASDAQ Global Select Market (“NASDAQ”) under the symbol “CECO.”

The closing price of our common stock as reported on the NASDAQ on February 15, 2019 was $13.97 per share. As of February 15, 2019, there were approximately 111 holders of record of our common stock, including The Depository Trust Company, which holds shares of our common stock on behalf of an indeterminate number of beneficial owners.

Our common stock transfer agent and registrar is Computershare Trust Company, N.A. They can be contacted at P.O. Box# 505000, Louisville, KY 40233-5000 or at their website www.computershare.com/investor.

We have never paid cash dividends on our common stock and have no plan to do so in the foreseeable future. The declaration and payment of dividends on our common stock are subject to the discretion of our Board of Directors. The decision of our Board of Directors to pay future dividends will depend on general business conditions, the effect of a dividend payment on our financial condition, and other factors the Board of Directors may consider relevant. In addition, our credit agreement limits the payment of cash dividends. The current policy of our Board of Directors is to reinvest earnings in our operations to promote future growth and, from time to time, to execute repurchases of shares of our common stock under the stock repurchase program discussed below. The repurchase of shares of our common stock reduces the amount of cash available to pay cash dividends to our common stockholders.

We did not repurchase any shares of our common stock during the year ended December 31, 2018 except for shares delivered back to the Company for payment of withholding taxes from employees for vesting restricted stock units. Under the Company’s previously authorized stock repurchase program, stock repurchases may be made on the open market or in privately negotiated transactions from time to time, depending on factors including market conditions and corporate and regulatory requirements. The stock repurchase program does not have an expiration date and may be suspended or discontinued at any time. As of December 31, 2018, approximately $183.3 million was available under the stock repurchase program.

Issuer Purchases of Equity Securities

 

Period

 

Total Number of

Shares

Purchased (1)

 

 

Average Price

Paid per Share

 

 

Total Number of

Shares Purchased

as Part of Publicly

Announced Plans

or Programs

 

 

Maximum

Approximate

Dollar Value of

Shares that May

Yet Be Purchased

Under the Plans

or Programs

 

December 31, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

$

183,296,772

 

January 1, 2018 - January 31, 2018

 

 

-

 

 

$

-

 

 

 

-

 

 

 

183,296,772

 

February 1, 2018 - February 28, 2018

 

 

-

 

 

 

-

 

 

 

-

 

 

 

183,296,772

 

March 1, 2018 - March 31, 2018

 

 

215,215

 

 

 

13.85

 

 

 

-

 

 

 

183,296,772

 

April 1, 2018 - April 30, 2018

 

 

-

 

 

 

-

 

 

 

-

 

 

 

183,296,772

 

May 1, 2018 - May 31, 2018

 

 

-

 

 

 

-

 

 

 

-

 

 

 

183,296,772

 

June 1, 2018 - June 30, 2018

 

 

14,691

 

 

 

16.11

 

 

 

-

 

 

 

183,296,772

 

July 1, 2018 - July 31, 2018

 

 

-

 

 

 

-

 

 

 

-

 

 

 

183,296,772

 

August 1, 2018 - August 31, 2018

 

 

-

 

 

 

-

 

 

 

-

 

 

 

183,296,772

 

September 1, 2018 - September 30, 2018

 

 

6,593

 

 

 

14.42

 

 

 

-

 

 

 

183,296,772

 

October 1, 2018 - October 31, 2018

 

 

-

 

 

 

-

 

 

 

-

 

 

 

183,296,772

 

November 1, 2018 - November 30, 2018

 

 

-

 

 

 

-

 

 

 

-

 

 

 

183,296,772

 

December 1, 2018 - December 31, 2018

 

 

2,547

 

 

 

12.64

 

 

 

-

 

 

 

183,296,772

 

Total

 

 

239,046

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

-

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1)

Includes 218,997 and 20,049 shares delivered back to the Company for payment of withholding taxes from employees for vesting restricted stock units pursuant to the terms of the Career Education Corporation 2008 Incentive Compensation Plan and 2016 Incentive Compensation Plan, respectively.

See Item 12, “Security Ownership of Certain Beneficial Owners and Management and Related Stockholder Matters,” for information as of December 31, 2018, with respect to shares of our common stock that may be issued under our existing share-based compensation plans.

The graph below shows a comparison of cumulative total returns for CEC, the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index and an index of peer companies selected by CEC. The companies in the peer index are weighted according to their market capitalization as of the end

39


of each period for which a return is indicated. Included in the peer index are the following companies whose primary business is postsecondary education: Adtalem Global Education Inc., American Public Education, Inc., Bridgepoint Education, Inc., Grand Canyon Education, Inc., and Strategic Education, Inc. (formerly known as Strayer Education, Inc.). Grand Canyon Education, Inc. was added to the peer index for the current year in replacement of Capella Education Company which was included in the prior year. The change is due to the fact that Capella Education Company merged with Strategic Education, Inc. during 2018. Grand Canyon Education, Inc. is a similarly related competitor. The performance graph begins with CEC’s $5.70 per share closing price on December 31, 2013.

COMPARISON OF CUMULATIVE FIVE-YEAR TOTAL RETURN

(Based on $100 invested on December 31, 2013 and assumes the reinvestment of all dividends.)

 

 

  

The information contained in the performance graph shall not be deemed “soliciting material” or to be “filed” with the Securities and Exchange Commission nor shall such information be deemed incorporated by reference into any future filing under the Securities Act of 1933 or the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as both are amended from time to time, except to the extent specifically incorporated by reference into such filing.

 

 

40


ITEM 6.

SELECTED FINANCIAL DATA

The following selected historical consolidated financial and other data are qualified in their entirety by reference to, and should be read in conjunction with, our consolidated financial statements and the related notes thereto appearing elsewhere in this Annual Report and “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations.” Our selected statement of income (loss) and comprehensive income (loss) and statement of cash flows data set forth below for each of the five years ended December 31, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015 and 2014, and the balance sheet data as of December 31, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015 and 2014, are derived from our audited consolidated financial statements.

 

 

 

For the Year Ended December 31,

 

 

 

2018

 

 

2017

 

 

2016

 

 

2015

 

 

2014

 

 

 

(Dollars in thousands, except per share amounts)

 

Selected Statements of Income (Loss) and

   Comprehensive Income (Loss) Data

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Total revenue

 

$

581,296

 

 

$

596,435

 

 

$

704,392

 

 

$

847,273

 

 

$

913,964

 

Operating expenses:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Educational services and facilities

 

 

109,897

 

 

 

143,344

 

 

 

235,100

 

 

 

289,777

 

 

 

323,259

 

General and administrative

 

 

390,707

 

 

 

404,965

 

 

 

477,725

 

 

 

564,211

 

 

 

640,454

 

Depreciation and amortization

 

 

9,394

 

 

 

13,990

 

 

 

22,747

 

 

 

24,938

 

 

 

53,382

 

Goodwill and asset impairment (1)

 

 

-

 

 

 

-

 

 

 

1,164

 

 

 

60,515

 

 

 

36,141

 

Total operating expenses

 

 

509,998

 

 

 

562,299

 

 

 

736,736

 

 

 

939,441

 

 

 

1,053,236

 

Operating income (loss)

 

 

71,298

 

 

 

34,136

 

 

 

(32,344

)

 

 

(92,168

)

 

 

(139,272

)

Operating margin percentage

 

 

12.3

%

 

 

5.7

%

 

 

-4.6

%

 

 

-10.9

%

 

 

-15.2

%

Total other income (expense)

 

 

3,054

 

 

 

2,114

 

 

 

978

 

 

 

(2,270

)

 

 

446

 

Pretax income (loss)

 

 

74,352

 

 

 

36,250

 

 

 

(31,366

)

 

 

(94,438

)

 

 

(138,826

)

Provision for (benefit from) income taxes

 

 

18,561

 

 

 

67,125

 

 

 

(16,550

)

 

 

(147,454

)

 

 

3,736

 

Income (loss) from continuing operations

 

 

55,791

 

 

 

(30,875

)

 

 

(14,816

)

 

 

53,016

 

 

 

(142,562

)

Loss from discontinued operations, net of tax (2)

 

 

(610

)

 

 

(1,022

)

 

 

(3,896

)

 

 

(1,131

)

 

 

(35,601

)

Net income (loss)

 

$

55,181

 

 

$

(31,897

)

 

$

(18,712

)

 

$

51,885

 

 

$

(178,163

)

Net income (loss) per share - basic:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Income (loss) from continuing operations

 

$

0.80

 

 

$

(0.45

)

 

$

(0.22

)

 

$

0.78

 

 

$

(2.12

)

Loss from discontinued operations

 

 

(0.01

)

 

 

(0.01

)

 

 

(0.05

)

 

 

(0.02

)

 

 

(0.53

)

Net income (loss)

 

$

0.79

 

 

$

(0.46

)

 

$

(0.27

)

 

$

0.76

 

 

$

(2.65

)

Net income (loss) per share - diluted:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Income (loss) from continuing operations

 

$

0.78

 

 

$

(0.45

)

 

$

(0.22

)

 

$

0.78

 

 

$

(2.12

)

Loss from discontinued operations

 

 

(0.01

)

 

 

(0.01

)

 

 

(0.05

)

 

 

(0.02

)

 

 

(0.53

)

Net income (loss)

 

$

0.77

 

 

$

(0.46

)

 

$

(0.27

)

 

$

0.76

 

 

$

(2.65

)

 

 

 

As of December 31,

 

 

 

2018

 

 

2017

 

 

2016

 

 

2015

 

 

2014

 

 

 

(Dollars in thousands)

 

Selected Balance Sheet Data

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Assets: