10-K 1 d508256d10k.htm 10-K 10-K
Table of Contents

 

 

UNITED STATES

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, 2017

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: 001-34211

 

 

GRAND CANYON EDUCATION, INC.

(Exact name of registrant as specified in its charter)

 

 

 

DELAWARE   20-3356009

(State or other jurisdiction of

incorporation or organization)

 

(I.R.S. Employer

Identification No.)

3300 W. CAMELBACK ROAD, PHOENIX, ARIZONA 85017

(Address of principal executive offices, including zip code)

Registrant’s telephone number, including area code: (602) 639-7500

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

 

(Title of Each Class)

 

(Name of Each Exchange on Which Registered)

Grand Canyon Education, Inc.

Common stock, $.01 par value

  The NASDAQ Global Market

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

None

(Title of class)

 

 

Indicate by check mark if the registrant is a well-known seasoned issuer, as defined in Rule 405 of the Securities Act.    Yes  ☒    No  ☐

Indicate by check mark if the registrant is not required to file reports pursuant to Section 13 or Section 15(d) of the Act.    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 and posted on its corporate Web site, if any, every Interactive Data File required to be submitted and posted 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 and post 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, a 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. (Check one):

 

Large accelerated filer      Accelerated filer  
Non-accelerated filer   ☐  (Do not check if a smaller reporting company)    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).    Yes  ☐    No  ☒

The total number of shares of common stock outstanding as of February 16, 2018 was 48,292,274.

As of June 30, 2017, the last business day of the registrant’s most recently completed second fiscal quarter, the registrant’s common stock was listed on the NASDAQ Global Market. As of June 30, 2017, the aggregate market value of the registrant’s common stock held by non-affiliates was approximately $3.7 billion.

DOCUMENTS INCORPORATED BY REFERENCE

Certain portions of the registrant’s Definitive Proxy Statement for its 2018 Annual Meeting of Stockholders (which is expected to be filed with the Commission within 120 days after the end of the registrant’s 2017 fiscal year) are incorporated by reference into Part III of this Report.

 

 

 


Table of Contents

GRAND CANYON EDUCATION, INC.

FORM 10-K

INDEX

 

     Page  

PART I

     4  

Special Note Regarding Forward-Looking Statements

     3  

Item 1. Business

     4  

Item 1A. Risk Factors

     25  

Item 1B. Unresolved Staff Comments

     38  

Item 2. Properties

     38  

Item 3. Legal Proceedings

     39  

Item 4. Mine Safety Disclosures

     39  

PART II

     39  

Item  5. Market for Registrant’s Common Equity, Related Stockholder Matters and Issuer Purchases of Equity Securities

     39  

Item 6. Selected Consolidated Financial and Other Data

     42  

Item  7. Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations

     44  

Item 7A. Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosures About Market Risk

     56  

Item 8. Consolidated Financial Statements and Supplementary Data

     57  

Item  9. Changes in and Disagreements With Accountants on Accounting and Financial Disclosure

     82  

Item 9A. Controls and Procedures

     82  

Item 9B. Other Information

     85  

PART III

     85  

Item 10. Directors, Executive Officers and Corporate Governance

     85  

Item 11. Executive Compensation

     85  

Item  12. Security Ownership of Certain Beneficial Owners and Management and Related Stockholder Matters

     85  

Item  13. Certain Relationships and Related Transactions, and Director Independence

     85  

Item 14. Principal Accounting Fees and Services

     85  

PART IV

     86  

Item 15. Exhibits and Consolidated Financial Statement Schedules

     86  

SIGNATURES

     89  

Exhibit Index

     87  

 

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Special Note Regarding Forward-Looking Statements

This Annual Report on Form 10-K, including Item 1, Business; Item 1A, Risk Factors; and Item 7, Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations, contains certain “forward-looking statements,” which include information relating to future events, future financial performance, strategies, expectations, competitive environment, regulation, and availability of resources. These forward-looking statements include, without limitation, statements regarding proposed new programs; statements as to whether regulatory developments or other matters may or may not have a material adverse effect on our financial position, results of operations, or liquidity; statements concerning projections, predictions, expectations, estimates, or forecasts as to our business, financial and operational results, and future economic performance; and statements of management’s goals and objectives and other similar expressions concerning matters that are not historical facts. Words such as “may,” “should,” “could,” “would,” “predicts,” “potential,” “continue,” “expects,” “anticipates,” “future,” “intends,” “plans,” “believes,” “estimates” and similar expressions, as well as statements in future tense, identify forward-looking statements.

Forward-looking statements should not be read as a guarantee of future performance or results, and will not necessarily be accurate indications of the times at, or by, which such performance or results will be achieved. Forward-looking statements are based on information available at the time those statements are made or management’s good faith belief as of that time with respect to future events, and are subject to risks and uncertainties that could cause actual performance or results to differ materially from those expressed in or suggested by the forward-looking statements. Important factors that could cause such differences include, but are not limited to:

 

    our announced intention to sell our academic and related operations and assets to a non-profit entity and become a services company;

 

    our failure to comply with the extensive regulatory framework applicable to our industry, including Title IV of the Higher Education Act and the regulations thereunder, state laws and regulatory requirements, and accrediting commission requirements;

 

    the ability of our students to obtain federal Title IV funds, state financial aid, and private financing;

 

    potential damage to our reputation or other adverse effects as a result of negative publicity in the media, in the industry or in connection with governmental reports or investigations or otherwise, affecting us or other companies in the for-profit post-secondary education sector;

 

    risks associated with changes in applicable federal and state laws and regulations and accrediting commission standards, including pending rulemaking by the Department of Education;

 

    competition from other universities in our geographic region and market sector, including competition for students, qualified executives and other personnel;

 

    our ability to properly manage risks and challenges associated with strategic initiatives, including the expansion of our campus, potential acquisitions or divestitures of, or investments in, new businesses, acquisitions of new properties, or the development of new campuses;

 

    our expected tax payments and tax rate, including the effect of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017;

 

    our ability to hire and train new, and develop and train existing employees and faculty;

 

    the pace of growth of our enrollment;

 

    our ability to convert prospective students to enrolled students and to retain active students to graduation;

 

    our success in updating and expanding the content of existing programs and developing new programs in a cost-effective manner or on a timely basis;

 

    industry competition, including competition for qualified executives and other personnel;

 

    risks associated with the competitive environment for marketing our programs;

 

    failure on our part to keep up with advances in technology that could enhance the online experience for our students;

 

    the extent to which obligations under our credit agreement, including the need to comply with restrictive and financial covenants and to pay principal and interest payments, limits our ability to conduct our operations or seek new business opportunities;

 

    our ability to manage future growth effectively;

 

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    general adverse economic conditions or other developments that affect the job prospects of our students; and

 

    other factors discussed under the headings “Risk Factors,” “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations,” “Business,” and “Regulation.”

Forward-looking statements speak only as of the date the statements are made. You should not put undue reliance on any forward-looking statements. We assume no obligation to update forward-looking statements to reflect actual results, changes in assumptions, or changes in other factors affecting forward-looking information, except to the extent required by applicable securities laws. If we do update one or more forward-looking statements, no inference should be drawn that we will make additional updates with respect to those or other forward-looking statements.

Part I

 

Item 1. Business

Overview

Grand Canyon Education, Inc., a Delaware corporation, operates Grand Canyon University a comprehensive regionally accredited university that offers over 225 graduate and undergraduate degree programs, emphases and certificates across nine colleges both online and on ground at our over 275 acre campus in Phoenix, Arizona, at leased facilities and at facilities owned by third party employers of our students. References herein to “we,” “our,” “us,” the “Company” and “University” refer to Grand Canyon Education, Inc.; references to “Grand Canyon University” or “GCU” refer to the accredited academic institution that we operate.

We are committed to providing an academically rigorous educational experience with a focus on professionally relevant programs that meet the objectives of our students. Our undergraduate programs are designed to be innovative and meet the future needs of employers, while providing students with the needed critical thinking and effective communication skills developed through a Christian-oriented, liberal arts foundation. We offer master’s and doctoral degrees in contemporary fields that are designed to provide students with the capacity for transformational leadership in their chosen industry, emphasizing the immediate relevance of theory, application, and evaluation to promote personal and organizational change. We believe the growing brand of the University and the value proposition for both traditional aged students attending on our campus in Phoenix, Arizona and working adult students attending on our campus or at off-site locations in cohorts (referred to by us as professional studies students) or online, has enabled us to increase enrollment to approximately 90,300 students at December 31, 2017. At December 31, 2017, 79.1% of our students were enrolled in our online programs, and, of our working adult students (online and professional studies students), 50.5% were pursuing master’s or doctoral degrees.

We define working adults as students age 25 or older who are pursuing a degree while employed. As of December 31, 2017, 86.1% of our online and professional studies students were age 25 or older. We believe that working adults are attracted to the convenience and flexibility of our online programs because they can study and interact with faculty and classmates during times that suit their schedules. We also believe that working adults, particularly those who have some college experience, represent an attractive student population because they are better able to more readily recognize the benefits of a post-secondary degree, have higher persistence and completion rates than other students, and to finance their education generally.

In 2017, we continued to increase the number of students in attendance at our expanding traditional ground campus. We attribute the significant growth in our enrollment to our increasing brand recognition and the value proposition that our ground traditional campus affords to traditional-aged students and their parents. After scholarships, our ground traditional students pay for tuition, room, board, and fees, often half to a third of what it costs to attend a private, traditional university in another state and an amount comparable to what it costs to attend a public university. Our online students pay tuition and fees in an amount that is often less than the cost of other high service online programs such as ours. For example, one of our largest competitor’s undergraduate tuition for online programs ranges from $510 to $718 per credit hour and its graduate tuition for online programs ranges from $512 to $1,312 per credit hour while our online tuition per credit hour ranges from $355 to $470 for undergraduate programs and $330 to $640 for graduate programs. There are online programs that are less expensive than ours but those programs generally do not provide the full level of support services that we provide to our students. Although our online enrollment continues to grow, as the proportion of traditional colleges and universities providing alternative learning modalities increases, we will face increasing competition for working adult students from such institutions, including those with well-established reputations for excellence. We plan to continue increasing enrollment growth for our traditional campus over the next few years, and seek to have more than 20,500 ground students in attendance at the beginning of our 2018-2019 academic year. In November 2012, we accepted an invitation to become a member of the Division I Western Athletic Conference beginning with the 2013-2014 academic year, and in 2013 we began the four-year process to reclassify our NCAA membership from Division II to Division I and we began playing full Division I schedules. In July 2017, the University successfully completed all “year four” requirements and is now a full member of Division I Western Athletic Conference and is eligible for post-season play.

 

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We continue to experience growth in enrollment, net revenue, and operating income over the last several years. Our enrollment at December 31, 2017 was approximately 90,300, representing an increase of approximately 10.2% over our enrollment at December 31, 2016. Our net revenue and operating income for the year ended December 31, 2017 were $974.1 million and $282.8 million, respectively, representing increases of 11.5% and 19.2%, respectively, over the year ended December 31, 2016. Our net revenue and operating income for the year ended December 31, 2016 were $873.3 million and $237.2 million, respectively, representing increases of 12.2% and 12.8%, respectively, over the year ended December 31, 2015. We seek to achieve continued growth in a manner that reinforces our reputation for providing academically rigorous, professionally relevant educational programs that advance the educations and careers of our students.

We have been regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (“HLC”) and its predecessor since 1968. We were reaccredited in 2017 by the HLC for the maximum term of ten years after a comprehensive review of the institution’s academic offerings, governance and administration, mission, finances and resources that occurred during 2016, with no requirement for any monitoring or interim reports. The comprehensive review occurs every 10 years, along with a mid-term report in year four. We believe that our regional accreditation, together with appropriate specialized programmatic accreditations, reflect the quality of our programs, enhance their marketability to students, and improve the employability of our graduates.

Potential Change in the Structure of Our Operations

On January 5, 2018, we filed a Current Report on Form 8-K in which we disclosed that in December 2017 Grand Canyon University (“GCU”) had submitted to the HLC an application for approval to effect the sale of GCU to a nonprofit entity. This application updated the application filed by GCU during 2015-2016 seeking approval of a similar transaction as a means of enabling GCU to conduct itself as a traditional nonprofit university, consistent with its history and on a level playing field with other traditional universities with regard to tax status and, among other things, the ability to accept philanthropic contributions, pursue research grant opportunities, and participate in NCAA governance. The prior application proposed a transaction that would have involved the sale of the Company’s academic-related assets, real estate and related intangibles to a newly-formed nonprofit corporation (“New GCU”). Following this sale, the nonprofit corporation would have operated the university while the Company would have continued to operate as a third-party provider of services to New GCU and potentially, in the future, to other universities. The HLC Board of Trustees denied this application, in part, based on its view that its accreditation requirements did not allow for the type of shared services arrangement that GCU had proposed.

In May 2017, the Company became aware that the HLC was considering adopting new accreditation guidelines that, if complied with, would allow for HLC-accredited institutions to engage in shared services arrangements. Following further engagement with the HLC, and the HLC’s adoption in November 2017 of these new guidelines (the “2017 HLC Guidelines”), GCU submitted to the HLC the updated application seeking approval to effect the sale of the GCU assets to a nonprofit entity in the manner described above and, thereafter, for New GCU to enter into a shared services agreement with the Company. The final form of this application was filed on December 18, 2017. The Company currently expects the HLC to act on this application as soon as the next HLC Board meeting in February 2018.

As currently contemplated, the proposed transaction would involve the following (the “Proposed Transaction”):

 

    The Company would sell to New GCU academic and related operations and assets sufficient for New GCU to achieve status as an HLC-accredited institution. The purchase price for the transferred assets would be determined following receipt of third party appraisals and subsequent negotiation and would be paid in the form of a long-term note between the Company and New GCU subject to customary commercial credit terms. GCU’s current faculty, academic leadership and related staff and other employees in departments such as student and spiritual life, athletics, and facilities, would become employed by New GCU and New GCU would be governed by the current institutional board of trustees of GCU. The Company would retain all other employees and assets necessary to perform the third-party services contemplated by the sale, including an office complex where most services-related personnel are currently located.

 

    The Company and New GCU would enter into a long-term master services agreement pursuant to which the Company would provide identified technological, marketing, promotional, financial aid and other support services to New GCU in return for an agreed upon share of New GCU’s tuition and fee revenue. The revenue share between the two entities remains subject to completion of a transfer pricing study and subsequent negotiation, but is expected to be comparable to other shared services arrangements currently in place in the higher education marketplace and to reflect the level of services that the Company would be providing to new GCU. The terms of the master services agreement would comply with the 2017 HLC Guidelines.

 

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It is very important to note the following:

 

    While an application for approval of the proposed sale has been submitted to both the HLC and Department of Education, along with draft documents that, if the application is approved, would govern the terms of the sale and the shared services arrangement, definitive agreements between the Company and New GCU have not been signed and key terms remain subject to analysis, negotiation and final agreement between the Company and New GCU. As such, neither the Company nor New GCU is bound to move forward with the sale and neither party will move forward unless and until definitive agreements are executed. The Company does not expect to execute any definitive agreements until the HLC and Department of Education processes have concluded.

 

    The Company and GCU are continuing to review various federal and state regulatory issues that could impact the viability of the transaction. That review is not completed at this time. The Company does not expect to execute any definitive agreements until these issues have been resolved and any necessary regulatory approvals have been received.

 

    The HLC previously denied the application for the similar transaction that was made in 2015-2016. While the Company believes that the current proposal addresses any concerns noted by the HLC in its denial and complies with the new 2017 HLC Guidelines, no assurance can be given that the HLC will approve this application, that the parties will agree on the final key terms of the sale, or that the sale will be consummated.

While the outcomes of the HLC application and Department of Education pre-approval processes, and other regulatory processes, is not known at this time, to prepare for the possibility of the transaction being approved, the Company intends to continue its preparation to take various steps – including allocation of employees to New GCU, financial modeling, and asset transfer processes – that would be necessary to complete the transaction.

History

Grand Canyon College was founded in Prescott, Arizona in 1949 as a traditional, private, non-profit college and moved to its existing campus in Phoenix, Arizona in 1951. Established as a Baptist-affiliated institution with a strong emphasis on religious studies, the school initially focused on offering bachelor’s degree programs in education. Over the years, the school expanded its curricula to include programs in the sciences, nursing, business, music, and arts. The college obtained regional accreditation in 1968 from the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education, North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, the predecessor to the Higher Learning Commission, and began offering nursing programs and master’s degree programs in education and business in the 1980s. In 1989, it achieved university status and became Grand Canyon University. The university introduced its first distance learning programs in 1997, and launched its first online programs in 2003 in business and education. In early 2000, it discontinued its Baptist affiliation and became an interdenominational Christian university.

In late 2003, the school’s Board of Trustees initiated a process to evaluate alternatives as a result of the school’s poor financial condition and, in February 2004, a group of investors acquired the assets of the school and converted the school into a for-profit institution.

Our Approach to Academic Quality

Some of the key elements that we focus on to promote a high level of academic quality include:

 

    Academically rigorous, professionally relevant curricula. We prepare learners to become global citizens, critical thinkers, effective communicators and responsible leaders by providing an academically challenging, values-based curriculum from the context of our Christian heritage. We create academically rigorous curricula that are designed to enable all students to gain the foundational knowledge, professional competencies, and demonstrable skills required to be successful in their chosen fields. Our curriculum is designed and delivered by faculty and industry-specific subject-matter experts who are committed to high quality, rigorous education and professional preparedness. We design our curricula to address specific objectives that pre-career and working-adult students need and are seeking. Through this combination, we believe that we produce graduates that can compete with integrity and become leaders in their chosen fields.

 

    Qualified faculty. We demonstrate our commitment to high quality education by hiring qualified faculty with relevant practical experience. Substantially all of our current faculty members hold at least a master’s degree in their respective fields and approximately 50% of our faculty members of record are doctorate prepared. Further, the University has implemented a full time faculty model for online course instruction. In 2017, almost all of the online first year courses were taught by an online, full time faculty member. We believe the presence of a full time faculty member in the classroom for the first year students results in increased student retention. We invest in the professional development of our faculty members by providing online and ground pedagogical training along with hosting events that encourage the development and sharing of best practices. Additionally, we also monitor and evaluate teaching effectiveness through assessment content reviews, peer reviews, and student evaluations.

 

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    Centralized program design and curriculum development. We employ a college driven highly collaborative designed curriculum development process to ensure a consistent learning experience. We continuously review our programs at least every 3 years in an effort to ensure that they remain consistent, up-to-date, relevant, and effective in producing the desired learning outcomes. We also annually review programmatic assessment results, mission based competency results, graduation rates, retention rates and constituency surveys to identify opportunities for course modifications and upgrades.

 

    Effective student services. We establish teams comprised of admissions and student services counselor personnel that act as the primary support contact point for each of our students, beginning at the application stage and continuing through graduation. We also continually focus on improving the technology used to support student learning, including delivering a new online learning platform and further improving student services through the implementation of online interfaces. As a result, many of our support services, including academic, administrative, financial, library, and career services, are accessible online, generally allowing users to access these services at a time and in a manner that is convenient to them.

 

    Continual academic oversight. We have centralized the support functions of assessment for all of our programs through our Office of Assessment. While each of our colleges continuously evaluates the desired learning outcomes for each of their programs, the Office of Assessment provides data collection and analysis support. We continuously assess outcomes data to determine whether our students graduate with the knowledge, competencies, and skills that are necessary to succeed in the workplace. The Office of Assessment also initiates and manages periodic examinations of the mission-based competencies in our curricula by full-time and adjunct reviewers to evaluate and verify mission-based competency attainment. Based on these processes and student feedback from both programmatic and mission-based assessment, we determine whether to modify or discontinue programs that do not meet our standards or market needs, or to create new programs.

We also offer the following features in an effort to enrich the academic experience of current and prospective students:

 

    Flexibility in program delivery. We seek to meet market demands by providing students with the flexibility to take courses exclusively online or to combine online coursework with various campus and onsite options. We have established onsite arrangements with major employers, including schools and school districts through which students can pursue student teaching opportunities. This flexibility raises our profile among employers, encourages students to take and complete courses, and eliminates inconveniences that tend to lessen student persistence.

 

    Small class size. At December 31, 2017, 94.5% of our online and professional studies classes had 25 or fewer students. Our average, class size on our ground traditional campus is 25 students. These class sizes provide each student with the opportunity to interact directly with course faculty and to receive individualized feedback and attention while also affording our faculty with the opportunity to engage proactively with a manageable number of students. We believe this interaction enhances the academic quality of our programs by promoting opportunities for students to participate actively and thus build the requisite knowledge, competencies, and skills.

Curricula

We offer the degrees of Doctor of Education, Doctor of Business Administration, Doctor of Nursing Practice, Doctor of Philosophy, Education Specialist, Master of Divinity, Master of Arts, Master of Education, Master of Business Administration, Master of Public Administration, Master of Public Health, Master of Science, Bachelor of Arts, and Bachelor of Science and a variety of programs leading to each of these degrees. Many of our degree programs also offer a selection of emphases. We also offer certificate programs, which consist of a series of courses focused on a particular area of study, for both the post-baccalaureate and post-graduate students who seek to enhance their skills and knowledge or achieve additional licensure.

We offer over 225 graduate and undergraduate degree programs, emphases and certificates through our nine distinct colleges:

 

    the Colangelo College of Business, which has a well-known brand among our target student population, an advisory board that includes recognized business leaders, and a reputation for offering professionally relevant degree programs;

 

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    the College of Doctoral Studies, which utilizes innovative technology, collaboration, and learning communities to develop expert practitioners and researchers who can become leaders in the disciplines and communities they serve;

 

    the College of Education, which has greater than a 60-year history as one of Arizona’s leading teacher’s colleges and consistently graduates teachers who meet or exceed state averages on the Arizona Educator Proficiency Assessment exams;

 

    the College of Fine Arts and Production, which continues the long and highly regarded tradition that the University has in the Fine Arts;

 

    the Honors College, which serves to develop our most ambitious students across any of our programs and many of these students participate in the Honors Research Fellowship program, which partners students with faculty or industry partners on scientific and applied research projects;

 

    the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, which develops and provides many of the general education course requirements in our other colleges and also serves as one of the vehicles through which we offer programs in additional targeted disciplines;

 

    the College of Nursing and Health Care Professions, which has a strong reputation within the Arizona nursing community and is the largest nursing program in Arizona when considering total college enrollment (bachelor and master’s degree students);

 

    the College of Science, Engineering, and Technology, which with science, engineering, technology, and mathematics professions in extremely high demand, driving our economy, continuously evolving, and redefining modern day life is focused on preparing exceptionally competent graduates to enter the dynamic and highly competitive workforce of the 21st century; and

 

    the College of Theology, which serves as one of the many vehicles through which the University affirms its Christian heritage.

Under the overall leadership of our senior academic affairs vice presidents and the deans of the individual colleges, each of the colleges organizes its academic programs through various departments and schools.

We have established relationships with community colleges, health-care systems, school districts, and other employers through which we offer programs to provide flexibility and convenience to students and their employers.

We currently offer our ground-based programs to traditional students through three 15-week semesters in a calendar year and to online students in courses that generally range from five to sixteen weeks throughout the calendar year. Traditional students generally enroll in three or four courses per semester while online students typically concentrate on one course at a time. We require our online students to be actively engaged in their online student classroom at least three or four times each week, depending on the content and degree level of the class, in order to maintain an active dialogue with their professors and classmates. Our online programs provide a digital record of student interactions for the course instructor to assess students’ levels of engagement and demonstration of required competencies.

 

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New Program Development

To aid us in the identification of potentially new degree programs or emphasis areas, we investigate market demand and review proposals developed by faculty, staff, students, alumni, college specific advisory boards comprised of leaders in their field or other partners. We then perform an analysis of the consistency of the proposed program or emphasis with our mission, long-term demand, and development costs. If, following this analysis, the University Development Committee decides to proceed with a new program, our college faculty and administrators approve subject-matter experts with whom our Curriculum Design and Development Team members, including instructional designers, curriculum developers, librarians, and editors, work to design the program competencies so that it is consistent with our academically rigorous, professionally oriented program standards. The program is then reviewed by the dean of the applicable college, the Program Standards and Evaluation Faculty Committee, the Academic Affairs Committee, and finally, our Provost and Chief Academic Officer. Upon accreditation and regulatory approval, the subject matter experts develop course syllabi, and our Marketing Department creates a marketing plan to publicize the new program. Our average program development process is six months from proposal to course introduction. The development process is typically longer if we are expanding into a new field or offering a new level of degree.

Assessment

The University fosters a culture of student assessment and improvement by establishing a strong foundation for assessment of student learning and implementing institutional goals and benchmarks. Essential to the institutionalization of assessment and our commitment to continuous improvement is the development of a culture of assessment among faculty, staff and students. The resulting establishment of widespread reflective practice and acquired evaluative expertise characterizes our community and commitment to a culture of student assessment. All stakeholders are involved in student learning and institutional experience and, therefore, are part of the ongoing collaboration and effort to promote a culture of assessment among faculty, staff and students. The University’s faculty-driven, course-embedded and performance-based approach to assessment is ongoing, intentional, thorough and applicable so that it will have the most significant possible impact on improvement of student learning and university functions and processes. Our ultimate goal is to improve student learning and the total university experience by enhancing instructional effectiveness, removing obstacles to learning, facilitating student persistence toward completion of an academic program and demonstrating purposeful effort toward institutional effectiveness.

The Office of Assessment, as part of the Office of Institutional Effectiveness, functions to facilitate continuous improvement of student learning and is responsible for management, analysis and informational reporting of assessment data collected by the University.

Faculty

Our faculty includes full-time faculty, as well as adjunct faculty with relevant practical experience whom we employ to teach on a course-by-course basis for a specified fee. Our current faculty members hold at least a master’s degree in their respective fields and approximately 50% of our teaching faculty of record hold doctorate degrees.

We believe that the quality of our faculty is critical to our success, particularly because faculty members have more interaction with our students than any other university employee. Accordingly, we regularly review the performance of our faculty, including, but not limited to, engaging our full-time faculty and other specialists to conduct peer reviews of our adjunct faculty, monitoring the amount of contact and the quality of feedback that faculty have with students in our online programs, reviewing student feedback, conducting content reviews and evaluating the learning outcomes achieved by students. If we determine that a faculty member is not performing at the level that we require, we work with the faculty member to improve performance, including, among other things, assigning him or her a mentor or through other means. If the faculty member’s performance does not improve, we terminate the faculty member’s contract and employment.

 

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Student Support Services

Encouraging students that enter Grand Canyon University to complete their degree programs is critical to our success. We focus on developing and providing resources that simplify the student enrollment process, acclimate students to our programs and our online environment, support the student educational experience, and track student performance toward degree completion. Many of our support services, including academic, administrative, and library services, are accessible online and are available to our online and ground students, allowing users to access these services at a time and in a manner that is generally convenient to them. The student support services we provide include:

Academic services. We provide students with a variety of services designed to support their academic studies. Our Learning Lounges offer research services, writing services, and other tutoring services. Learning sessions are offered on a one-on-one basis and group sessions.

Administrative services. We provide students with the ability to access a variety of administrative services both telephonically and via the Internet. For example, students can apply for financial aid, pay their tuition, order their transcripts online, and apply for graduation. We believe this online accessibility provides the convenience and self-service capabilities that our students value. Our student services counselors provide personalized online and telephonic support to our students.

Library services. We provide a mix of online and ground resources, services, and instruction to support the educational and research endeavors of all students, faculty, and staff, including ground and online libraries and a qualified library staff that is available to help faculty and students with research, teaching, and library resource instruction. Collectively, our library services meet, or exceed, the requirements set by relevant accrediting bodies for us to offer undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral programs.

Career services. For those students seeking to change careers or explore new career opportunities, we offer career services support, including resume review and evaluation, career planning workshops, and access to career services specialists for advice and support. Other resources that we offer include a Job Readiness Program, which advises students on matters such as people skills, resumes and cover letters, mock interviews, and business etiquette; a job board, which advertises employment postings and career exploration opportunities; career counseling appointments and consultations; and career fairs.

Technology support services. We provide online technical support 18 hours per day during the week and 17 hours per day on weekends to help our students remedy technology-related issues. We also provide online tutorials and “Frequently Asked Questions” for students who are new to online coursework.

Marketing, Recruitment, Admissions and Retention

Marketing. We engage in a range of marketing activities designed to position us as a provider of academically rigorous, professionally relevant educational programs, build strong brand recognition in our core disciplines, differentiate us from other educational providers, raise awareness among prospective students, generate enrollment inquiries, and stimulate student and alumni referrals. We target our online programs to working adults focused on program quality, convenience, and career advancement goals. We target our ground programs to traditional college students, working adults seeking a high quality education in a traditional college setting, and working adults seeking to take classes with a cohort onsite at our leased facilities or at their employer’s facility. In marketing our programs to prospective students, we emphasize the value of the educational experience and the academic rigor and professional relevancy of the programs, as well as the cost of the program. We believe this approach reinforces the qualities that we want associated with our brand and also attracts students who tend to be more persistent in starting and finishing their programs.

Recruitment. Once a prospective student has indicated an interest in enrolling in one of our programs, our lead management system identifies and directs a university counselor to initiate immediate communication. The university counselor serves as the primary, direct contact for the prospective student and the counselor’s goal is to help that individual gain sufficient knowledge and understanding of our programs so that he or she can assess whether there is a good match between our offerings and the prospective student’s goals. Upon the prospective student’s submission of an application, the university counselor, together with our student services personnel, works with the applicant to gain acceptance, arrange financial aid, if needed, register for courses, and prepare for matriculation.

Admissions. Admission to Grand Canyon University is available to qualified students who are at least 16 years of age. Undergraduate applicants may qualify in various ways, including by having a high school diploma, certain minimum grade point average levels, certain minimum composite scores on the Scholastic Aptitude Test or on the ACT test, or certain minimum scores on the General Education Development (GED) tests. Some of our programs require a higher grade point average and/or other criteria to qualify for admission. Applicants to our graduate programs must generally have an undergraduate degree from an accredited college, university, or program with a grade point average of 2.8 or greater, or a graduate degree from an accredited college, university, or program. In addition, some students who do not meet the qualifications for admission may be accepted with specification. A student being considered for such admission may be asked to submit additional information such as personal references and an essay addressing academic history. Students may also need to schedule an interview to help clarify academic goals and help us make an informed decision.

 

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Retention. A key component in retaining our students is providing an outstanding learning experience. We feel that our team-based, proactive approach to recruitment and enhanced student services results in increased retention due to our systematic approach to contacting students at key milestones during their enrollment, providing encouragement and highlighting their achievements. Our student services counselors proactively assist each student with the student’s selection of an appropriate payment option, and monitor the student’s progress and account balance to ensure a smooth financial aid experience and to help ensure our students are well prepared for the financial obligations they incur. These counselors also assist students with their academic schedules and regularly monitor “triggering events,” such as the failure to participate in the classroom or failure to matriculate in a timely manner, which signal that a student may be at-risk for dropping out. Upon identifying an at-risk student, these counselors proactively interact with the student to resolve any issues and encourage the student to continue with his or her program. We have found that personally involving our employees in the student educational process, and proactively seeking to resolve issues before they become larger problems, can significantly increase retention rates among students. These frequent interactions between student services counselors and students are a key component to our retention strategy.

Enrollment

At December 31, 2017, we had 90,297 students enrolled in our courses, of which 71,455, or 79.1%, were enrolled in our online programs, and 18,842, or 20.9%, were enrolled in our ground programs. Of our students in online programs, which were geographically distributed throughout all 50 states of the United States, and Canada, and in professional studies programs, 86.1% were age 25 or older. Of our traditional on-campus students, 95.6% were under age 25 and, although we draw students from throughout the United States, a majority were from Arizona.

The following is a summary of our student enrollment at December 31, 2017 and 2016 by degree type and by instructional delivery method:

 

     December 31, 2017(1)     December 31, 2016(1)  
     # of Students      % of Total     # of Students      % of Total  

Graduate degree(2)

     37,339        41.4     33,215        40.6

Undergraduate degree

     52,958        58.6     48,693        59.4
  

 

 

    

 

 

   

 

 

    

 

 

 

Total

     90,297        100.0     81,908        100.0
  

 

 

    

 

 

   

 

 

    

 

 

 
    

 

December 31, 2017(1)

    December 31, 2016(1)  
     # of Students      % of Total     # of Students      % of Total  

Online(3)

     71,455        79.1     64,646        78.9

Ground(4)

     18,842        20.9     17,262        21.1
  

 

 

    

 

 

   

 

 

    

 

 

 

Total

     90,297        100.0     81,908        100.0
  

 

 

    

 

 

   

 

 

    

 

 

 

 

(1) Enrollment at December 31, 2017 and 2016 represents individual students who attended a course during the last two months of the calendar quarter. Includes 886 and 847 students pursuing non-degree certificates at December 31, 2017 and 2016, respectively.
(2) Includes 7,703 and 7,084 students pursuing doctoral degrees at December 31, 2017 and 2016, respectively.
(3) As of December 31, 2017 and 2016, 50.5% and 49.5%, respectively, of our working adult students (online and professional studies students) were pursuing graduate or doctoral degrees.
(4) Includes our traditional on-campus students, as well as our professional studies students.

Tuition and Fees

For the 2017-18 academic year (the academic year begins in May), our prices per credit hour range from $355 to $470 for undergraduate online and professional studies courses, $330 to $630 for graduate online courses, $640 for doctoral online programs, and $688 for undergraduate courses for ground students. For our active duty military and active reserve online and professional studies students, our prices per credit hour are $250 for undergraduate, $400 for graduate courses and $608 for doctoral courses. The overall price of each course varies based upon the number of credit hours per course (with most courses representing four credit hours), the degree level of the program, and the discipline. In addition, we charge a fixed $8,250 “block tuition” for undergraduate ground students taking between 12 and 18 credit hours per semester, with an additional $688 per credit hour for credits in excess of 18. A traditional undergraduate degree typically requires a minimum of 120 credit hours. The minimum number of credit hours required for a master’s degree and overall cost for such a degree varies by program, although such programs typically require approximately 36 credit hours. The doctoral program requires approximately 60 credit hours and since program inception, on average, doctoral students who graduated required 5.2 dissertation continuation courses to complete their degree. The University did not raise tuition for any of its programs for its 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 academic years and has not raised tuition for its traditional ground programs in nine years.

 

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Based on current tuition rates, tuition for a full program would generally equate to between $15,450 and $37,000 for an online master’s program, between $42,600 and $56,400 for a full four-year online bachelor’s program, approximately $66,000 for a full four-year bachelor’s program taken on our ground campus, and $48,000 for a full doctoral program including five dissertation continuation courses. Students requiring dissertation continuation courses in excess of five are only charged $500 per course. The tuition amounts referred to above assume no reductions for transfer credits or scholarships, which many of our students utilize to reduce their total program costs. For example, the average student on our ground traditional campus will pay approximately $8,700 in tuition for the 2017-18 school year after scholarships. Thus, based on the number of transfer credits and the scholarships a student receives it is likely that a student will pay less than $35,000 in tuition for a bachelor’s degree on our ground campus. For the fiscal years ended December 31, 2017, 2016 and 2015, our revenue was reduced by approximately $196.3 million, $179.2 million and $163.9 million, respectively, as a result of scholarships that we offered to our students. The increase in scholarships reflects our increasing use of academic scholarships to attract high performing students to our ground traditional campus.

We have established a refund policy for tuition and fees based upon individual course start dates. Under our policy, for courses offered through a working adult modality, generally if a student drops or withdraws from a course before the course begins, 100% of the charges for tuition and fees are refunded. If a student drops or withdraws from a course during the first week of the course, 75% of the charges for tuition are refunded. If a student drops or withdraws from a course during or after the second week of a course, tuition charges and fees are not refunded. Most fees, including materials fees, are non-refundable for non-traditional students after the start of a course. We will refund tuition and fees according to the above policy unless a student attending courses online is a resident of a state that requires us to comply with different, state specific guidelines. For traditional students attending 15-week courses, generally if a student withdraws before the course begins, 100% of the charges for tuition and fees are refunded. If a student withdraws during the first week of the course, 90% of the charges for tuition are refunded and instructional fees and ground campus-related fees are refunded. If a student drops or withdraws from a course during the second week of a course, 75% of the tuition charges are refunded but most fees are non-refundable. If a student drops during the third week of a course, 50% of the tuition charges are refunded and during or after the fourth week, there are no refunds for tuition charges. Fees charged by us include graduation fees as well as fees for access to certain educational resources such as online materials. This tuition and fees refund policy is different from, and applies in addition to, the return of Title IV funds policy we are required to follow as a condition of our participation in the Title IV programs.

Sources of Student Financing

Our students finance their education through a combination of methods, as follows:

Title IV programs. The federal government provides for grants and loans to students under the Title IV programs, and students can use those funds at any institution that has been certified as eligible by the Department of Education. Student financial aid under the Title IV programs is primarily awarded on the basis of a student’s financial need, which is generally defined as the difference between the cost of attending the institution and the amount the student and the student’s family can reasonably contribute to that cost. All students receiving Title IV program funds must maintain satisfactory academic progress toward completion of their program of study. In addition, each school must ensure that Title IV program funds are properly accounted for and disbursed in the correct amounts to eligible students.

During fiscal 2017 and 2016, we derived approximately 71.5% and 72.3%, respectively, of our net revenues (calculated on a cash basis in accordance with Department of Education standards currently in effect) from tuition financed under the Title IV programs. The primary Title IV programs that our students receive funding from are the Federal Direct Loan program or FDL Program, and the Federal Pell Grant, or Pell, Program.

Student loans administered through the FDL Program are currently the most significant source of U.S. federal student aid. There are two types of federal student loans: subsidized loans, which are based on the U.S. federal statutory calculation of student need, and unsubsidized loans, which are not need-based. Neither type of student loan is based on creditworthiness although annual and aggregate loan limits apply based on a student’s grade level. Students are generally not responsible for interest on subsidized loans while the student is enrolled in school. Students are responsible for the interest on unsubsidized loans while enrolled in school, but have the option to defer payment while enrolled. Repayment on federal student loans begins six months after the date the student ceases to be enrolled. The loans are repayable over the course of 10 years and, in some cases, longer. Both graduate and undergraduate students are eligible for loans. During fiscal 2017, federal student loans (both subsidized and unsubsidized) represented approximately 81.4% of the gross Title IV funds that we received.

 

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Grants under the Pell Program (Pell Grants) are awarded based on need and only to undergraduate students who have not earned a bachelor’s or professional degree. Unlike loans, Pell Grants are not repayable. During fiscal year 2017, Pell Grants represented approximately 13.8% of the gross Title IV funds that we received. For the 2016-2017 award year, the maximum amount available under Pell Grants was $5,815 and the maximum income that makes an applicant to Title IV Program funds eligible for an automatic zero Expected Family Contribution was $25,000. For the 2017-18 award year, the maximum amount available under Pell Grants is $5,920 and the maximum income that makes an applicant for Title IV Program funds eligible for an automatic zero Expected Family Contribution stayed the same at $25,000.

Our students also receive funding under other Title IV programs, including the Federal Perkins Loan Program, the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant Program, the Federal Work-Study Program, and the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grant Program.

Other financial aid programs. In addition to the Title IV programs listed above, eligible students may participate in several other financial aid programs or receive support from other governmental sources. These include veterans educational benefits administered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and state financial aid programs. During fiscal 2017 and 2016, we derived an immaterial amount of our net revenue from tuition financed by such programs.

Private loans. Some of our students also use private loan programs to help finance their education. Students can apply to a number of different lenders for private loans at current market interest rates. Private loans are intended to fund a portion of students’ cost of education not covered by the Title IV programs and other financial aid. During fiscal 2017 and 2016, payments derived from private loans constituted less than 1% of our net revenues for each year, respectively.

Other sources. We derived the remainder of our net revenue from tuition that is self-funded or attributable to employer tuition reimbursements.

Technology Systems and Management

We believe that we have established secure, reliable and scalable technology systems that provide a high quality educational environment and that give us the capability to substantially grow our online and traditional programs and enrollment.

Online course delivery and management. Our online delivery platform was developed in partnership with a third party and put into full production in 2011. We have a prepaid license for this platform for the foreseeable future as well as full source code rights. Because of its modular implementation, this platform can easily and reliably scale as our student population increases. The platform provides in depth analytics that allows us to closely monitor student success and the quality of our instructional resources. All ground and online students receive online course delivery and resources through this learning management platform.

Internal administration. We utilize a commercial customer relations management development platform to distribute, manage, track, and report on all interactions with prospective student leads as well as all active and inactive students. This software is scalable to capacity levels well in excess of current requirements. We also utilize a commercial software package to track Title IV funds, student records, grades, accounts receivable, accounts payable and general ledger.

Infrastructure. We operate two data centers, one at our campus and one at another Phoenix-area location. All of our servers are networked and we have redundant data backup. We manage our technology environment internally. Our wide area network is fully redundant to ensure maximum uptime, bandwidth capacity and network performance. Student access is load balanced for maximum performance. Real-time monitoring provides current system status across network, server, and storage components.

Ground Campus

We own our ground campus, which is located on over 275 acres in the center of the Phoenix, Arizona metropolitan area, near downtown Phoenix. Our on-campus facilities currently consist of classroom buildings, lecture halls, a 300-seat theater, a 29,000 square foot newly renovated library, a media arts complex that provides communications students with audio and video equipment, a 55,000 square foot recreation center that has state of the art training facilities for our over 400 student-athletes and students, a 140,000 square foot/ 7,500 seat basketball and entertainment arena, a stadium that hosts NCAA men’s and women’s soccer as well as several club sports programs, newly renovated baseball and softball stadiums, a basketball practice facility, on-campus tennis courts, beach volleyball courts, a competition/practice gymnasium, an activity center that contains a food court, a bowling alley and other student services, a student union, residence halls, apartments, campus pools, athletic facilities and parking garages. Additionally, we have several office buildings used for administration and we recently completed a large student services center and parking garage in close proximity to our ground campus. Employees that worked in two leased office buildings in the Phoenix area were consolidated into this new building upon completion in late 2016. In late 2015, we revitalized the Maryvale Golf Course under a partnership agreement with the City of Phoenix and in 2016 the Grand Canyon University Championship Golf Course was opened to the public. In order to accommodate the continued growth of our traditional ground population, we completed construction on three apartment style residence halls, an additional 170,000 square foot classroom building for our College of Science, Engineering and Technology, a student service center and a fourth parking structure prior to the 2016/2017 academic year and prior to the 2017/2018 academic year we completed construction on an additional dormitory and other ground campus building projects.

 

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We have 21 intercollegiate athletic teams that currently compete in Division I of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (“NCAA”). Our athletic facilities include the University Arena (a 7,500 seat venue for all men’s and women’s basketball games plus select other GCU athletic competitions, concerts, speakers and other events); a stadium that hosts NCAA men’s and women’s soccer as well as several club sports programs; a basketball practice facility; on-campus tennis courts; beach volleyball courts; and a competition/practice gymnasium, which accommodates men’s and women’s volleyball and competitive events. In addition, the University’s 55,000 square foot student recreation center has state of the art training facilities for our over 400 student-athletes plus practice space. Early in 2018 we completed upgrades to our baseball and softball stadiums. Our track and field program utilizes on-campus practice and competition sites. In January 2016 the Grand Canyon University Championship golf course opened to the public. The men’s and women’s golf teams have dedicated practice facilities, a team room and coaches offices at the course. The cross-country and swimming programs utilize off-campus sites for practice and competition. In November 2012, we accepted an invitation to be a member of the NCAA Division I Western Athletic Conference beginning with the 2013-14 academic year and in September 2013 we began playing full Division I schedules. In July 2017, the University successfully completed all “year four” requirements and is now a full member of Division I Western Athletic Conference and we are eligible for post-season play. During the 2016-2017 academic year, baseball, softball, men’s golf, women’s tennis and the men’s and women’s indoor track and field teams won Western Athletic conference championships. GCU televises home athletic events in multiple sports highlighted by the men’s basketball games that have averaged approximately 7,000 fans per night.

We believe our ground-based programs and traditional campus not only offer our ground students, faculty, and staff an opportunity to participate in a traditional college experience, but also provide our online students, faculty, and staff with a sense of connection to a traditional university. Additionally, our full-time ground faculty play an important role in integrating online faculty into our academic programs and ensuring the overall consistency and quality of the ground and online student experience. We believe the mix of our online program with our traditional ground-based program with a greater than 60-year history and heritage differentiates us from other for-profit post-secondary education providers.

We intend to continue to expand the size and enhance the profile and reputation of our ground campus by, among other things, adding faculty, excelling in the performance areas such as athletics, debate, theatre, music and dance, expanding upon our campus infrastructure and technological capabilities, and potentially adding additional locations in the Southwest United States. These activities will require significant capital expenditures.

Employees

As of December 31, 2017, we employed approximately 4,000 full-time faculty, staff and administrative personnel in university services, academic advising and academic support, enrollment services, university administration, financial aid, information technology, human resources, corporate accounting, finance, and other administrative functions. In addition, we employ approximately 6,000 part-time/adjunct and student workers. None of our employees is a party to any collective bargaining or similar agreement with us. We consider our relationships with our employees to be good.

Community Involvement and the Public Good

The University has embarked on a five-point plan to revitalize its West Phoenix neighborhood through the following initiatives. We believe these initiatives reflect well on the University and its employees, make the University more appealing to students and prospective students, help us develop strong working relationships with local government bodies, and continue to build the Grand Canyon University brand.

Significant support for K-12 education. We have expanded our free tutoring/mentoring program to 73 Phoenix-area high schools. This program, which is served by over 1,200 University students, operates in partnership with Phoenix-area businesses to provide 100 full-tuition scholarships to attend Grand Canyon University each year for students from inner-city schools who have sought academic assistance at GCU’s Learning Lounge. Increased home values. Together with Habitat for Humanity, we participated in the largest home renovation project in the country in the West Phoenix area. As of December 31, 2017, 346 different projects have been completed. These efforts, combined with the University’s expanded presence in the community, has resulted in a significant increase in home values in the 85017 zip code.

 

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Improved safety. We are in the sixth year of a $1.6 million partnership with City of Phoenix Police Department that focuses on improving safety and reducing crime in the communities surrounding our campus. Since the initiation of this program, crime has decreased substantially in the two-mile radius surrounding the University.

Job creation on the campus. We have tripled the number of our full-time employees from 1,219 in 2008 to nearly 4,000 by the end of 2017. The total number of full-time, part-time/adjunct and student worker positions is approximately 10,000.

Job creation off campus. We are launching a number of new business enterprises that reduce costs for the University, provide management opportunities for recent graduates and employment opportunities for current students and neighborhood residents, while spurring economic growth in the area.

The University is also involved in countless community events and projects throughout the year, helping organizations such as the Phoenix Rescue Mission, Feed My Starving Children, Arizona Foster Care, Boy/Girl Scouts, Goodwill Arizona, St. Vincent de Paul, Young Life, Elevate Phoenix, Back to School Clothing Drive and St. Mary’s Food Bank. Our faculty, staff and students also go out into our surrounding neighborhoods to participate in University-sponsored programs such as Serve the City, Canyon Kids, Salute Our Troops, Colter Commons senior home visits and the Run to Fight Children’s Cancer.

Competition

There are more than 4,000 U.S. colleges and universities serving traditional and adult students. Competition is highly fragmented and varies by geography, program offerings, modality, ownership, quality level, and selectivity of admissions. No one institution has a significant share of the total post-secondary market.

Our ground program competes with regionally accredited state universities, both inside Arizona and outside of the state, as well as regionally accredited private universities, as well as two-year colleges within the state community college system. Our ground program also competes with geographically proximate universities with similar religious heritages, including Azusa Pacific University, Baylor University, and Pepperdine University. Our online programs compete with local, traditional universities geographically located near each of our prospective students, and with other for-profit post-secondary schools that offer online degrees, particularly those schools that offer online graduate programs within our core disciplines.

Non-profit institutions receive substantial government subsidies, and have access to government and foundation grants, tax-deductible contributions and other financial resources generally not available to for-profit schools. Accordingly, non-profit institutions may have instructional and support resources that are superior to those in the for-profit sector. In addition, some of our competitors, including both traditional colleges and universities, have substantially greater name recognition and financial resources than we have, which may enable them to compete more effectively for potential students. We also expect to face increased competition as a result of new entrants to the online education market, including established colleges and universities that had not previously offered online education programs.

We believe that the competitive factors in the post-secondary education market include:

 

    availability of professionally relevant and accredited program offerings;

 

    the types of degrees offered and the marketability of those degrees;

 

    reputation, regulatory approvals, and compliance history of the school;

 

    convenient, flexible and dependable access to programs and classes;

 

    qualified and experienced faculty;

 

    quality of the ground campus facilities;

 

    level of student support services;

 

    cost of the program;

 

    the effectiveness of marketing and sales efforts; and

 

    the time necessary to earn a degree.

 

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Proprietary Rights

We own or are licensed to use various intellectual property rights, including copyrights, trademarks, service marks, trade secrets and domain names. We license the right to utilize the name of Jerry Colangelo in connection with our business school and our Colangelo School of Sports Business that we operate within our business school, and we have spent significant resources in related branding efforts. While such intellectual property rights are important to us, we do not believe that the loss of any individual property right or group of related rights would have a material adverse effect on our overall business.

Available Information

Our Internet address is www.gcu.edu. We make available free of charge on our website our Annual Report on Form 10-K, Quarterly Reports on Form 10-Q, Current Reports on Form 8-K, Forms 3, 4, and 5 filed on behalf of directors and executive officers, and all amendments to those reports filed or furnished pursuant to Section 13(a) or 15(d) of the Exchange Act, as soon as reasonably practicable after such reports are electronically filed with, or furnished to, the Securities and Exchange Commission (hereafter, the SEC). In addition, our earnings conference calls are web cast live via our website. In addition to visiting our website, you may read and copy any document we file with the SEC at the SEC’s Public Reference Room at 100 F. Street NE, Washington, D.C. 20549 or at www.sec.gov. Please call the SEC at 1-800-SEC-0330 for information on the Public Reference Room.

 

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REGULATION

We are subject to extensive regulation by state post-secondary, licensure, and certification agencies, accrediting commissions, and the federal government through the Department of Education under the Higher Education Act. The regulations, standards, and policies of these agencies cover the vast majority of our operations, including our educational programs, facilities, instructional and administrative staff, administrative procedures, marketing, recruiting, financial operations, athletics and financial condition.

As an institution of higher education that grants degrees and certificates, we are required to be authorized by appropriate state post-secondary, licensure, and certification authorities. In addition, in order to participate in the federal student financial aid programs, we must be accredited by an accrediting commission recognized by the Department of Education. Accreditation is a private, non-governmental process for evaluating the quality of educational institutions and their programs in areas including student performance, governance, integrity, educational quality, faculty, physical resources, administrative capability and resources, and financial stability. The Higher Education Act requires accrediting commissions recognized by the Department of Education to review and monitor many aspects of an institution’s operations and to take appropriate action if the institution fails to meet the accrediting commission’s standards.

Our operations are also subject to regulation by the Department of Education due to our participation in the federal student financial aid programs under Title IV of the Higher Education Act. Those Title IV programs include educational loans with below-market interest rates that are issued by the federal government under the Federal Direct Loan program (the “FDL Program”), as well as grant programs for students with demonstrated financial need. To participate in the Title IV programs, a school must receive and maintain authorization by the appropriate state agency or agencies, be accredited by an accrediting commission recognized by the Department of Education, and be certified as an eligible institution by the Department of Education.

Our business activities are planned and implemented to comply with the standards of these regulatory agencies. We employ a Vice President of Student Financial Aid Compliance who is knowledgeable about regulatory matters relevant to student financial aid programs and our Chief Financial Officer, Chief Risk Officer, Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs and General Counsel also provide oversight designed to ensure that we meet the requirements of our regulated operating environment.

State Post-Secondary Education Regulation

We are authorized to offer our programs by the Arizona State Board for Private Postsecondary Education, the regulatory agency governing private post-secondary educational institutions in the State of Arizona, where we are located. We do not presently have campuses in any states other than Arizona, although we do have one location in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We are required by the Higher Education Act to maintain authorization from the Arizona State Board for Private Postsecondary Education in order to participate in the Title IV programs. This authorization is very important to us and our business. To maintain our state authorization, we must continuously meet standards relating to, among other things, educational programs, facilities, instructional and administrative staff, marketing and recruitment, financial operations, addition of new locations and educational programs, and various operational and administrative procedures. Our failure to comply with the requirements of the Arizona State Board for Private Postsecondary Education could result in us losing our authorization to offer our educational programs, which would cause us to lose our eligibility to participate in the Title IV programs and could force us to cease operations. Alternatively, the Arizona State Board for Private Postsecondary Education could restrict our ability to offer certain degree and non-degree programs.

The Department of Education released a final rule on state authorizations of distance learning programs, which will become effective on July 1, 2018, unless repealed or overruled. As written, the rule provides that programs may be authorized pursuant to certain reciprocity agreements among states. We are an approved institutional participant in the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (“SARA”). SARA is an agreement among member states, districts and territories that establishes comparable national standards for interstate offering of post-secondary distance education courses and programs. It is intended to make it easier for students to take online courses offered by post-secondary institutions based in another state. SARA is overseen by a national council (NC-SARA) and administered by four regional education compacts, for which Arizona is a W-SARA member. There is a yearly renewal for participating in NC-SARA and AZ-SARA and institutions must agree to meet certain requirements to participate. As of December 31, 2017, 48 states are members of SARA.

Some states that do not participate in SARA impose regulatory requirements on out-of-state higher education institutions operating within their boundaries, such as those having a physical facility or conducting certain academic activities within the state. We currently enroll students in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Although we are currently licensed, authorized, in-process, or exempt in all non-SARA jurisdictions in which we operate, if we fail to comply with state licensing or authorization requirements for a state, or fail to obtain licenses or authorizations when required, we could lose our state license or authorization by that state or be subject to other sanctions, including restrictions on our activities in, and fines and penalties imposed by, that state, as well as fines, penalties, and sanctions imposed by the Department of Education. The loss of licensure or authorization in any non-SARA state could prohibit us from recruiting prospective students or offering services to current students in that state, which could significantly reduce our enrollments.

 

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Individual state laws establish standards in areas such as instruction, qualifications of faculty, administrative procedures, marketing, recruiting, financial operations, and other operational matters, some of which are different than the standards prescribed by the Department of Education or the Arizona State Board for Private Postsecondary Education. Laws in some states limit schools’ ability to offer educational programs and award degrees to residents of those states. Some states also prescribe financial regulations that are different from those of the Department of Education, and may require the posting of surety bonds.

State Professional Licensure

Many states have specific requirements that an individual must satisfy in order to be licensed as a professional in specified fields, including fields such as education and healthcare, and counseling. These requirements vary by state and by field. A student’s success in obtaining licensure following graduation typically depends on several factors, including the background and qualifications of the individual graduate, as well as the following factors, among others:

 

    whether the institution and the program were approved by the state in which the graduate seeks licensure, or by a professional association;

 

    whether the program from which the student graduated meets all requirements for professional licensure in that state;

 

    whether the institution and the program are accredited and, if so, by what accrediting commissions; and

 

    whether the institution’s degrees are recognized by other states in which a student may seek to work.

Many states also require that graduates pass a state test or examination as a prerequisite to becoming certified in certain fields, such as teaching and nursing. Many states will certify individuals if they have already been certified in another state.

Our College of Education is approved by the Arizona State Department of Education to offer Institutional Recommendations (credentials) for the certification of early childhood, elementary, secondary, and special education teachers and school administrators. Our College of Nursing and Health Care Professions is approved by the Arizona State Board of Nursing for the Bachelor of Science in Nursing and advanced practice Master of Science in Nursing degrees for Family Nurse Practitioner and Acute Care Nurse Practitioner. Due to varying requirements for professional licensure and certification in states other than Arizona, we inform students of the risks associated with obtaining professional licensure or certification and that it is each student’s responsibility to determine what state, local or professional licensure and certification requirements are necessary in his or her individual state.

Accreditation

Accreditation is a private, non-governmental process for evaluating the quality of educational institutions and their programs in areas including student performance, governance, integrity, educational quality, faculty, physical resources, administrative capability and resources, and financial stability. To be recognized by the Department of Education, accrediting commissions must adopt specific standards for their review of educational institutions, conduct peer-review evaluations of institutions, and publicly designate those institutions that meet their criteria. An accredited school is subject to periodic review by its accrediting commissions to determine whether it continues to meet the performance, integrity and quality required for accreditation.

Grand Canyon University has been regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and its predecessor since 1968, most recently obtaining reaccreditation in 2017 for the ten-year period through 2027. Following a comprehensive review of the institution’s academic offerings, teaching, assessment, governance and administration, mission, finances and resources that occurred during 2016, the University’s accreditation was reaffirmed by the HLC’s Institutional Actions council at its meeting on February 28, 2017 with no requirements for any monitoring or interim reports. The comprehensive review occurs every 10 years, along with a mid-term report in year four. Accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission is important to us for several reasons, including the fact that it enables our students to receive Title IV financial aid. Other colleges and universities depend, in part, on an institution’s accreditation in evaluating transfers of credit and applications to graduate schools. Employers rely on the accredited status of institutions when evaluating candidates’ credentials, and students and corporate and government sponsors under tuition reimbursement programs look to accreditation for assurance that an institution maintains quality educational standards.

In addition to our institutional accreditation, we have specialized accreditations for certain programs, including from the National Addiction Studies Accreditation Commission (NASAC), the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP), the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), and the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education (CAATE). In addition, Grand Canyon Theological Seminary is an Associate Member of the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada (ATS). We believe that our institution-wide regional accreditation, together with these specialized accreditations, reflect the quality of our programs, enhance their marketability to students, and improve the employability of our graduates.

 

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Regulation of Federal Student Financial Aid Programs

To be eligible to participate in the Title IV programs, an institution must comply with specific requirements contained in the Higher Education Act and the regulations issued thereunder by the Department of Education. An institution must, among other things, be licensed or authorized to offer its educational programs by the state in which it is physically located (in our case, Arizona) and maintain institutional accreditation by an accrediting commission recognized by the Department of Education (in our case, the Higher Learning Commission).

The substantial amount of federal funds disbursed to schools through the Title IV programs, the large number of students and institutions participating in these programs, and allegations of fraud and abuse by certain for-profit educational institutions have caused Congress to require the Department of Education to exercise considerable regulatory oversight over for-profit educational institutions. As a result, our institution is subject to extensive oversight and review. Because the Department of Education periodically revises its regulations and changes its interpretations of existing laws and regulations, we cannot predict with certainty how the Title IV program requirements will be applied in all circumstances.

Significant regulations and other factors relating to the Title IV programs that could adversely affect us include the following:

Congressional action. Congress must reauthorize the Higher Education Act on a periodic basis, usually every five to six years, and the most recent reauthorization occurred in August 2008. The reauthorized Higher Education Act reauthorized all of the Title IV programs in which we participate, but made numerous revisions to the requirements governing the Title IV programs, including provisions relating to student loan default rates and the formula for determining the maximum amount of revenue that institutions are permitted to derive from the Title IV programs. In addition, members of Congress periodically introduce legislation that would impact Title IV programs and our industry generally. Because a significant percentage of our revenue is derived from the Title IV programs, any action by Congress that significantly reduces Title IV program funding or our ability or the ability of our students to participate in the Title IV programs could increase our costs of compliance, reduce the ability of some students to finance their education at our institution, require us to seek to arrange for other sources of financial aid for our students and materially decrease our student enrollment.

Regulatory changes. Pursuant to the Higher Education Act and following negotiated rulemaking, on November 1, 2016, the Department published final regulations that, inter alia, would have specified the acts or omissions of an institution that a borrower may assert as a defense to repayment of a loan made under the Direct Loan Program. Although the regulations were scheduled to become effective on July 1, 2017, on June 16, 2017, the Department delayed indefinitely the effective date of selected provisions of the regulations and announced its intention to conduct negotiated rulemaking proceedings to revise the regulations. Those proceedings took place from November 13-15, 2017; January 8-11, 2018; and February 12-15, 2018. These proceedings did not end in consensus and, as such, the Department will have the opportunity to write regulations as it sees fit. In addition, on October 24, 2017, the Department published an interim final rule to delay until July 1, 2018 the effective date of the selected provisions. On February 14, 2018, the Department also published a notice of proposed rulemaking to delay until July 1, 2019 the effective date of the selected provisions.

Eligibility and certification procedures. Each institution must apply periodically to the Department of Education for continued certification to participate in the Title IV programs. Such recertification generally is required every six years, but may be required earlier, including when an institution undergoes a change in control. An institution may also come under the Department of Education’s review when it expands its activities in certain ways, such as opening an additional location, adding a new educational program or modifying the academic credentials it offers. The Department of Education may place an institution on provisional certification status if it finds that the institution does not fully satisfy all of the eligibility and certification standards and in certain other circumstances, such as when an institution is certified for the first time or undergoes a change in control. During the period of provisional certification, the institution must comply with any additional conditions included in the school’s program participation agreement with the Department of Education. In addition, the Department of Education may more closely review an institution that is provisionally certified if it applies for recertification or approval to open a new location, add an educational program, acquire another school, or make any other significant change. If the Department of Education determines that a provisionally certified institution is unable to meet its responsibilities under its program participation agreement, it may seek to revoke the institution’s certification to participate in the Title IV programs without advance notice or opportunity for the institution to challenge the action. Students attending provisionally certified institutions remain eligible to receive Title IV program funds.

 

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In August 2017, the University received a new program participation agreement with full certification from the Department of Education, which gives the University the ability to participate in the Title IV programs through December 31, 2020.

Administrative capability. Department of Education regulations specify extensive criteria by which an institution must establish that it has the requisite “administrative capability” to participate in the Title IV programs. To meet the administrative capability standards, an institution must, among other things:

 

    comply with all applicable Title IV program requirements;

 

    have an adequate number of qualified personnel to administer the Title IV programs;

 

    have acceptable standards for measuring the satisfactory academic progress of its students;

 

    not have student loan cohort default rates above specified levels;

 

    have various procedures in place for awarding, disbursing and safeguarding Title IV funds and for maintaining required records;

 

    administer the Title IV programs with adequate checks and balances in its system of internal controls;

 

    not be, and not have any principal or affiliate who is, debarred or suspended from federal contracting or engaging in activity that is cause for debarment or suspension;

 

    provide financial aid counseling to its students;

 

    refer to the Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General any credible information indicating that any student, parent, employee, third-party servicer or other agent of the institution has engaged in any fraud or other illegal conduct involving the Title IV programs;

 

    submit all required reports and consolidated financial statements in a timely manner; and

 

    not otherwise appear to lack administrative capability.

If an institution fails to satisfy any of these criteria, the Department of Education may:

 

    require the institution to repay Title IV funds its students previously received;

 

    transfer the institution from the advance method of payment of Title IV funds to heightened cash monitoring status or the reimbursement system of payment;

 

    place the institution on provisional certification status; or

 

    commence a proceeding to impose a fine or to limit, suspend or terminate the institution’s participation in the Title IV programs.

Financial responsibility. The Higher Education Act and Department of Education regulations establish extensive standards of financial responsibility that institutions such as Grand Canyon University must satisfy in order to participate in the Title IV programs. The Department of Education evaluates institutions for compliance with these standards on an annual basis based on the institution’s annual audited consolidated financial statements, as well as when the institution applies to the Department of Education to have its eligibility to participate in the Title IV programs recertified. The most significant financial responsibility standard is the institution’s composite score, which is derived from a formula established by the Department of Education based on three financial ratios:

 

    equity ratio, which measures the institution’s capital resources, financial viability and ability to borrow;

 

    primary reserve ratio, which measures the institution’s ability to support current operations from expendable resources; and

 

    net income ratio, which measures the institution’s ability to operate at a profit or within its means.

The Department of Education assigns a strength factor to the results of each of these ratios on a scale from negative 1.0 to positive 3.0, with negative 1.0 reflecting financial weakness and positive 3.0 reflecting financial strength. The Department of Education then assigns a weighting percentage to each ratio and adds the weighted scores for the three ratios together to produce a composite score for the institution. The composite score for an institution’s most recent fiscal year must be at least 1.5 for the institution to be deemed financially responsible without the need for further Department of Education oversight. Our composite scores for our fiscal years ended December 31, 2016, 2015 and 2014 were 2.5, 2.6 and 3.0, respectively, and, therefore, we are considered financially responsible for purposes of these regulations. We have not yet submitted our consolidated financial statements to the Department of Education for our 2017 fiscal year, but have calculated that our composite score for the 2017 fiscal year will be 3.0. We have modeled our composite score for future years using, among other estimates, our estimated ground campus capital expenditures and believe that our composite score will remain at a financially responsible level for the foreseeable future.

 

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In addition to having an acceptable composite score, an institution must, among other things, provide the administrative resources necessary to comply with Title IV program requirements, meet all of its financial obligations, including required refunds to students and any Title IV liabilities and debts, be current in its debt payments, and not receive an adverse, qualified, or disclaimed opinion by its accountants in its audited consolidated financial statements. If the Department of Education were to determine that we did not meet the financial responsibility standards due to a failure to meet the composite score or other factors, we would expect to be able to establish financial responsibility on an alternative basis permitted by the Department of Education, which could include, in the Department of Education’s discretion, posting a letter of credit, accepting provisional certification, complying with additional Department of Education monitoring requirements, agreeing to receive Title IV program funds under an arrangement other than the Department of Education’s standard advance funding arrangement, such as the reimbursement system of payment or heightened cash monitoring, and complying with or accepting other limitations on our ability to increase the number of programs we offer or the number of students we enroll.

Return of Title IV funds for students who withdraw. When a student who has received Title IV program funds withdraws from school, the institution must determine the amount of Title IV program funds the student has “earned” and then must return the unearned Title IV program funds (a “return to Title IV”) to the appropriate lender or the Department of Education in a timely manner, which is generally no later than 45 days after the date the institution determined that the student withdrew. If such payments are not timely made, the institution will be required to submit a letter of credit to the Department of Education equal to 25% of the Title IV funds that the institution should have returned for withdrawn students in its most recently completed fiscal year. Under Department of Education regulations, the letter of credit requirement is triggered by late returns of Title IV program funds for 5% or more of the withdrawn students (and involving more than two student refunds) in the audit sample in the institution’s annual Title IV compliance audit for either of the institution’s two most recent fiscal years or in a Department of Education program review. We did not exceed this 5% threshold in our annual Title IV compliance audits for 2016 (the most recent year for which we have completed a Title IV compliance audit), 2015 or 2014.

The “90/10 Rule.” A requirement of the Higher Education Act, commonly referred to as the “90/10 Rule,” that is applicable only to for-profit, post-secondary educational institutions like us, provides that an institution loses its eligibility to participate in the Title IV programs if the institution derives more than 90% of its revenue for each of two consecutive fiscal years from Title IV program funds. For purposes of the 90/10 Rule, revenue is calculated under a complex regulatory formula that requires cash basis accounting and other adjustments to the calculation of an institution’s revenue under generally accepted accounting principles that appears in its consolidated financial statements. Under the 90/10 Rule, an institution becomes ineligible to participate in the Title IV programs as of the first day of the fiscal year following the second consecutive fiscal year in which it exceeds the 90% threshold, and its period of ineligibility extends for at least two consecutive fiscal years. If an institution exceeds the 90% threshold for two consecutive fiscal years and it and its students have received Title IV funds during the subsequent period of ineligibility, the institution will be required to return those Title IV funds to the applicable lender or the Department of Education. If an institution’s rate exceeds 90% for any single fiscal year, it will be placed on provisional certification for at least two fiscal years.

Using the Department of Education’s cash-basis, regulatory formula under the 90/10 Rule as currently in effect, for our 2017, 2016, and 2015 fiscal years, we derived approximately 71.5%, 72.3%, and 74.8%, respectively, of our 90/10 Rule revenue from Title IV program funds.

As a result of the continuing increase in the number of students attending our ground campus, who typically finance a greater percentage of their educational costs with non-Title IV sources of funds, we expect the percentage of our revenue that we receive from Title IV programs to remain stable or to continue to decrease in the future, although this may be impacted by recent changes in federal law that increased Title IV grant and loan limits, as well as the ongoing economic environment, which has adversely affected the employment circumstances of our students and their parents and increased their reliance on Title IV programs.

Student loan defaults. Under the Higher Education Act, an educational institution may lose its eligibility to participate in some or all of the Title IV programs if defaults by its students on the repayment of their federal student loans exceed certain levels. For each federal fiscal year, the Department of Education calculates a rate of student defaults for each institution (known as a “cohort default rate”). The reauthorization of the Higher Education Act in 2008 extended the measurement period for cohort default rates so that the rate is calculated by determining the rate at which borrowers who became subject to their repayment obligation in one federal fiscal year default in that same year or by the end of the second year following the first federal fiscal year (the “three-year method”).

The Department of Education applies legal thresholds to measure an institution’s compliance. If the Department of Education notifies an institution that its cohort default rates exceeded 30%, for each of its three most recent federal fiscal years, the institution’s participation in the FDL Program and the Pell grant program would end 30 days after that notification, unless the institution appeals that determination in a timely manner on specified grounds and according to specified procedures. In addition, an institution’s participation in the FDL Program would end 30 days after notification by the Department of Education that its most recent cohort default rate, is greater than 40%, unless the institution timely appeals that determination on specified grounds and according to specified procedures. An institution whose participation ends under either of these provisions may not participate in the relevant programs for the remainder of the fiscal year in which the institution receives the notification or for the next two fiscal years. If an institution’s cohort default rate for any single federal fiscal year equals or exceeds 30%, the Department of Education may place the institution on provisional certification status.

 

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Our cohort default rates on federal student loans for the 2014, 2013 and 2012 federal fiscal years, the latest years for which such rates are available, were 8.5%, 9.2% and 10.3%, respectively.

Incentive compensation rule. An institution that participates in the Title IV programs may not provide any commission, bonus, or other incentive payment based directly or indirectly on success in securing enrollments or financial aid to any person or entity engaged in any student recruitment, admissions, or financial aid awarding activity. Prior to July 1, 2011, Department of Education regulations included 12 “safe harbors” that described payments and arrangements that did not violate the incentive compensation rule. Under new rules effective July 1, 2011, the 12 safe harbors were eliminated. The restrictions of the incentive compensation rule, which extend to any third-party companies that an educational institution contracts with for student recruitment, admissions, or financial aid awarding services, increase the uncertainty about what constitutes incentive compensation and which employees are covered by the regulation. This makes the development of effective and compliant performance metrics more difficult to establish. As such, these changes limit our ability to compensate our employees based on their performance of their job responsibilities, which could make it more difficult to attract and retain highly-qualified employees.

Compliance reviews. We are subject to announced and unannounced compliance reviews and audits by various external agencies, including the Department of Education, its Office of Inspector General, state licensing agencies, the applicable state approving agencies for financial assistance to veterans, and accrediting commissions. As part of the Department of Education’s ongoing monitoring of institutions’ administration of the Title IV programs, the Higher Education Act also requires institutions to annually submit to the Department of Education a Title IV compliance audit conducted by an independent certified public accountant in accordance with applicable federal and Department of Education audit standards. In addition, to enable the Department of Education to make a determination of an institution’s financial responsibility, each institution must annually submit audited financial statements prepared in accordance with Department of Education regulations.

Gainful employment rules. Under the Higher Education Act, proprietary schools are eligible to participate in Title IV programs in respect of educational programs that lead to “gainful employment in a recognized occupation,” with the limited exception of qualified programs leading to a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts. Historically, this concept has not been defined in detail. In October 2014, the Department of Education published final regulations, effective July 1, 2015, on the metrics for determining whether an academic program prepares students for gainful employment in a recognized occupation. This rule establishes requirements related to the debt to earnings ratio of graduates of our programs, and sets additional disclosure requirements for students. Under the final regulations, which apply on a program-by-program basis, students enrolled in a program will be eligible for Title IV student financial aid only if that program satisfies at least one of two tests relating to student debt service-to-earnings ratios. The two tests specify minimum debt service-to-earnings ratios calculated on the basis of the earnings of program graduates. One test measures student loan debt service as a percentage of total earnings, and is calculated by comparing (1) the annual loan payment required on the median student loan debt incurred by students receiving Title IV funds who completed a particular program and (2) the higher of the mean or median of those graduates’ annual earnings two to four years after graduation. The other test measures student loan debt service as a percentage of discretionary earnings and is calculated by comparing (1) the annual loan payment required on the median student loan debt incurred by students receiving Title IV funds who completed a particular program and (2) the higher of the mean or median annual earnings of those graduates two to four years after graduation, less 1.5 times the government issued Poverty Guideline. Under the new gainful employment regulation, a program would pass if:

 

    the annual loan payment required on the median student loan debt is less than or equal to 8% of the higher of the mean or median annual earnings of graduates in the relevant period; or

 

    the annual loan payment required on the median student loan debt is less than or equal to 20% of the discretionary income of graduates in the relevant period.

In addition, a program that does not pass either of the debt-to-earnings metrics, and that has an annual earnings rate between 8% and 12%, or a discretionary income rate between 20% and 30%, would be considered to be in the “Zone”. A program would fail if the annual loan payment on the median student loan debt is greater than 12% of the mean or median annual earnings of the graduates or the annual loan payment on the median student debt is greater than 30% of the discretionary income of the graduates. A program would become Title IV-ineligible for three years if it fails both metrics for two out of three consecutive years, or is in the Zone (or fails) for four consecutive award years. In the first four years that the debt-to-earnings metrics are calculated under the rule (award years 2014-15, 2015-16, 2016-17, and 2017-18), if a program would be failing or in the Zone based on the typical approach to calculating debt-to-earnings metrics, transitional debt-to-earnings rates would be calculated using the most currently available yearly earnings two years after graduation and the annual loan payments of students who completed the program in the most recently completed award year. Transitional rates will be used to assess the program if they are lower than what the rates would be under the normal calculation. This allows programs that promptly lower tuition and fees to realize the benefit of their changes.

 

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If an institution is notified by the Secretary of Education that a program could become ineligible, based on its final rates, for the next award year:

 

    The institution must provide a warning with respect to the program to students and prospective students indicating, among other things, that students may not be able to use Title IV funds to attend or continue in the program; and

 

    The institution must not enroll, register or enter into a financial commitment with a prospective student until a specified time after providing the warning to the prospective student.

On October 20, 2016, the Department issued to institutions draft debt-to-earnings rates for the first gainful employment debt measurement year and certain underlying data used to calculate those rates. According to the Department’s draft rates, none of the University’s programs fail. The draft rates did indicate that four current degree programs are in the Zone, including three undergraduate education programs and the Masters in Theology. The University is currently analyzing the data for these programs to determine what changes, if any, should be made.

Schools are also required to certify to the Department the following for each Title IV eligible program:

 

    The program is included in the schools’ accreditation;

 

    The program is programmatically accredited, if required by a federal government entity, or by a government entity in any state in which the school is located or is required to obtain state approval;

 

    The program satisfies any applicable state licensing and certification requirements for the occupations for which the program prepares students to enter; and

 

    The program is not substantially similar to a program offered by the school that became ineligible due to the student debt service-to-earnings ratios.

We believe we successfully submitted the certifications required for all pre-existing programs prior to the December 31, 2015 deadline for doing so. We continue to follow this protocol on an ongoing basis.

These regulations went into effect on July 1, 2015, with the exception of the new disclosure requirements that were originally scheduled to go into effect January 1, 2017, but which have now been delayed, to some extent, until July 1, 2018. Additionally, the Department announced, on June 16, 2017, its intention to conduct negotiated rulemaking proceedings to revise the gainful employment regulations. Those negotiated rulemaking proceedings began in December 2017 and continued February 5-8, 2018 and will end in March 12-15, 2018. Management is following this rulemaking, as it does with all rulemakings, but does not have a view at this time about how it will affect the University.

Substantial misrepresentation. The Higher Education Act prohibits an institution that participates in Title IV programs from engaging in “substantial misrepresentation” of the nature of its educational program, its financial charges, or the employability of its graduates. The Department of Education has defined a misrepresentation as any statement made by the institution 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. 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 breadth of the definition of “substantial misrepresentation,” it is possible that despite our efforts to prevent such misrepresentations, our employees or service providers may make statements that could be construed as substantial misrepresentations. As a result, we may face complaints from students and prospective students over statements made by us and our agents throughout the enrollment, admissions and financial aid process, as well as throughout attendance at the University, which would expose us to increased risk of enforcement action and applicable sanctions or other penalties and increased risk of private qui tam actions under the Federal False Claims Act. Under the new rules, if the Department of Education determines that an institution has engaged in substantial misrepresentation, the Department of Education may revoke an institution’s program participation agreement, impose limitations on the institution’s participation in Title IV programs, deny applications from the institution for approval of new programs or locations or other matters, or initiate proceedings to fine the institution or limit, suspend, or terminate its eligibility to participate in Title IV programs. If the Department of Education determines that statements made by us or on our behalf are in violation of the regulations, we could be subject to sanctions and other liability, which could have a material adverse effect on our business.

 

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Clery Act Compliance. We must comply with the campus safety and security reporting requirements as well as other requirements in the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act (the “Clery Act”). In addition, the Department has interpreted Title IX to categorize sexual violence as a form of prohibited sex discrimination and to require institutions to follow certain disciplinary procedures with respect to such offenses. Failure by the University to comply with the Clery Act or Title IX requirements or regulations thereunder could result in action by the Department including fining us, or limiting or suspending its participating in Title IV programs, could lead to litigation, and could harm our reputation. We believe that we are in compliance with these requirements.

Regulatory Standards that May Restrict Institutional Expansion or Other Changes

Many actions that we may wish to take in connection with expanding our operations or other changes are subject to review or approval by the applicable regulatory agencies. In addition to those matters described in detail below, most state post-secondary approval agencies impose regulatory requirements on post-secondary institutions operating within their boundaries.

Adding teaching locations, implementing new educational programs, and increasing enrollment. The requirements and standards of state post-secondary agencies, accrediting commissions, and the Department of Education limit our ability in certain instances to establish additional teaching locations, implement new educational programs, or increase enrollment in certain programs. Many states require review and approval before institutions can add new locations or programs, and Arizona also limits the number of pre-licensure nursing students we may enroll (which represents a small portion of our overall nursing program). The Arizona State Board for Private Postsecondary Education, the Higher Learning Commission, and other state education agencies and specialized accrediting commissions that authorize or accredit us and our programs generally require institutions to notify them in advance of adding new locations or implementing new programs, and upon notification may undertake a review of the quality of the facility or the program and the financial, academic, and other qualifications of the institution.

With respect to the Department of Education, if an institution participating in the Title IV programs plans to add a new location or educational program, the institution must generally apply to the Department of Education to have the additional location or educational program designated as within the scope of the institution’s Title IV eligibility. However, a degree-granting institution, like Grand Canyon University, that is fully certified to participate in the Title IV programs is not required to obtain the Department of Education’s approval of additional programs that lead to a bachelor’s, professional, or graduate degree at the same degree level as programs previously approved by the Department of Education, and, similarly, is not required to obtain advance approval for new programs that prepare students for gainful employment in the same or a related recognized occupation as an educational program that has previously been designated by the Department of Education as an eligible program at that institution if it meets certain minimum-length requirements.

Acquiring other schools. While we have not acquired any other schools in the past, we may seek to do so in the future. The Department of Education and virtually all state post-secondary agencies and accrediting commissions require a company to seek their approval if it wishes to acquire another school. In our case, we would need to obtain the approval of the Arizona State Board for Private Postsecondary Education or other state post-secondary agency that licenses the school being acquired, the Higher Learning Commission, any other accrediting commission that accredits the school being acquired, and the Department of Education. The level of review varies by individual state and accrediting commission, with some requiring approval of such an acquisition before it occurs and others only considering approval after the acquisition has occurred. The Higher Learning Commission would require us to obtain its advance approval of such an acquisition. The approval of the applicable state agencies and accrediting commissions is a necessary prerequisite to the Department of Education certifying the acquired school to participate in the Title IV programs under our ownership. The restrictions imposed by any of the applicable regulatory agencies could delay or prevent our acquisition of other schools in some circumstances.

Change in ownership resulting in a change in control. The Department of Education, as well as many accrediting commissions and states, require institutions of higher education to report or obtain approval of certain changes in control and changes in other aspects of institutional organization or control. With respect to publicly traded corporations, like us, Department of Education regulations provide that a change in control occurs if, among other things, the corporation has a stockholder that owns, or has voting control over, at least 25% of the total outstanding voting stock of the corporation and is the largest stockholder of the corporation (defined in the regulations as a “controlling shareholder”), and that controlling shareholder ceases to own, or have voting control over, at least 25% of such stock or ceases to be the largest stockholder. Under Department of Education regulations, an institution that undergoes a change in control as defined by the Department of Education loses its eligibility to participate in the Title IV programs and must apply to the Department of Education in order to reestablish such eligibility.

 

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The Higher Learning Commission provides that an institution must obtain its approval in advance of a change in ownership, corporate control or structure in order for the institution to retain its accredited status. In certain circumstances that process may require several weeks or several months or more to complete. In addition, following a change in control, the Higher Learning Commission will conduct an onsite evaluation within six months in order to continue the institution’s accreditation.

Many states include the sale of a controlling interest of common stock in the definition of a change in control requiring approval, but their thresholds for determining a change in control vary widely. The standards of the Arizona State Board for Private Postsecondary Education provide that an institution that is owned by a publicly traded company whose control is vested in the voting members of the board of directors, such as Grand Canyon Education, undergoes a change in control if 50% or more of the voting members of the board of directors change within a 12-month period or the chief executive officer of the corporation changes. A change in control under the definition of one of the other state agencies that regulate us might require us to obtain approval of a change in control in order to maintain our authorization to operate in that state, and in some cases such states could require us to obtain advance approval of the change in control. If we were to undergo a change in control under the standards of the Arizona State Board of Private Post-secondary Education at any time in the future, we would be required to file an application with the Arizona State Board for Private Postsecondary Education in order to obtain approval for such change in control. We cannot predict whether the Arizona State Board for Private Postsecondary Education would impose any limitations or conditions on us, or identify any compliance issues related to us in the context of the change in control process, that could result in our loss of authorization in Arizona. Any such loss would result in our loss of eligibility to participate in the Title IV programs which would cause a significant decline in our student enrollment.

 

Item 1A. Risk Factors

You should carefully consider the risks and uncertainties described below and all other information contained in this Annual Report on Form 10-K. In order to help assess the major risks in our business, we have identified many, but not all, of these risks. Due to the scope of our operations, a wide range of factors could materially affect future developments and performance.

If any of the following risks, or risks that we do not anticipate, are realized, our business, financial condition, cash flow or results of operations could be materially and adversely affected, and as a result, the trading price of our common stock could be materially and adversely impacted. These risk factors should be read in conjunction with other information set forth in this Annual Report, including Item 7, Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations, and Item 8, Consolidated Financial Statements and Supplementary Data, including the related Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements.

Risks Related to the Proposed Change in the Structure of Our Operations

If the Proposed Transaction is consummated, we will be subject to various risks and uncertainties arising out of the changes in the structure of our operations, any of which could materially and adversely affect our business and operations, and our stock price.

As discussed above under “Item 1. Business – Proposed Change in the Structure of Our Operations,” we are seeking approval of the Proposed Transaction. If the necessary approvals are obtained, financial and other terms between us and New GCU are agreed upon, definitive agreements are executed, and the Proposed Transaction is ultimately consummated, then various aspects of our operations would change in important ways. These changes include, but are not limited to, the following:

 

    Our academic and related operations and assets, as well as approximately 35% of our full-time employees and substantially all of our part-time employees and student workers, would transfer to New GCU. Following this transfer, we would no longer own and operate a regulated institution of higher education, but would instead provide a host of services in support of New GCU’s operations. While the services we would provide are services that we currently provide as part of our business today, we have limited to no experience operating as a service provider to third parties.

 

    New GCU would be a separate non-profit entity under the control of an independent board of trustees and independent management. Accordingly, our relationship with New GCU, both pursuant to the shared services arrangement and operationally, would no longer be as owner and operator, but as a third party contract party. While we believe this relationship would remain strong, New GCU’s board of trustees and management would have fiduciary and other duties that would require them to focus on the best interests of New GCU and over time those interests could diverge from ours.

 

    Initially, all of our revenue would be derived pursuant to the shared services arrangement with New GCU. Accordingly, New GCU’s ability to continue to increase its enrollment and tuition and fee revenue, and our ability to continue to perform the services necessary to enable New GCU to do so, would be critical to the success of our services business.

 

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    It is anticipated that the consideration payable by New GCU for the acquired assets, which will be material, will be in the form of a long-term secured note. While the terms of this note remain subject to negotiation, our ability to realize the negotiated value of the acquired assets would be subject to New GCU’s performance and its ability to pay amounts due under the secured note as they come due.

If the Proposed Transaction is consummated, but we are unable to successfully re-focus our business to providing services to third parties, or if the contemplated shared services arrangement with New GCU fails to achieve the anticipated levels of performance, then our business, financial condition and results of operations, as well as our stock price, could be materially and adversely affected.

Risks Related to the Extensive Regulation of Our Industry

Our failure to comply with the extensive regulatory requirements governing our school could result in financial penalties, restrictions on our operations or growth, or loss of external financial aid funding for our students.

To participate in the Title IV programs, a school must be authorized by the appropriate state post-secondary agency or agencies, be accredited by an accrediting commission recognized by the Department of Education, and be certified as an eligible institution by the Department of Education. In addition, our operations and programs are regulated by other state education agencies and additional accrediting commissions. As a result of these requirements, we are subject to extensive regulation by the Arizona State Board for Private Postsecondary Education and education agencies of other states, the Higher Learning Commission, which is our primary accrediting commission, specialized accrediting commissions, and the Department of Education. These regulatory requirements cover the vast majority of our operations, including our educational programs, instructional and administrative staff, administrative procedures, marketing, recruiting, financial operations, and financial condition. These regulatory requirements also affect our ability to open additional schools and locations, add new educational programs, change existing educational programs, and change our corporate or ownership structure. The agencies that regulate our operations periodically revise their requirements and modify their interpretations of existing requirements. Regulatory requirements are not always precise and clear, and regulatory agencies may sometimes disagree with the way we have interpreted or applied these requirements. Any misinterpretation by us of regulatory requirements could materially adversely affect us. If we fail to comply with any of these regulatory requirements, we could suffer financial penalties, limitations on our operations, loss of accreditation, termination of or limitations on our ability to grant degrees and certificates, or limitations on or termination of our eligibility to participate in the Title IV programs, each of which could materially adversely affect us. In addition, if we are charged with regulatory violations, our reputation could be damaged, which could have a negative impact on our stock price and our enrollments. The Department of Education and other regulators have increased the frequency and severity of their enforcement actions against post-secondary schools. In some cases, these enforcement actions have resulted in material sanctions, letter of credit requirements, loss of Title IV eligibility, or closure in schools. We cannot predict with certainty how all of these regulatory requirements will be applied, or whether we will be able to comply with all of the applicable requirements in the future.

Rulemaking by the U.S. Department of Education could materially and adversely affect our business.

Over the past few years, the U.S. Department of Education has regularly promulgated new regulations that impact our business. These regulations have increased our operating costs and in some cases required us to change the manner in which we operate our business. In addition, because certain of these regulations have been vacated or blocked as a result of litigation challenging the regulations, there remains substantial uncertainty regarding their present or future effectiveness or enforcement. New or amended regulations in the future, particularly regulations focused on the proprietary sector, could further negatively impact our business.

If the Department of Education does not recertify us to continue participating in the Title IV programs, our students would lose their access to Title IV program funds, or we could be recertified but required to accept significant limitations as a condition of our continued participation in the Title IV programs.

Department of Education certification to participate in the Title IV programs lasts a maximum of six years, and institutions are thus required to seek recertification from the Department of Education on a regular basis in order to continue their participation in the Title IV programs. An institution must also apply for recertification by the Department of Education if it undergoes a change in control, as defined by Department of Education regulations, and may be subject to similar review if it expands its operations or educational programs in certain ways.

In August 2017, the University received a new program participation agreement with full certification from the Department of Education, which gives the University the ability to participate in the Title IV programs through December 31, 2020. There can be no assurance that the Department of Education will recertify us at that time or that it will not impose conditions or other restrictions on us as a condition of approving our application with respect to any future recertification. If the Department of Education does not renew or withdraws our certification to participate in the Title IV programs at any time, our students would no longer be able to receive Title IV program funds. Alternatively, the Department of Education could renew our certification, but restrict or delay our students’ receipt of Title IV funds, limit the number of students to whom we could disburse such funds, or place other restrictions on us, or it could delay our recertification after our program participation agreement expires on December 31, 2020, in which case our certification would continue on a month-to-month basis. Any of these outcomes could have a material adverse effect on our enrollments and us.

 

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We would lose our ability to participate in the Title IV programs if we fail to maintain our institutional accreditation, and our student enrollments could decline if we fail to maintain any of our accreditations or approvals.

An institution must be accredited by an accrediting commission recognized by the Department of Education in order to participate in the Title IV programs. We have institutional accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission, which is an accrediting commission recognized by the Department of Education. To remain accredited, we must continuously meet accreditation standards relating to, among other things, performance, institutional control, institutional integrity, educational quality, faculty, administrative capability, resources, and financial stability. We most recently obtained reaccreditation in 2017 for the ten-year period through 2027. Following a comprehensive review of the institution’s academic offerings, governance and administration, mission, finances and resources that occurred during 2016, the University’s accreditation was reaffirmed by the HLC’s Institutional Actions council at its meeting on February 28, 2017 with no requirements for any monitoring or interim reports. The comprehensive review occurs every 10 years, along with a mid-term report in year four. If we fail to satisfy any of the Higher Learning Commission’s standards, however, we could lose our accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission, which would cause us to lose our eligibility to participate in the Title IV programs, could cause a significant decline in our total student enrollments, and could have a material adverse effect on us. In addition, many of our individual educational programs are also accredited by specialized accrediting commissions or approved by specialized state agencies. If we fail to satisfy the standards of any of those specialized accrediting commissions or state agencies, we could lose the specialized accreditation or approval for the affected programs, which could result in materially reduced student enrollments in those programs and have a material adverse effect on us.

If the percentage of our revenue that is derived from the Title IV programs is too high, we may lose our eligibility to participate in those programs.

A requirement of the Higher Education Act, commonly referred to as the “90/10 Rule,” that is applicable only to for-profit, post-secondary educational institutions like us provides that an institution loses its eligibility to participate in the Title IV programs if the institution derives more than 90% of its revenue for each of two consecutive fiscal years from Title IV program funds. For purposes of the 90/10 Rule, revenue is calculated under a complex regulatory formula that requires cash basis accounting and other adjustments to the calculation of an institution’s revenue under generally accepted accounting principles that appears in its consolidated financial statements. Under the 90/10 Rule, an institution becomes ineligible to participate in the Title IV programs as of the first day of the fiscal year following the second consecutive fiscal year in which it exceeds the 90% threshold, and its period of ineligibility extends for at least two consecutive fiscal years. If an institution exceeds the 90% threshold for two consecutive fiscal years and it and its students have received Title IV funds during the subsequent period of ineligibility, the institution will be required to return those Title IV funds to the applicable lender or the Department of Education. If an institution’s rate exceeds 90% for any single fiscal year, it will be placed on provisional certification for at least two fiscal years.

Using the Department of Education’s cash-basis, regulatory formula under the 90/10 Rule as currently in effect, for our 2017, 2016, and 2015 fiscal years, we derived approximately 71.5%, 72.3%, and 74.8%, respectively, of our 90/10 Rule revenue from Title IV program funds.

As a result of the continuing increase in the number of students attending our ground campus, who typically finance a greater percentage of their educational costs with non-Title IV sources of funds, we expect the percentage of our revenue that we receive from Title IV programs to remain stable or decrease in the future, although this may be impacted by recent changes in federal law that increased Title IV grant and loan limits, as well as the ongoing economic environment, which has adversely affected the employment circumstances of our students and their parents and increased their reliance on Title IV programs. If we were to exceed the 90% threshold for two consecutive years such that we lost our eligibility to participate in the Title IV programs, or if Congress passed legislation changing how certain funds are counted under this rule, revising the percentage of income that proprietary schools must derive from non-federal sources, or both, it would have a material adverse effect on our business, prospects, financial condition, and results of operations.

We may lose our eligibility to participate in the Title IV programs if our student loan default rates are too high.

An institution may lose its eligibility to participate in some or all of the Title IV programs if, for three consecutive years, 30% or more of its students who were required to begin repayment on their student loans in one year default on their payment by the end of the second year. In addition, an institution may lose its eligibility to participate in some or all of the Title IV programs if the default rate of its students exceeds 40% for any single year. While our cohort default rates have historically been significantly below these levels, we cannot assure you that this will continue to be the case. Increases in interest rates or declines in income or job losses for our students could contribute to higher default rates on student loans. Exceeding the student loan default rate thresholds and losing our eligibility to participate in the Title IV programs would have a material adverse effect on our business, prospects, financial condition, and results of operations. Any future changes in the formula for calculating student loan default rates, economic conditions, or other factors that cause our default rates to increase, could place us in danger of losing our eligibility to participate in some or all of the Title IV programs and materially adversely affect us.

 

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If we do not meet specific financial responsibility standards established by the Department of Education, we may be required to post a letter of credit or accept other limitations in order to continue participating in the Title IV programs, or we could lose our eligibility to participate in the Title IV programs.

To participate in the Title IV programs, an institution must either satisfy specific quantitative standards of financial responsibility prescribed by the Department of Education, or post a letter of credit in favor of the Department of Education and possibly accept operating restrictions as well. These financial responsibility tests are applied to each institution on an annual basis based on the institution’s audited consolidated financial statements, and may be applied at other times, such as if the institution undergoes a change in control. These tests may also be applied to an institution’s parent company or other related entity. The operating restrictions that may be placed on an institution that does not meet the quantitative standards of financial responsibility include being transferred from the advance payment method of receiving Title IV program funds to either the reimbursement or the heightened cash monitoring system, which could result in a significant delay in the institution’s receipt of those funds. If, in the future, we fail to satisfy the Department of Education’s financial responsibility standards, we could experience increased regulatory compliance costs or delays in our receipt of Title IV program funds because we could be required to post a letter of credit or be subjected to operating restrictions, or both. Our failure to secure a letter of credit in these circumstances could cause us to lose our ability to participate in the Title IV programs, which would materially adversely affect us.

If we do not comply with the Department of Education’s administrative capability standards, we could suffer financial penalties, be required to accept other limitations in order to continue participating in the Title IV programs, or lose our eligibility to participate in the Title IV programs.

To continue participating in the Title IV programs, an institution must demonstrate to the Department of Education that the institution is capable of adequately administering the Title IV programs under specific standards prescribed by the Department of Education. These administrative capability criteria require, among other things, the institution to have an adequate number of qualified personnel to administer the Title IV programs, have adequate procedures for disbursing and safeguarding Title IV funds and for maintaining records, submit all required reports and consolidated financial statements in a timely manner, and not have significant problems that affect the institution’s ability to administer the Title IV programs. If we fail to satisfy any of these criteria, the Department of Education may assess financial penalties against us, restrict the manner in which we receive Title IV funds, require us to post a letter of credit, place us on provisional certification status, or limit or terminate our participation in the Title IV programs, any of which could materially adversely affect us.

A finding that we violated the Department of Education’s substantial misrepresentation regulation could materially and adversely affect our business.

The Higher Education Act prohibits an institution that participates in Title IV programs from engaging in “substantial misrepresentation” of the nature of its educational program, its financial charges, or the employability of its graduates. Under these rules, a misrepresentation is any statement made by the institution 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 or confuse. 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 breadth of the definition of “substantial misrepresentation,” it is possible that despite our efforts to prevent such misrepresentations, our employees or service providers may make statements that could be construed as substantial misrepresentations. As a result, we may face complaints from students and prospective students over statements made by us and our agents throughout the enrollment, admissions and financial aid process, as well as throughout attendance at the University, which would expose us to increased risk of enforcement action and applicable sanctions or other penalties and increased risk of private qui tam actions under the Federal False Claims Act. Under the new rules, if the Department of Education determines that an institution has engaged in substantial misrepresentation, the Department of Education may revoke an institution’s program participation agreement, impose limitations on the institution’s participation in Title IV programs, deny applications from the institution for approval of new programs or locations or other matters, or initiate proceedings to fine the institution or limit, suspend, or terminate its eligibility to participate in Title IV programs. If the Department of Education determines that statements made by us or on our behalf are in violation of the regulations, we could be subject to sanctions and other liability, which could have a material adverse effect on our business.

 

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We are subject to sanctions if we fail to correctly calculate and timely return Title IV program funds for students who withdraw before completing their educational program.

A school participating in the Title IV programs must calculate the amount of unearned Title IV program funds that it has disbursed to students who withdraw from their educational programs before completing such programs and must return those unearned funds to the appropriate lender or the Department of Education in a timely manner, generally within 45 days of the date the school determines that the student has withdrawn. If the unearned funds are not properly calculated and timely returned for a sufficient percentage of students, we may have to post a letter of credit in favor of the Department of Education equal to 25% of the Title IV program funds that should have been returned for such students in the prior fiscal year, we may be liable for repayment of Title IV program funds and related interest and we could be fined or otherwise sanctioned by the Department of Education, which could increase our cost of regulatory compliance and materially adversely affect us. Further, a failure to comply with these regulatory requirements could result in termination of our ability to participate in the Title IV programs, which would materially affect us.

Increased disclosure and recordkeeping requirements could result in lower enrollment or growth rates in a manner that materially and adversely affects our business.

Department of Education rules require that, for each program leading to “gainful employment” in a recognized occupation, institutions must provide prospective students with information concerning the occupation that the program prepares students to enter, the program’s on-time graduation rate, and the tuition and fees it charges a student for completing the program within normal time, as well as the costs of books, supplies, room, and board, and the median loan debt incurred by students who completed the program. Institutions must also provide the Department of Education with information that will allow determination of student debt levels and incomes after program completion. These reporting and disclosure requirements have caused increased administrative burden and costs and may have a negative effect on our growth and enrollments.

A reduction in funding or new restrictions on eligibility for the Federal Pell Grant Program, or the elimination of subsidized Stafford loans, could make college less affordable for certain students at our institution, which could negatively impact our enrollments, revenue and results of operations.

The U.S. Congress must periodically reauthorize the Higher Education Act and annually determine the funding level for each Title IV program. In 2008, the Higher Education Act was reauthorized through September 30, 2013 by the Higher Education Opportunity Act. Changes to the Higher Education Act, including changes in eligibility and funding for Title IV programs, are likely to occur in subsequent reauthorizations, but we cannot predict the scope or substance of any such changes.

In recent years, there has been increased focus by Congress on the role that proprietary educational institutions play in higher education. Any action by Congress that significantly reduces Title IV program funding, whether through across-the-board funding reductions, sequestration or otherwise, or materially impacts the eligibility of our institutions or students to participate in Title IV programs would have a material adverse effect on our enrollment, financial condition, results of operations and cash flows. Congressional action could also require us to modify our practices in ways that could increase our administrative costs and reduce our operating income, which could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition, results of operations and cash flows.

If Congress significantly reduced the amount of available Title IV program funding, we would attempt to arrange for alternative sources of financial aid for our students, which may include lending funds directly to our students, but private sources may not be able to provide as much funding to our students on as favorable terms as is currently provided by Title IV. In addition, private organizations could require us to guarantee all or part of this assistance and we might incur other additional costs. For these reasons, private, alternative sources of student financial aid would only partly offset, if at all, the impact on our business of reduced Title IV program funding.

We cannot offer new programs, expand our operations into certain states, or acquire additional schools if such actions are not timely approved by the applicable regulatory agencies, and we may have to repay Title IV funds disbursed to students enrolled in any such programs, schools, or states if we do not obtain prior approval.

Our expansion efforts include offering new educational programs. In addition, we may increase our operations in additional states and seek to acquire existing schools from other companies. If we are unable to obtain the necessary approvals for such new programs, operations, or acquisitions from the Department of Education, the Higher Learning Commission, the Arizona State Board for Private Postsecondary Education, or any other applicable state post-secondary agency or accrediting commission, or if we are unable to obtain such approvals in a timely manner, our ability to consummate the planned actions and provide Title IV funds to any affected students would be impaired, which could have a material adverse effect on our expansion plans. In addition, if we were to determine erroneously that a new program did not need approval or that we had all required approvals, we could be liable for repayment of the Title IV program funds provided to students in that program or at that location.

 

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If we do not maintain our state authorization in Arizona, we may not operate or participate in the Title IV programs.

A school that grants degrees or certificates must be authorized by the relevant education agency of the state in which it is located. We are located in the state of Arizona and are authorized by the Arizona State Board for Private Postsecondary Education. State authorization is also required for our students to be eligible to receive funding under the Title IV programs. To maintain our state authorization, we must continuously meet standards relating to, among other things, educational programs, facilities, instructional and administrative staff, marketing and recruitment, financial operations, addition of new locations and educational programs, and various operational and administrative procedures. If we fail to satisfy any of these standards, we could lose our authorization by the Arizona State Board for Private Postsecondary Education to offer our educational programs, which would also cause us to lose our eligibility to participate in the Title IV programs and have a material adverse effect on us.

Our failure to comply with the regulatory requirements of states other than Arizona could result in actions taken by those states or the Department of Education that could have a material adverse effect on our enrollments.

Almost every state imposes regulatory requirements on educational institutions that have physical facilities located within the state’s boundaries. Individual state laws establish standards in areas such as educational programs, facilities, instructional and administrative staff, marketing and recruitment, financial operations, addition of new locations and educational programs, and various operational and administrative procedures, some of which are different than the standards prescribed by the Department of Education or the Arizona State Board for Private Postsecondary Education. Several states have sought to assert jurisdiction over educational institutions offering online degree programs that have no physical location in the state but that have some activity in the state, such as enrolling or offering educational services to students who reside in the state, employing faculty who reside in the state, or advertising to or recruiting prospective students in the state.

State regulatory requirements for online education have historically varied among the states. To address this issue and to meet new Department of Education requirements we applied and have been approved to be an approved institutional participant in the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (“SARA”). SARA is an agreement among member states, districts and territories that establishes comparable national standards for interstate offering of post-secondary distance education courses and programs. It is intended to make it easier for students to take online courses offered by post-secondary institutions based in another state. SARA is overseen by a national council (NC-SARA) and administered by four regional education compacts, for which Arizona is a W-SARA member. There is a yearly renewal for participating in NC-SARA and AZ-SARA and institutions must agree to meet certain requirements to participate. As of December 31, 2017, 48 states are members of SARA.

Some states that do not participate in SARA impose regulatory requirements on out-of-state post-secondary institutions operating within their boundaries, such as those having a physical facility or conducting certain academic activities within the state. We currently enroll students in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Although we are currently licensed, authorized, in-process, or exempt in all non-SARA jurisdictions in which we operate, if we fail to comply with state licensing or authorization requirements for a state, or fail to obtain licenses or authorizations when required, we could lose our state license or authorization by that state or be subject to other sanctions, including restrictions on our activities in, and fines and penalties imposed by, that state, as well as fines, penalties, and sanctions imposed by the Department of Education. The loss of licensure or authorization in any non-SARA state could prohibit us from recruiting prospective students or offering services to current students in that state, which could significantly reduce our enrollments.

Laws, regulations, or interpretations related to doing business over the Internet could also increase our cost of doing business and affect our ability to recruit students in particular states, which could, in turn, negatively affect enrollments and revenues and have a material adverse effect on our business.

Additionally, regulatory agencies may sometimes disagree with the way we have interpreted or applied these requirements. Any misinterpretation by us of these regulatory requirements or adverse changes in regulations or interpretations thereof by regulators could materially adversely affect us. If we fail to comply with state licensing or authorization requirements for a state in which we operate, or fail to obtain licenses or authorizations when required, we could lose our state licensure or authorization by that state or be subject to other sanctions, including restrictions on our activities in, and fines and penalties imposed by, that state, as well as fines, penalties, and sanctions imposed by the Department of Education. The loss of licensure or authorization in a state other than Arizona could prohibit us from recruiting prospective students or offering educational services to current students in that state, which could significantly reduce our enrollments.

 

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The inability of our graduates to obtain a professional license or certification in their chosen field of study could reduce our enrollments and revenues, and potentially lead to student claims against us that could be costly to us.

Many of our students, particularly those in our education and healthcare programs, seek a professional license or certification in their chosen fields following graduation. A student’s ability to obtain a professional license or certification depends on several factors, including whether the institution and the student’s program were accredited by a particular accrediting commission or approved by a professional association or by the state in which the student seeks employment. Additional factors are outside the control of the institution, such as the individual student’s own background and qualifications. If one or more states refuse to recognize a significant number of our students for professional licensing or certification based on factors relating to our institution or programs, the potential growth of those programs would be negatively impacted and we could be exposed to claims or litigation by students or graduates based on their inability to obtain their desired professional license or certification, each of which could materially adversely affect us.

Government agencies, regulatory agencies, and third parties may conduct compliance reviews, bring claims, or initiate litigation against us based on alleged violations of the extensive regulatory requirements applicable to us, which could cause us to pay monetary damages, be sanctioned or limited in our operations, and expend significant resources to defend against those claims.

Because we operate in a highly regulated industry, we are subject to program reviews, audits, investigations, claims of non-compliance, and lawsuits by government agencies, regulatory agencies, students, employees, stockholders, and other third parties alleging non-compliance with applicable legal requirements, many of which are imprecise and subject to interpretation. If the result of any such proceeding is unfavorable to us, we may lose or have limitations imposed on our state licensing, accreditation, or Title IV program participation; be required to pay monetary damages (including triple damages in certain whistleblower suits); or be subject to fines, injunctions, or other penalties, any of which could have a material adverse effect on our business, prospects, financial condition, and results of operations. Claims and lawsuits brought against us, even if they are without merit, may also result in adverse publicity, damage our reputation, negatively affect the market price of our stock, adversely affect our student enrollments, and reduce the willingness of third parties to do business with us. Even if we adequately address the issues raised by any such proceeding and successfully defend against it, we may have to devote significant financial and management resources to address these issues, which could harm our business.

If any of the education regulatory agencies that regulate us do not approve or delay their approval of any transaction involving us that constitutes a “change in control,” our ability to operate or participate in the Title IV programs may be impaired.

If we experience a change in control under the standards of the Department of Education, the Higher Learning Commission, the Arizona State Board for Private Postsecondary Education, or any other applicable state agency or accrediting commission, we must notify and/or seek the approval of each such agency. These agencies do not have uniform criteria for what constitutes a change in control. Transactions or events that typically constitute a change in control include significant acquisitions or dispositions of the voting stock of an institution or its parent company and significant changes in the composition of the board of directors of an institution or its parent company. With respect to publicly traded corporations, like us, they also may include cases where a corporation has a stockholder that owns, or has voting control over, at least 25% of the total outstanding voting stock of the corporation and is the largest stockholder of the corporation (defined in the regulations as a “controlling shareholder”), and that controlling shareholder ceases to own, or have voting control over, at least 25% of such stock or ceases to be the largest stockholder, or other transactions or events may be beyond our control. Our failure to obtain, or a delay in receiving, approval of any change in control from the Department of Education, the Higher Learning Commission, or the Arizona State Board for Private Postsecondary Education could impair our ability to operate or participate in the Title IV programs, which could have a material adverse effect on our business, prospects, financial condition, and results of operations. Our failure to obtain, or a delay in receiving, approval of any change in control from any other state in which we are currently licensed or authorized, or from any of our specialized accrediting commissions, could require us to suspend our activities in that state or suspend offering the applicable programs until we receive the required approval, or could otherwise impair our operations. The potential adverse effects of a change in control could influence future decisions by us and our stockholders regarding the sale, purchase, transfer, issuance, or redemption of our stock, which could discourage bids for your shares of our stock and could have an adverse effect on the market price of your shares.

 

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Proposed legislation, additional rulemaking or additional examinations from U.S. Congress may impact general public perception of the industry in a negative manner resulting in a material and adverse impact on our business.

Criticisms of the overall student lending and post-secondary education sectors may impact general public perceptions of educational institutions, including us, in a negative manner. Adverse media coverage regarding other educational institutions or regarding us directly could damage our reputation. The environment surrounding access to and the costs of student loans remains in a state of flux. The uncertainty surrounding these issues, and any resolution of these issues that increases loan costs or reduces students’ access to Title IV loans or to student extended payment plans such as the ones we make available to our students, could reduce student demand for our programs, adversely impact our revenues and operating profit or result in increased regulatory scrutiny.

Our reputation and our stock price may be negatively affected by adverse publicity or by the actions of other post-secondary educational institutions.

In addition to the Congressional and regulatory activities focused on for-profit educational institutions beginning in 2010 and since, in recent years, regulatory proceedings and litigation have been commenced against various post-secondary educational institutions relating to, among other things, deceptive trade practices, false claims against the government, and non-compliance with Department of Education requirements, state higher education laws, and state consumer protection laws. These proceedings have been brought by the Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Justice, the SEC, and state governmental agencies, among others. These allegations have attracted adverse media coverage and have been the subject of legislative hearings and regulatory actions at both the federal and state levels, focusing not only on the individual schools but in some cases on the for-profit post-secondary education sector as a whole. Adverse media coverage regarding other for-profit education companies or other educational institutions could damage our reputation, result in lower enrollments, revenues, and operating profit, and have a negative impact on our stock price. Such coverage could also result in increased scrutiny and regulation by the Department of Education, Congress, accrediting commissions, state legislatures, state attorneys general, or other governmental authorities of all educational institutions, including us.

Risks Related to Our Business

Our success depends, in part, on the effectiveness of our marketing and advertising programs in recruiting new students.

Building awareness of Grand Canyon University and the programs we offer is critical to our ability to attract prospective students. It is also critical to our success that we convert prospective students to enrolled students in a cost-effective manner and that these enrolled students remain active in our programs. Some of the factors that could prevent us from successfully recruiting, enrolling, and retaining students in our programs include:

 

    the reduced availability of, or higher interest rates and other costs associated with, Title IV loan funds or other sources of financial aid;

 

    the emergence of more successful competitors;

 

    factors related to our marketing, including the costs and effectiveness of Internet advertising and broad-based branding campaigns and recruiting efforts;

 

    performance problems with our online systems;

 

    failure to maintain institutional and specialized accreditations;

 

    the requirements of the education agencies that regulate us which restrict schools’ initiation of new programs and modification of existing programs;

 

    the requirements of the education agencies that regulate us which restrict the ways schools can compensate their recruitment personnel;

 

    increased regulation of online education, including in states in which we do not have a physical presence;

 

    restrictions that may be imposed on graduates of online programs that seek certification or licensure in certain states;

 

    student dissatisfaction with our services and programs;

 

    damage to our reputation or other adverse effects as a result of negative publicity in the media, in industry or governmental reports, or otherwise, affecting us or other companies in the for-profit post-secondary education sector;

 

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    price reductions by competitors that we are unwilling or unable to match;

 

    a decline in the acceptance of online education;

 

    an adverse economic or other development that affects job prospects in our core disciplines; and

 

    a decrease in the perceived or actual economic benefits that students derive from our programs.

If we are unable to continue to develop awareness of Grand Canyon University and the programs we offer, and to recruit, enroll, and retain students, our enrollments would suffer and our ability to increase revenues and maintain profitability would be significantly impaired.

Our failure to keep pace with changing market needs and technology could harm our ability to attract students.

Our success depends to a large extent on the willingness of employers to employ, promote, or increase the pay of our graduates. Increasingly, employers demand that their new employees possess appropriate technical and analytical skills and also appropriate interpersonal skills, such as communication, and teamwork skills. These skills can evolve rapidly in a changing economic and technological environment. Accordingly, it is important that our educational programs evolve in response to those economic and technological changes. The expansion of existing academic programs and the development of new programs may not be accepted by current or prospective students or by the employers of our graduates. Even if we are able to develop acceptable new programs, we may not be able to begin offering those new programs in a timely fashion 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, unusually rapid technological changes, or other factors, the rates at which our graduates obtain jobs in their fields of study could suffer, our ability to attract and retain students could be impaired, and our business, prospects, financial condition, and results of operations could be adversely affected.

We have invested significant resources to develop and implement features that enhance the online classroom experience, such as delivering course content through streaming video, simulations, and other interactive enhancements. Our information technology systems and tools could become impaired or obsolete due to our action or failure to act. For instance, we could install new information technology without accurately assessing its costs or benefits, or we could experience delayed or ineffective implementation of new information technology. We could fail to respond in a timely manner for future technological developments in our industry. Should our actions or failure to act impair or render our information technology less effective, this could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations and cash flows.

We may not be able to successfully implement our growth strategy if we are not able to improve the content of our existing academic programs or to develop new programs on a timely basis and in a cost-effective manner, or at all.

We continually seek to improve the content of our existing programs and develop new programs in order to meet changing market needs. The success of any of our programs and courses, both ground and online, depends in part on our ability to expand the content of our existing programs, develop new programs in a cost-effective manner, and meet the needs of existing and prospective students and employers in a timely manner, as well as on the acceptance of our actions by existing or prospective students and employers. Even if we are able to develop acceptable new programs, we may not be able to introduce these new programs in a timely fashion or as quickly as our competitors are able to introduce competing programs. If we do not respond adequately to changes in market conditions, our ability to attract and retain students could be impaired and our business, prospects, financial condition, and results of operations could suffer.

The development and approval of new programs and courses, both ground and online, are subject to requirements and limitations imposed by the Department of Education, state licensing agencies, and the relevant accrediting commissions, and in certain cases, such as with doctoral programs, involves a process that can take several years to complete. The imposition of restrictions on the initiation of new educational programs by any of our regulatory agencies, or delays in obtaining approvals of such programs, may delay our expansion plans. Establishing new academic programs or modifying existing academic programs may also require us to make investments in specialized personnel, increase marketing efforts, and reallocate resources. We may have limited experience with the subject matter of new programs.

If we are unable to expand our existing programs, offer new programs on a timely basis or in a cost-effective manner, or otherwise manage effectively the operations of newly established programs, our business, prospects, financial condition, and results of operations could be adversely affected.

 

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We are subject to rules and regulations as a result of our membership with the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and any violations of such rules or regulations could adversely affect our reputation and operations.

Strict observance of rules and regulations contribute to the success of our athletic program. It is the responsibility of the University administration and the Athletic Department to adhere to all regulations created for the governance of intercollegiate athletics as set forth by the Western Athletic Conference (“WAC”), NCAA, and Grand Canyon University. The move from Division II to Division I was effective July 1, 2013 and demonstrated our commitment to athletic excellence and has enhanced our visibility. In July 2017, the University successfully completed all “year four” requirements and is now a full Division I member of the NCAA and the WAC. Any violations of such rules and regulations could adversely affect our reputation and operations.

A decline in the overall growth of enrollment in post-secondary institutions, or in the number of students seeking degrees online or in our core disciplines, could cause us to experience lower enrollment, which could negatively impact our future growth.

Based on industry analyses, we believe that enrollment growth in degree-granting, post-secondary institutions is slowing and that the number of high school graduates that are eligible to enroll in degree-granting, post-secondary institutions is expected to decrease over the next few years. In order to maintain current growth rates, we will need to attract a larger percentage of students in existing markets and expand our markets by creating new academic programs. In addition, if job growth in the fields related to our core disciplines is weaker than expected, as a result of any regional or national economic downturn or otherwise, fewer students may seek the types of degrees that we offer. Our failure to attract new students, or the decisions by prospective students to seek degrees in other disciplines, would have an adverse impact on our future growth.

If students fail to pay their outstanding balances owed to us, our business may be harmed.

From time to time, students, including former students, may carry balances on portions of their education expense not covered by financial aid programs. These balances are unsecured and not guaranteed. We have historically been successful in collecting our accounts receivable, including those due from former students as a result of the return to Title IV requirement, because the amount owed by a particular student that is in excess of the amount of financial aid that the student earned and that we are entitled to retain is often quite small. We believe that the level of motivation that former students have to pay off their balances due to us, based on such factors as being able to receive transcripts or protecting their credit, has lessened over time. As a result, losses related to unpaid student balances in excess of our allowance for doubtful accounts, or the failure of students to repay their debt obligations, could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.

Changes to tax law could affect our income taxes.

Our actual effective tax rate may vary from our expectation and that variance may be material. Tax interpretations, regulations and legislation are subject to measurement uncertainty and the interpretations can impact net income, income tax expense or recovery, and deferred income tax assets or liabilities. In addition, tax rules and regulations are subject to interpretation and require judgment by us that may be challenged by the taxation authorities upon audit. On December 22, 2017, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (the “Act”) was signed into law. For businesses, the Act reduces the corporate federal tax rate from a maximum of 35% to a flat 21% rate. The rate reduction took effect on January 1, 2018. The reduced tax rate caused the University’s deferred tax assets and liabilities to be revalued as of December 22, 2017. Deferred income taxes result from temporary differences between the tax basis of assets and liabilities and their reported amounts in the financial statements that will result in taxable or deductible amounts in future years. Deferred tax assets and liabilities are measured using enacted tax rates expected to apply to taxable income in the years in which those temporary differences are expected to be recovered or settled. As changes in tax laws or rates are enacted, deferred tax assets and liabilities are adjusted though income tax expense. Changes in our tax provision or an increase to our tax liabilities, whether due to the Tax Act or interpretations of other tax regulations, or a final determination of tax audits, could have a material adverse effect on our financial position, results of operations, and cash flows.

We operate in a highly competitive industry, and competitors with greater resources could harm our business.

The post-secondary education market is highly fragmented and competitive. We compete for students primarily with traditional public and four-year degree-granting regionally accredited colleges and universities and other proprietary degree-granting regionally accredited schools. An increasing number of traditional colleges and universities and community colleges are offering distance learning and other online education programs, including programs that are geared toward the needs of working adult students. This trend has been accelerated by private companies that provide and/or manage online learning platforms for traditional colleges and universities. As the proportion of traditional colleges and universities providing alternative learning modalities increases, we will face increasing competition for students from such institutions, including those with well-established reputations for excellence. In addition, it is likely that we will begin to face competition from various emerging nontraditional, credit-bearing and noncredit-bearing education programs, provided by both proprietary and not-for-profit providers, and other direct-to-consumer education services. Each of these competitors may develop platforms or other technologies, including technologies that allow for greater levels of interactivity between faculty and students and that are superior to the platform and technology we use, and these differences may affect our ability to recruit and retain students. Public institutions receive substantial government subsidies, and public and private non-profit institutions have access to government and foundation grants, tax-deductible contributions, and other financial resources generally not available to for-profit schools. Accordingly, public and private non-profit institutions may have instructional and support resources superior to those in the for-profit sector, and public institutions may be able to offer substantially lower tuition prices. Some of our competitors in both the public and private sectors also have substantially greater financial and other resources than we do. We may not be able to compete successfully against current or future competitors, including with respect to our ability to acquire or compete with technologies being developed by our competitors, and may face competitive pressures that could adversely affect our business, prospects, financial condition, and results of operations. These competitive factors could cause our enrollments, revenues, and profitability to significantly decrease and could render our online delivery format less competitive or obsolete.

 

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If we do not maintain existing, and develop additional, relationships with employers, our future growth may be impaired.

We currently have relationships with large school districts and healthcare systems, primarily in Arizona, and also have relationships with national and international employers, to provide their employees with the opportunity to obtain degrees through us while continuing their employment. These relationships are an important part of our strategy as they provide us with a steady source of potential working adult students for particular programs and also serve to increase our reputation among high-profile employers. A number of employers we work with have reduced the extent to which they reimburse their employees for participating in our programs. If we are unable to develop new relationships, or if our existing relationships deteriorate or end as a result of current or future economic conditions affecting employers or otherwise, our efforts to seek these sources of potential working adult students will be impaired, and this could materially and adversely affect our business, prospects, financial condition, and results of operations.

Our success depends upon our ability to recruit and retain key personnel.

Our success to date has largely depended on, and will continue to depend on, the skills, efforts, and motivation of our executive officers, who generally have significant experience with our University and within the education industry. Our success also largely depends on our ability to attract and retain highly qualified faculty, school administrators, and additional corporate management personnel. We may have difficulties in locating and hiring qualified personnel and in retaining such personnel once hired. In addition, because we operate in a highly competitive industry, our hiring of qualified executives or other personnel may cause us or such persons to be subject to lawsuits alleging misappropriation of trade secrets, improper solicitation of employees, or other claims. Other than non-compete agreements of limited duration that we have with certain executive officers, we have not historically sought non-compete agreements with key personnel and they may leave and subsequently compete against us. The loss of the services of any of our key personnel, many of whom are not party to employment agreements with us, or our failure to attract and retain other qualified and experienced faculty and personnel on acceptable terms, could cause our business to suffer.

The protection of our operations through exclusive proprietary rights and intellectual property is limited, and from time to time we encounter disputes relating to our use of intellectual property of third parties, any of which could harm our operations and prospects.

In the ordinary course of our business we develop intellectual property of many kinds that is or will be the subject of copyright, trademark, service mark, patent, trade secret, or other protections. This intellectual property includes but is not limited to courseware materials and business know-how and internal processes and procedures developed to respond to the requirements of operating our business and to comply with the rules and regulations of various education regulatory agencies. We rely on a combination of copyrights, trademarks, service marks, trade secrets, domain names, and agreements to protect our intellectual property. We rely on service mark and trademark protection in the United States to protect our rights to the mark “Grand Canyon University,” as well as distinctive logos and other marks associated with our services. We rely on agreements under which we obtain rights to use course content developed by faculty members and other third party content experts, as well as license agreements pursuant to which we license the right to brand certain of our program offerings. We cannot assure you that the measures that we take will be adequate or that we have secured, or will be able to secure, appropriate protections for all of our proprietary rights in the United States or select foreign jurisdictions, or that third parties will not infringe upon or violate our proprietary rights. Unauthorized third parties may attempt to duplicate or copy the proprietary aspects of our curricula, online resource material, and other content, and offer competing programs to ours.

In particular, we license the right to utilize the name of Jerry Colangelo in connection with our business school and our Colangelo School of Sports Business that we operate within our business school, and we have spent significant resources in related branding efforts. Nevertheless, these license agreements may terminate or expire, or otherwise may not necessarily be extended in the future. In addition, third parties may attempt to develop competing programs or copy aspects of our curriculum, online resource material, quality management, and other proprietary content. The termination of this license agreement, or attempts to compete with or duplicate our programs, if successful, could adversely affect our business. Protecting these types of intellectual property rights can be difficult, particularly as it relates to the development by our competitors of competing courses and programs.

 

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We may from time to time encounter disputes over rights and obligations concerning intellectual property, and we may not prevail in these disputes. In certain instances, we may not have obtained sufficient rights in the content of a course. 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, and we may be required to alter the content of our classes or pay monetary damages, which may be significant.

Our credit agreement may restrict our operations and our ability to complete certain transactions.

Our credit agreement, which we entered into in December 2012, imposes certain operating restrictions on us, including limitations on our ability to incur additional debt or make certain investments, and requires us to maintain compliance with certain applicable regulatory standards. In addition, the credit agreement requires us to maintain a maximum leverage ratio, a minimum fixed charge coverage ratio and a minimum tangible net worth, in each case as such terms are defined in the credit agreement. We cannot assure you that these covenants will not adversely affect our ability to finance our future operations or capital needs or to pursue available business opportunities. A breach of any of these covenants or our inability to maintain the required financial ratios could result in a default in respect of the related indebtedness. If a default occurs, the affected lenders could elect to declare the indebtedness, together with accrued interest and other fees, to be immediately due and payable.

Our failure to comply with environmental laws and regulations governing our activities could result in financial penalties and other costs.

We use hazardous materials at our ground campus and generate small quantities of waste, such as used oil, antifreeze, paint, car batteries, and laboratory materials. As a result, we are subject to a variety of environmental laws and regulations governing, among other things, the use, storage, and disposal of solid and hazardous substances and waste, and the clean-up of contamination at our facilities or off-site locations to which we send or have sent waste for disposal. In the event we do not maintain compliance with any of these laws and regulations, or are responsible for a spill or release of hazardous materials, we could incur significant costs for clean-up, damages, and fines, or penalties which could adversely impact our business, prospects, financial condition, and results of operations.

The actions, errors, or instances of regulatory noncompliance of third party vendors upon which our institutions rely may negatively impact our business.

We engage third party vendors to provide, among other services, marketing activities. Although we require that the work done by such third parties maintains quality assurance and compliance with applicable regulations, we may be ultimately responsible for any errors on instances of regulatory noncompliance, some of which could adversely impact our reputation, business, prospects, financial condition, cash flows, and results of operations.

Risks Related to Our Business Technology Infrastructure

We are subject to laws and regulations as a result of our collection and use of personal information, and any violations of such laws or regulations, or any breach, theft, or loss of such information, could adversely affect our reputation and operations.

Possession and use of personal information in our operations subjects us to risks and costs that could harm our business. We collect, use, and retain large amounts of personal information regarding our applicants, students, faculty, staff, and their families, including social security numbers, tax return information, personal and family financial data, and credit card numbers. We also collect and maintain personal information of our employees in the ordinary course of our business. Our services can be accessed globally through the Internet. Therefore, we may be subject to the application of national privacy laws in countries outside the U.S. from which applicants and students access our services. Such privacy laws could impose conditions that limit the way we market and provide our services.

Our computer networks and the networks of certain of our vendors that hold and manage confidential information on our behalf may be vulnerable to unauthorized access, employee theft or misuse, computer hackers, computer viruses, and other security threats. Confidential information may also inadvertently become available to third parties when we integrate systems or migrate data to our servers following an acquisition of a school or in connection with periodic hardware or software upgrades.

 

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Due to the sensitive nature of the personal information stored on our servers, our networks may be targeted by hackers seeking to access this data. A user who circumvents security measures could misappropriate sensitive information or cause interruptions or malfunctions in our operations. Although we use security and business controls to limit access and use of personal information, a third party may be able to circumvent those security and business controls, which could result in a breach of student or employee privacy. In addition, errors in the storage, use, or transmission of personal information could result in a breach of privacy for current or prospective students or employees. Possession and use of personal information in our operations also subjects us to legislative and regulatory burdens that could require us to implement certain policies and procedures, such as the procedures we adopted to comply with the Red Flags Rule that was promulgated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act and that requires the establishment of guidelines and policies regarding identity theft related to student credit accounts, and could require us to make certain notifications of data breaches and restrict our use of personal information. A violation of any laws or regulations relating to the collection or use of personal information could result in the imposition of fines against us. As a result, 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. A major breach, theft, or loss of personal information regarding our students and their families or our employees that is held by us or our vendors, or a violation of laws or regulations relating to the same, could have a material adverse effect on our reputation and result in further regulation and oversight by federal and state authorities and increased costs of compliance.

Capacity constraints, system disruptions, or security breaches in our online computer networks and phone systems could have a material adverse effect on our ability to attract and retain students.

The performance and reliability of the infrastructure of our computer networks and phone systems, including our online programs, is critical to our operations, reputation and to our ability to attract and retain students. Any computer system disruption or failure, or a sudden and significant increase in traffic on the servers that host our online operations, may result in our online courses and programs being unavailable for a period of time. In addition, any significant failure of our computer networks or servers, whether as a result of third-party actions or in connection with planned upgrades and conversions, could disrupt our on-campus operations. Individual, sustained, or repeated occurrences could significantly damage the reputation of our online operations and result in a loss of potential or existing students. Additionally, our online operations are vulnerable to interruption or malfunction due to events beyond our control, including natural disasters and network and telecommunications failures. Our computer networks may also be vulnerable to unauthorized access, computer hackers, computer viruses, malicious code, organized cyber-attacks and other security problems. A user who circumvents security measures could misappropriate proprietary information or cause interruptions to or malfunctions in operations. As a result, we may be required to expend significant resources to protect against the threat of these security breaches or to alleviate problems caused by these incidents. Any interruption to our online operations could have a material adverse effect on our ability to attract students to our online programs and to retain those students.

A failure of our information systems to properly store, process and report relevant data may reduce our management’s effectiveness, interfere with our regulatory compliance and increase our operating expenses.

We are dependent on the integrity of our data management systems. If these systems do not effectively collect, store and process relevant data for the operation of our business, whether due to equipment malfunctions or constraints, software deficiencies, or human error, our ability to effectively report, plan, forecast and execute our business plan and comply with applicable laws and regulations, including the Higher Education Act, as reauthorized, and the regulations thereunder, will be impaired, perhaps materially. Any such impairment could materially and adversely affect our financial condition, results of operations, and cash flows.

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. Third parties may raise claims against us for the unauthorized duplication of material posted online for class discussions. Any such claims could subject us to costly litigation and impose a significant strain on our financial resources and management personnel regardless of whether the claims have merit. Our general liability insurance may not cover potential claims of this type adequately or at all, and we may be required to alter the content of our courses or pay monetary damages, which may be significant.

 

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Risks Related to Owning our Common Stock

Provisions in our charter documents and the Delaware General Corporation Law could make it more difficult for a third party to acquire us and could discourage a takeover and adversely affect existing stockholders.

Anti-takeover provisions of our certificate of incorporation, bylaws, the Delaware General Corporation Law, or DGCL, and regulations of state and federal education agencies could diminish the opportunity for stockholders to participate in acquisition proposals at a price above the then-current market price of our common stock. For example, while we have no present plans to issue any preferred stock, our Board of Directors, without further stockholder approval, may issue shares of undesignated preferred stock and fix the powers, preferences, rights, and limitations of such class or series, which could adversely affect the voting power of your shares. In addition, our bylaws provide for an advance notice procedure for nomination of candidates to our Board of Directors that could have the effect of delaying, deterring, or preventing a change in control. Further, as a Delaware corporation, we are subject to provisions of the DGCL regarding “business combinations,” which can deter attempted takeovers in certain situations. The approval requirements of the Department of Education, our regional accrediting commission, and state post-secondary, licensure, and certification agencies for a change in control transaction could also delay, deter, or prevent a transaction that would result in a change in control. We may, in the future, consider adopting additional anti-takeover measures. The authority of our Board of Directors to issue undesignated preferred or other capital stock and the anti-takeover provisions of the DGCL, as well as other current and any future anti-takeover measures adopted by us, may, in certain circumstances, delay, deter, or prevent takeover attempts and other changes in control of the company not approved by our Board of Directors.

If securities analysts do not publish research or reports about our business or industry or if they downgrade their evaluations of our stock, the price of our stock could decline.

The activity within the trading market for our common stock depends in part on the research and reports that industry or financial analysts publish about us, our business and the for-profit education sector. In recent periods, a number of analysts have dropped coverage of the sector. If analysts cease coverage of us or additional analysts cease coverage of our sector, we could lose visibility in the market for our stock, which in turn could cause our stock price to decline. If one or more of the analysts covering us downgrade their estimates or evaluations of our stock, the price of our stock could decline.

 

Item 1B. Unresolved Staff Comments

None.

 

Item 2. Properties

We own our ground campus, which is located on over 275 acres in the center of the Phoenix, Arizona metropolitan area, near downtown Phoenix. Our on-campus facilities currently consist of classroom buildings, lecture halls, a 300-seat theater, a 29,000 square foot newly renovated library, a media arts complex that provides communications students with audio and video equipment, a 55,000 square foot recreation center that has state of the art training facilities for our 400 student-athletes and students, a 140,000 square foot/ 7,500 seat basketball and entertainment arena, a stadium that hosts NCAA men’s and women’s soccer as well as several club sports programs, a basketball practice facility, newly renovated baseball and softball stadiums, on-campus tennis courts, beach volleyball courts, and a competition/practice gymnasium, an activity center that contains a food court, a bowling alley and other student services, a student union which was recently remodeled and expanded, residence halls, apartments, campus pools, athletic facilities and parking garages. Additionally, we have several office buildings used for administration and we recently completed a large student services center and parking garage in close proximity to our ground campus. Employees that worked in two leased office buildings in the Phoenix area were consolidated into this new building upon completion in late 2016. In late 2015, we revitalized the Maryvale Golf Course under a partnership agreement with the City of Phoenix and in 2016 the Grand Canyon University Championship Golf Course was opened to the public. In order to accommodate the continued growth of our traditional ground population, we completed construction on three apartment style residence halls, an additional 170,000 square foot classroom building for its College of Science, Engineering and Technology, a student service center and a fourth parking structure prior to the 2016/2017 academic year and prior to the 2017/2018 academic year we completed construction on an additional dormitory, other ground campus building projects and land acquisitions adjacent to our campus.

We lease three facilities in Arizona and one in New Mexico for classroom and labs for our nursing professional studies students. Additionally, we lease five office locations in California and one in Colorado. We may add additional space in Arizona and in other states in the southwest U.S. to accommodate our growth plans in 2018 and beyond.

 

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Item 3. Legal Proceedings

From time to time, we are subject to ordinary and routine litigation incidental to our business. While the outcomes of these matters are uncertain, management does not expect that the ultimate costs to resolve these matters will have a material adverse effect on our financial position, results of operations or cash flows.

 

Item 4. Mine Safety Disclosures

None.

PART II

 

Item 5. Market for Registrant’s Common Equity, Related Stockholder Matters and Issuer Purchases of Equity Securities

Market Information

Our common stock trades on the Nasdaq Global Market under the symbol “LOPE.” The holders of our common stock are entitled to one vote per share on any matter to be voted upon by stockholders. All shares of common stock rank equally as to voting and all other matters. The shares of common stock have no preemptive or conversion rights, no redemption or sinking fund provisions, are not liable for further call or assessment and are not entitled to cumulative voting rights.

The table below sets forth the high and low sales prices for our common stock, as reported by the Nasdaq Global Market.

 

     High      Low  

2017

     

First Quarter

   $ 72.16      $ 56.52  

Second Quarter

   $ 83.00      $ 68.77  

Third Quarter

   $ 91.12      $ 71.01  

Fourth Quarter

   $ 96.15      $ 83.52  

2016

     

First Quarter

   $ 43.37      $ 31.12  

Second Quarter

   $ 45.02      $ 37.94  

Third Quarter

   $ 44.98      $ 38.81  

Fourth Quarter

   $ 61.80      $ 39.68  

Holders

As of December 31, 2017, there were approximately 200 registered holders of record of common stock. A substantially greater number of holders of common stock are “street name” or beneficial holders, whose shares are held of record by banks, brokers and other financial institutions.

Dividends

We currently intend to retain all future earnings for the operation and expansion of our business and do not anticipate paying cash dividends on our common stock in the foreseeable future.

Recent Sales of Unregistered Securities

None.

Securities Authorized for Issuance under Equity Compensation Plans

The information required by Item 201(d) of Regulation S-K is provided under Item 12, Security Ownership of Certain Beneficial Owners and Management and Related Stockholder Matters, “Equity Compensation Plan Information,” which is incorporated herein by reference.

 

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Purchases of Equity Securities by the Issuer and Affiliated Purchasers

Our Board of Directors has authorized the University to repurchase up to $175.0 million in aggregate of common stock, from time to time, depending on market conditions and other considerations. The current expiration date on the repurchase authorization by our Board of Directors is December 31, 2018. Repurchases occur at our discretion. Repurchases may be made in the open market or in privately negotiated transactions, pursuant to the applicable Securities and Exchange Commission rules. The amount and timing of future share repurchases, if any, will be made as market and business conditions warrant. Since the approval of our share repurchase plan, we have purchased 3.5 million shares of common stock at an aggregate cost of $77.3 million, which are recorded at cost in the accompanying December 31, 2017 consolidated balance sheet and statement of stockholders’ equity. At December 31, 2017, there remained $97.7 million available under our current share repurchase authorization. During the fourth quarter and the year ended December 31, 2017, the University repurchased 17,230 shares of common stock at an aggregate cost of $1.5 million.

The following table sets forth our share repurchases of common stock and our share repurchases in lieu of taxes, which are not included in the repurchase plan totals as they were effected in conjunction with the vesting of restricted share awards, during each period in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2017:

 

Period    Total Number
of Shares
Purchased
     Average
Price Paid
Per Share
     Total Number of
Shares Purchased
as Part of Publicly
Announced
Program
     Maximum Dollar
Value of Shares
That May Yet Be
Purchased Under
the Program
 

Share Repurchases

           

October 1, 2017 – October 31, 2017

     —        $ —          —        $ 99,200,000  

November 1, 2017 – November 30, 2017

     10,000    $ 85.04      10,000    $ 98,400,000  

December 1, 2017 – December 31, 2017

     7,230    $ 91.16      7,230    $ 97,700,000  
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

 

Total

     17,230    $ 87.61      17,230      $ 97,700,000  
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

 

Tax Withholdings

           

October 1, 2017 – October 31, 2017

     1,500      $ 88.90        —        $ —    

November 1, 2017 – November 30, 2017

     —        $ —          —        $ —    

December 1, 2017 – December 31, 2017

     —        $ —          —        $ —    
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

 

Total

     1,500      $ 88.90        —        $ —    
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

 

 

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University Stock Performance

The following graph compares the cumulative total return of our common stock with the cumulative total returns of the S&P 500 Index and our selected peer group of four companies that includes: Capella Education Company, American Public Education, Inc., Strayer Education Inc. and Bridgepoint Education, Inc. This chart assumes that an investment of $100 was made in our common stock, in the index, and in the peer group on December 31, 2012 and that all dividends paid by us and such companies were reinvested, and tracks the relative performance of such investments through December 31, 2017.

 

LOGO

 

     12/12      12/13      12/14      12/15      12/16      12/17  

Grand Canyon Education, Inc.

     100.00        185.77        198.81        170.94        249.04        381.47  

S&P 500

     100.00        132.39        150.51        152.59        170.84        208.14  

Peer Group

     100.00        134.40        143.36        94.07        142.54        139.15  

The information contained in the performance graph shall not be deemed “soliciting material” or to be “filed” with the SEC nor shall such information be deemed incorporated by reference into any future filing under the Securities Act or the Exchange Act, except to the extent that we specifically incorporate it by reference into such filing.

The stock price performance included in this graph is not necessarily indicative of future stock price performance.

 

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Item 6. Selected Consolidated Financial and Other Data

The following selected consolidated financial and other data should be read in conjunction with Item 8, Consolidated Financial Statements and Supplementary Data, and Item 7, Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations, to fully understand the information presented below. The selected consolidated income statement data and other data, excluding period end enrollment, for the years ended December 31, 2017, 2016, and 2015, and the selected consolidated balance sheet data as of December 31, 2017, and 2016, have been derived from our audited consolidated financial statements for such years, which are included herein. The selected consolidated income statement data and other data, excluding period end enrollment, for the years ended December 31, 2014 and 2013, and the selected consolidated balance sheet data as of December 31, 2015, 2014, and 2013, have been derived from our audited consolidated financial statements for such years, which are not included herein. Our historical results are not necessarily indicative of our results for any future period.

 

     Year Ended December 31,  
     2017     2016     2015     2014     2013  
     (In thousands, except per share data)  

Income Statement Data:

          

Net revenue

   $ 974,134     $ 873,344     $ 778,200     $ 691,055     $ 598,335  

Costs and expenses:

          

Instructional costs and services

     410,840       373,101       329,651       288,791       254,419  

Admissions advisory and related

     128,544       119,286       112,572       108,567       97,077  

Advertising

     98,608       88,152       76,229       65,808       60,985  

Marketing and promotional

     9,629       8,860       7,287       7,439       5,644  

General and administrative

     43,759       43,219       42,100       39,635       36,934  

Lease termination costs

     —         3,523       —         —         —    
  

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Total costs and expenses

     691,380       636,141       567,839       510,240       455,059  
  

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Operating income

     282,754       237,203       210,361       180,815       143,276  

Interest expense

     (2,169     (1,328     (1,248     (1,801     (2,244

Interest income and other

     2,943       249       (106     684       3,863  
  

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Income before income taxes

     283,528       236,124       209,007       179,698       144,895  

Income tax expense

     80,209       87,610       77,596       68,232       56,184  
  

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Net income

   $ 203,319     $ 148,514     $ 131,411     $ 111,466     $ 88,711  
  

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Earnings per common share

          

Basic

   $ 4.31     $ 3.22     $ 2.86     $ 2.45     $ 1.98  

Diluted

   $ 4.22     $ 3.15     $ 2.78     $ 2.37     $ 1.92  

Shares used in computing earnings per common share

          

Basic

     47,140       46,083       45,975       45,538       44,731  

Diluted

     48,235       47,121       47,281       47,006       46,131  

Other Data:

          

Capital expenditures

   $ 123,954     $ 239,019     $ 218,301     $ 168,646     $ 93,490  

Depreciation and amortization

   $ 53,932     $ 45,387     $ 35,379     $ 29,177     $ 25,141  

Adjusted EBITDA(1)

   $ 354,561     $ 304,071     $ 264,987     $ 227,812     $ 185,086  

Period end enrollment(2)

          

Online

     71,455       64,646       59,311       55,060       49,580  

Ground

     18,842       17,262       15,195       12,746       10,078  

Balance Sheet Data:

          

Cash and cash equivalents, and investments

   $ 242,745     $ 108,572     $ 106,400     $ 166,022     $ 164,244  

Restricted cash, cash equivalents and investments

   $ 94,534     $ 84,931     $ 75,384     $ 67,840     $ 64,368  

Total assets(3)

   $ 1,303,573     $ 1,092,493     $ 891,982     $ 749,564     $ 610,941  

Notes payable (including short-term)

   $ 66,616     $ 98,252     $ 79,877     $ 86,493     $ 93,100  

Total stockholders’ equity

   $ 985,951     $ 773,686     $ 610,251     $ 476,232     $ 344,844  

 

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(1) Adjusted EBITDA, a non-GAAP financial measure, is defined as net income plus interest expense, less interest income and other gain (loss) recognized on investments, plus income tax expense, plus depreciation and amortization (EBITDA), as adjusted for (i) the amortization of prepaid royalty payments recorded in conjunction with a settlement of a dispute with our former owner; (ii) contributions to Arizona school tuition organizations in lieu of the payment of state income taxes; (iii) share-based compensation; and (iv) one-time, unusual charges or gains, such as litigation and regulatory reserves, impairment charges and asset write-offs, and exit or lease termination costs.
(2) Enrollment represents individual students who attended a course during the last two months of the calendar quarter.
(3) During the first quarter of 2016, the University made changes in its presentation of deferred tax assets and liabilities to comply with a new accounting standard. Accordingly, we reclassified the current deferred taxes to net against noncurrent deferred tax liabilities for all prior periods to conform to the current presentation.

We present Adjusted EBITDA, a non-GAAP financial measure, because we consider it to be an important supplemental measure of our operating performance. We also make certain compensation decisions based, in part, on our operating performance, as measured by Adjusted EBITDA, and our credit agreement requires us to comply with covenants that include performance metrics substantially similar to Adjusted EBITDA. All of the adjustments made in our calculation of Adjusted EBITDA are adjustments to items that management does not consider to be reflective of our core operating performance. Management considers our core operating performance to be that which can be affected by our managers in any particular period through their management of the resources that affect our underlying revenue and profit generating operations during that period. Royalty expenses paid to our former owner, contributions to Arizona school tuition organizations in lieu of the payment of state income taxes, share-based compensation, one time unusual charges or gains, such as estimated litigation and regulatory reserves, impairment charges, exit costs, and lease termination fees are not considered reflective of our core performance. We believe Adjusted EBITDA allows us to compare our current operating results with corresponding historical periods and with the operational performance of other companies in our industry because it does not give effect to potential differences caused by variations in capital structures (affecting relative interest expense, including the impact of write-offs of deferred financing costs when companies refinance their indebtedness), tax positions (such as the impact on periods or companies of changes in effective tax rates or net operating losses), the book amortization of intangibles (affecting relative amortization expense), and other items that we do not consider reflective of underlying operating performance. We also present Adjusted EBITDA because we believe it is frequently used by securities analysts, investors, and other interested parties as a measure of performance.

In evaluating Adjusted EBITDA, investors should be aware that in the future we may incur expenses similar to the adjustments described above. Our presentation of Adjusted EBITDA should not be construed as an inference that our future results will be unaffected by expenses that are unusual, non-routine, or non-recurring. Adjusted EBITDA has limitations as an analytical tool, and you should not consider it in isolation, or as a substitute for net income, operating income, or any other performance measure derived in accordance with and reported under GAAP or as an alternative to cash flow from operating activities or as a measure of our liquidity. Some of these limitations are that it does not reflect:

 

    cash expenditures for capital expenditures or contractual commitments;

 

    changes in, or cash requirements for, our working capital requirements;

 

    interest expense, or the cash required to replace assets that are being depreciated or amortized; and

 

    the impact on our reported results of earnings or charges resulting from the items for which we make adjustments to our EBITDA, as described above and set forth in the table below.

In addition, other companies, including other companies in our industry, may calculate these measures differently than we do, limiting the usefulness of Adjusted EBITDA as a comparative measure. Because of these limitations, Adjusted EBITDA should not be considered as a substitute for net income, operating income, or any other performance measure derived in accordance with GAAP, or as an alternative to cash flow from operating activities or as a measure of our liquidity. We compensate for these limitations by relying primarily on our GAAP results and use Adjusted EBITDA only as a supplemental performance measure. For more information, see our consolidated financial statements and the notes to those statements included elsewhere in this Annual Report on Form 10-K.

 

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The following table reconciles Adjusted EBITDA to net income for the periods indicated:

 

     Year Ended December 31,  

(In thousands)

   2017      2016      2015  

Net income

   $ 203,319      $ 148,514      $ 131,411  

Plus: interest expense

     2,169        1,328        1,248  

Less: interest income and other(a)

     (2,943      (249      106  

Plus: income tax expense

     80,209        87,610        77,596  

Plus: depreciation and amortization

     53,932        45,387        35,379  
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

 

EBITDA

     336,686        282,590        245,740  
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

 

Plus: royalty to former owner(b)

     296        296        296  

Plus: fixed asset impairments(c)

     2,590        250        2,755  

Plus: contributions made in lieu of state income taxes(d)

     2,025        4,000        2,750  

Plus: transaction expenses(e)

     212        1,136        1,861  

Plus: estimated litigation and regulatory reserves(f)

     64      —          328  

Plus: lease termination costs(g)

     —          3,523        —    

Plus: share-based compensation(h)

     12,688        12,276        11,257  
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

 

Adjusted EBITDA

   $ 354,561      $ 304,071      $ 264,987  
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

 

 

(a) Represents a loss of $0.9 million in 2015 on a note receivable purchased in December 2012, net of interest income.
(b) Represents the amortization of prepaid royalty payments, as discussed in Note 2 to our consolidated financial statements that are included in Item 8, Consolidated Financial Statements and Supplementary Data.
(c) Represents fixed asset impairments. Amounts represent the write-off of the remaining book value of on campus buildings removed to make way for new dormitories and classroom buildings as well as internal use software write offs.
(d) Reflects contributions to various Arizona school tuition organizations to assist with funding for education. In connection with such contributions made we received a dollar-for-dollar state income tax credit, which resulted in a reduction in our effective income tax rate to 28.3%, 37.1% and 37.1% for the years ended December 31, 2017, 2016 and 2015, respectively. Had these contributions not been made, our effective tax rate would have been 28.8%, 38.2% and 37.9%, for 2017, 2016 and 2015, respectively. Such contributions are viewed by our management to be made in lieu of payments of state income taxes and are therefore excluded from evaluation of our core operating performance.
(e) Reflects expenses incurred related to a proposed transaction under which Grand Canyon University would become a non-profit entity.
(f) Reflects $0.1 million and $0.3 million for estimated litigation reserves in 2017 and 2015, respectively.
(g) Represents lease termination costs incurred related to the early termination of leased space.
(h) Reflects share-based compensation expense relating to restricted stock awards and option grants made to employees and directors.

 

Item 7. Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations

The following discussion and analysis of our financial condition and results of operations for the years ended December 31, 2017 and 2016 should be read in conjunction with our consolidated financial statements and related notes that appear in Item 8, Consolidated Financial Statements and Supplementary Data. In addition to historical information, the following discussion contains forward-looking statements that reflect our plans, estimates and beliefs. Our actual results could differ materially from those discussed in the forward-looking statements. Factors that could cause or contribute to these differences include those discussed below and elsewhere in this Annual Report on Form 10-K, particularly in Item 1A, Risk Factors and Forward-Looking Statements.

Executive Overview

We are a comprehensive regionally accredited university that offers over 225 graduate and undergraduate degree programs, emphases and certificates across nine colleges both online and on ground at our over 275 acre campus in Phoenix, Arizona, and onsite at facilities we lease and at facilities owned by third party employers. We are committed to providing an academically rigorous educational experience with a focus on professionally relevant programs that meet the objectives of our students. Our undergraduate programs are designed to be innovative and meet the future needs of employers, while providing students with the needed critical thinking and effective communication skills developed through a Christian, liberal arts foundation. We offer master’s and doctoral degrees in contemporary fields that are designed to provide students with the capacity for transformational leadership in their chosen industry, emphasizing the immediate relevance of theory, application, and evaluation to promote personal and organizational change. We believe the growing brand of the University and the value proposition for both traditional aged students attending on our campus in Phoenix, Arizona and working adult students attending on our campus or at off-site locations in cohorts (referred to by us as professional studies student) or online, has enabled us to increase enrollment to approximately 90,300 students at December 31, 2017. At December 31, 2017, 79.1% of our students were enrolled in our online programs, and, of our working adult students (online and professional studies students), 50.5% were pursuing master’s or doctoral degrees.

 

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Key Trends, Developments and Challenges

The following circumstances and trends present opportunities, challenges and risks.

Proposed Change in the Structure of Our Operations. As discussed above under “Item 1. Business – Proposed Change in the Structure of Our Operations,” we are seeking approval of the Proposed Transaction to effect the sale of GCU to a nonprofit entity as a means of enabling GCU to conduct itself as a traditional nonprofit university, consistent with its history and on a level playing field with other traditional universities with regard to tax status and, among other things, the ability to accept philanthropic contributions, pursue research grant opportunities, and participate in NCAA governance. The transaction involves the sale of the Company’s academic-related assets, real estate and related intangibles to a newly formed nonprofit corporation (“New GCU”). Following this sale, the nonprofit corporation would operate the university while the Company would continue to operate as a third-party provider of services to New GCU and potentially, in the future, to other universities. If the necessary approvals are obtained, financial and other terms between us and New GCU are agreed upon, definitive agreements are executed, and the Proposed Transaction is ultimately consummated, then various aspects of our operations would change in important ways. These changes include, but are not limited to, the following:

 

    Our academic and related operations and assets, as well as approximately 35% of our full-time employees and substantially all of our part-time employees and student workers, would transfer to New GCU. Following this transfer, we would no longer own and operate a regulated institution of higher education, but would instead provide a host of services in support of New GCU’s operations. While the services we would provide are services that we currently provide as part of our business today, we have limited to no experience operating as a service provider to third parties.

 

    New GCU would be a separate non-profit entity under the control of an independent board of trustees and independent management.    Accordingly, our relationship with New GCU, both pursuant to the shared services arrangement and operationally, would no longer be as owner and operator, but as a third party contract party. While we believe this relationship would remain strong, New GCU’s board of trustees and management would have fiduciary and other duties that would require them to focus on the best interests of New GCU and over time those interests could diverge from ours.

 

    Initially, all of our revenue would be derived pursuant to the shared services arrangement with New GCU. Accordingly, New GCU’s ability to continue to increase its enrollment and tuition and fee revenue, and our ability to continue to perform the services necessary to enable New GCU to do so, would be critical to the success of our services business.

 

    It is anticipated that the consideration payable by New GCU for the acquired assets, which will be material, will be in the form of a long-term secured note. While the terms of this note remain subject to negotiation, our ability to realize the negotiated value of the acquired assets would be subject to New GCU’s performance and its ability to pay amounts due under the secured note as they come due.

If the Proposed Transaction is consummated, our revenue and expenses would be materially reduced, while our operating margin would materially increase and we would recognize significant interest income on the long-term secured note. In addition, the Proposed Transaction would trigger an obligation to repay all amounts outstanding on our credit facility, which totaled $66.5 million at December 31, 2017. If, however, we are unable to successfully re-focus our business to providing services to third parties, or if the contemplated shared services arrangement with New GCU fails to achieve the anticipated levels of performance, then our business, financial condition and results of operations, as well as our stock price, could be materially and adversely affected.

 

Evolving Post-secondary Education Market. We believe that there is a large number of traditional-aged students looking for a residential experience at an affordable, private, Christian university. As a result of state funding challenges, most state universities are receiving less state subsidies and therefore have been forced to increase tuition, decrease the number of students they can accept and/or make other changes that impact the student experience. Some private universities also are facing enrollment challenges as a result of their high tuition costs. We also believe the number of non-traditional students who work, are raising a family, or are doing both while trying to earn a college degree continues to grow. The continued economic environment in the U.S., however, has caused an increased number of potential students and/or their parents to consider the cost of education as a primary factor in choosing the school that they will attend. Given these trends, we believe that many individuals will be attracted to our high quality academic programs at affordable tuition rates. We also believe that competition for students continues to increase. We compete primarily with traditional public and four-year degree-granting regionally accredited colleges and universities and other proprietary degree-granting regionally accredited schools. An increasing number of traditional colleges, universities and community colleges are offering distance learning and other online education programs, including programs that are geared towards the needs of working adult students. This trend has been accelerated by private companies that provide and/or manage online learning platforms for traditional colleges and universities. As the proportion of traditional colleges and universities providing alternative learning modalities increases, we face increasing competition for students from such institutions, including those with well-established reputations for excellence.

 

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Regulation and Oversight. We are subject to extensive regulation by federal and state governmental agencies and accrediting bodies. In particular, the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended (the “Higher Education Act”), and the regulations promulgated thereunder by the Department of Education subject us to significant regulatory scrutiny on the basis of numerous standards that schools must satisfy in order to participate in the various federal student financial assistance programs under Title IV of the Higher Education Act. Recent regulations have imposed new reporting and disclosure requirements that have caused increased administrative burden and costs and may have a negative effect on our growth and enrollments. In addition, in recent years, there has been increased focus by Congress on the role that proprietary educational institutions play in higher education and various proposals to modify the laws to which proprietary educational institutions are subject. We cannot predict what legislation, if any, may result from these Congressional proposals or what impact any such legislation might have on the proprietary education sector generally or our business in particular. To the extent that any laws or regulations are adopted, or other administrative actions are taken, that limit our participation in Title IV programs or the amount of student financial aid for which the students at our institutions are eligible, our enrollments, revenues and results of operation could be materially and adversely affected.

New Tax Law. On December 22, 2017, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (the “Act”) was signed into law. For businesses, the Act reduces the corporate federal tax rate from a maximum of 35% to a flat 21% rate. The rate reduction took effect on January 1, 2018. The reduced tax rate caused the University’s deferred tax assets and liabilities to be revalued as of December 22, 2017. Deferred income taxes result from temporary differences between the tax basis of assets and liabilities and their reported amounts in the financial statements that will result in taxable or deductible amounts in future years. Deferred tax assets and liabilities are measured using enacted tax rates expected to apply to taxable income in the years in which those temporary differences are expected to be recovered or settled. As changes in tax laws or rates are enacted, deferred tax assets and liabilities are adjusted though income tax expense. The University’s net deferred tax liability was revalued as of December 22, 2017. The University recorded a $10.7 million income tax benefit related to the revaluation of its deferred tax assets and liabilities. Excluding this income tax benefit in 2017, our effective tax rate would have been 32.1%.

Fiscal Year 2017 Highlights

We achieved the following in 2017:

Enrollment, Net Revenue, Operating Income Growth with No Increase in Ground Tuition Rates. We achieved enrollment growth of 10.2% during the fiscal year ended December 31, 2017, as ground enrollment increased 9.2% and online enrollment increased 10.5% over the prior year. We attribute the significant growth in our ground enrollment between years to our increasing brand recognition and the value proposition that our ground traditional campus affords to traditional-aged students and their parents. After scholarships, our ground traditional students pay tuition, room, board, and fees in an amount that is often half to a third of what it costs to attend a private, traditional university in another state and an amount comparable to what it costs to attend a public university. Our online students pay tuition and fees in an amount that is often less than the cost of other high service online programs such as ours. For example, our largest local competitor’s undergraduate tuition for online programs ranges from $510 to $718 per credit hour and its graduate tuition for online programs ranges from $512 to $1,312 per credit hour while our online tuition per credit hour ranges from $355 to $470 for undergraduate programs and $330 to $640 for graduate programs. There are online programs that are less expensive than ours but those programs generally do not provide the full level of support services that we provide to our students. Although our online enrollment continues to grow, as the proportion of traditional colleges and universities providing alternative learning modalities increases, we will face increasing competition for working adult students from such institutions, including those with well-established reputations for excellence. We did not raise tuition in any of our programs for our 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 academic years. A tuition increase of approximately 1% was implemented for the majority of online programs for our 2015-2016 academic year. We have not raised our tuition for our traditional ground programs in nine years. Net revenues increased 11.5% over the prior year primarily due to the enrollment growth and due to an increase in ancillary revenues resulting from the increased traditional student enrollment (e.g. housing, food, etc.). Operating income was $282.8 million for the fiscal year ended December 31, 2017, an increase of 19.2% over the $237.2 million in operating income for 2016.

 

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Capital Expenditures. Our capital expenditures in 2017 of $113.6 million primarily related to the expansion of our over 275 acre physical campus in Phoenix, Arizona and significant investment in technology innovation to support our students and staff. In order to accommodate the continued growth of the traditional ground population, the University completed the construction of an additional dormitory, other ground campus building projects and land acquisitions adjacent to our campus, as well as purchases of computer equipment, other internal use software projects and furniture and equipment to support our increasing employee headcount. Included in off-site development for 2017 is $10.4 million we spent to finish the building and parking garage in close proximity to our ground traditional campus. Employees that worked in two leased office buildings in the Phoenix area were relocated to this new building by the end of 2016.

Income Taxes. Our adoption of the new share-based compensation standard in 2017 resulted in a reduction to our provision for income taxes of $16.5 million for the year ended December 31, 2017, due to the recognition of excess tax benefits from restricted stock awards that vested or stock options that were exercised in 2017. The inclusion of excess tax benefits and deficiencies as a component of our income tax expense will increase volatility within our provision for income taxes as the amount of excess tax benefits or deficiencies from share-based compensation awards are dependent on our stock price at the date the restricted awards vest, our stock price on the date an option is exercised, and the quantity of options exercised. Our restricted stock vests in March each year so the favorable benefit is greatest in the first quarter each year.

Revenue and Enrollment

Net revenue consists principally of tuition, room and board charges attributable to students residing on our ground campus, application and graduation fees, and fees from educational resources such as access to online materials, less scholarships. Factors affecting our net revenue include: (i) the number of students who are enrolled and who remain enrolled in our courses; (ii) the number of credit hours per student; (iii) our degree and program mix; (iv) changes in our tuition rates; (v) the timing of our ground traditional campus semesters; (vi) the amount of the scholarships that we offer; and (vii) the number of students housed in, and the rent charged for, our on-campus student apartments and dormitories.

We define enrollment as individual students who attended a course during the last two months of the calendar quarter. We offer three 15-week semesters in a calendar year with one start available per semester for our traditional ground students. Online and professional studies students have more frequent class starts in courses that generally range from five to sixteen weeks through the calendar year. Enrollments are a function of the number of continuing students at the beginning of each period and new enrollments during the period, which are offset by graduations, withdrawals, and inactive students during the period. Inactive students for a particular period include students who are not registered in a class and, therefore, are not generating net revenue for that period, but who have not withdrawn from Grand Canyon University.

We believe that the principal factors that affect our enrollments and net revenue are the number and breadth of the programs we offer; the attractiveness of our program offerings and learning experience, particularly for career-oriented adults who are seeking pay increases or job opportunities that are directly tied to higher educational attainment; the effectiveness of our marketing, recruiting and retention efforts, which is affected by our brand strength and price point; the quality of our academic programs and student services; the convenience and flexibility of our online delivery platform; the availability and cost of federal and other funding for student financial aid; the seasonality of our net revenue, which is enrollment driven and is typically lowest in our second fiscal quarter and highest in our fourth fiscal quarter; and general economic conditions, particularly as they might affect job prospects in our core disciplines.

The following is a summary of our student enrollment at December 31, 2017, 2016, and 2015 by degree type and by instructional delivery method:

 

     December 31,  
     2017(1)     2016(1)     2015(1)  
     # of Students      % of Total     # of Students      % of Total     # of Students      % of Total  

Graduate degree(2)

     37,339        41.4     33,215        40.6     29,237        39.2

Undergraduate degree

     52,958        58.6     48,693        59.4     45,269        60.8
  

 

 

    

 

 

   

 

 

    

 

 

   

 

 

    

 

 

 

Total

     90,297        100.0     81,908        100.0     74,506        100.0
  

 

 

    

 

 

   

 

 

    

 

 

   

 

 

    

 

 

 

 

     December 31,  
     2017(1)     2016(1)     2015  
     # of Students      % of Total     # of Students      % of Total     # of Students      % of Total  

Online(3)

     71,455        79.1     64,646        78.9     59,311        79.6

Ground(4)

     18,842        20.9     17,262        21.1     15,195        20.4
  

 

 

    

 

 

   

 

 

    

 

 

   

 

 

    

 

 

 

Total

     90,297        100.0     81,908        100.0     74,506        100.0
  

 

 

    

 

 

   

 

 

    

 

 

   

 

 

    

 

 

 

 

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(1) Enrollment represents individual students who attended a course during the last two months of the calendar quarter. Included in enrollment at December 31, 2017, 2016 and 2015 are students pursuing non-degree certificates of 886, 847, and 679, respectively.
(2) Includes 7,703, 7,084 and 6,302 students pursuing doctoral degrees at December 31, 2017, 2016 and 2015, respectively.
(3) As of December 31, 2017, 2016 and 2015, 50.5%, 49.5% and 47.8%, respectively, of our working adult students (online and professional studies students) were pursuing graduate or doctoral degrees.
(4) Includes our traditional on-campus students, as well as our professional studies students.

For the 2017-18 academic year (the academic year begins in May), our prices per credit hour range from $355 to $470 for undergraduate online and professional studies courses, $330 to $630 for graduate online courses, $640 for doctoral online programs, and $688 for undergraduate courses for ground students. For our active duty and active reserve online and professional studies students, our prices per credit hour are $250 for undergraduate, $400 for graduate courses and $608 for doctoral courses. The overall price of each course varies based upon the number of credit hours per course (with most courses representing four credit hours), the degree level of the program, and the discipline. In addition, we charge a fixed $8,250 “block tuition” for undergraduate ground students taking between 12 and 18 credit hours per semester, with an additional $688 per credit hour for credits in excess of 18. A traditional undergraduate degree typically requires a minimum of 120 credit hours. The minimum number of credit hours required for a master’s degree and overall cost for such a degree varies by program, although such programs typically require approximately 36 credit hours. The doctoral program requires approximately 60 credit hours and since program inception on average, doctoral students who graduated required 5.2 dissertation continuation courses to complete their degree.

Based on current tuition rates, tuition for a full program would generally equate to between $15,450 and $37,000 for an online master’s program, between $42,600 and $56,400 for a full four-year online bachelor’s program, approximately $66,000 for a full four-year bachelor’s program taken on our ground campus, and $48,000 for a full doctoral program including five dissertation continuation courses. Students requiring dissertation continuation courses in excess of five are only charged $500 per course. The tuition amounts referred to above assume no reductions for transfer credits or scholarships, which many of our students utilize to reduce their total program costs. For example, the average student on our ground traditional campus will pay approximately $8,700 in tuition in the 2017-18 school year after scholarships. Thus, based on the number of transfer credits and the scholarships they receive it is likely that a student will pay less than $35,000 in tuition for a bachelor’s degree on our ground campus. For the years ended December 31, 2017, 2016 and 2015, our revenue was reduced by approximately $196.3 million, $179.2 million and $163.9 million, respectively, as a result of scholarships that we offered to our students. The increase in scholarships reflects our increased revenues and our resulting increased use of scholarships, especially academic scholarships, to attract high performing students to our ground traditional campus.

Revenue per student for the year ended December 31, 2017 increased over 2016 primarily due to the enrollment growth and due to an increase in ancillary revenues resulting from the increased traditional student enrollment (e.g. housing, food services, etc.). The increase in revenue per student between years is primarily due to a higher percentage of students residing on campus resulting in higher room and board related revenue as compared to the prior year. When factoring in room, board, and fees, the revenue per student is higher for these students than for our working adult students. We did not raise tuition in any of our programs for our 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 academic years and have not raised our tuition for our traditional ground program in nine years. A tuition increase of approximately 1% was implemented for the majority of online programs in September 2015. This reflects a concerted effort to control tuition pricing for students so that debt levels assumed by our students are reasonable. Tuition increases have not historically been, and may not in the future be, consistent across our programs due to market conditions and differences in operating costs of individual programs.

We derive a majority of our net revenues from tuition financed by the Title IV programs. For the years ended December 31, 2017, 2016 and 2015, we derived cash receipts equal to approximately 71.5%, 72.3%, and 74.8%, respectively, of our net revenues from Title IV programs. Our students also may rely on scholarships, personal savings, private loans, and employer tuition reimbursements to pay a portion of their tuition and related expenses.

 

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Critical Accounting Policies and Estimates

The discussion of our financial condition and results of operations is based upon our consolidated financial statements, which have been prepared in accordance with U.S. generally accepted accounting principles, or GAAP. During the preparation of these consolidated financial statements, we are required to make estimates and assumptions that affect the reported amounts of assets, liabilities, revenues, costs and expenses, and related disclosures. On an ongoing basis, we evaluate our estimates and assumptions, including those discussed below. We base our estimates on historical experience and on various other assumptions that we believe are reasonable under the circumstances. The results of our analysis form the basis for making assumptions about the carrying values of assets and liabilities that are not readily apparent from other sources. Actual results may differ from these estimates under different assumptions or conditions, and the impact of such differences may be material to our consolidated financial statements.

We believe that the following critical accounting policies involve our more significant judgments and estimates used in the preparation of our consolidated financial statements:

Revenue recognition. Net revenues consist primarily of tuition and fees derived from courses taught by us online, at our over 275 acre campus in Phoenix, Arizona, and at facilities we lease or those of employers, as well as from related educational resources such as access to online materials. Tuition revenue and most fees and related educational resources are recognized pro-rata over the applicable period of instruction, net of scholarships awarded by us. Generally, we will refund all or a portion of tuition already paid pursuant to our refund policy, dependent upon length of course and modality and subject to certain state specific refund requirements. If a student withdraws at a time when only a portion, or none of the tuition is refundable, then in accordance with its revenue recognition policy, the University continues to recognize the tuition that was not refunded pro-rata over the applicable period of instruction. However, for students that have taken out financial aid to pay their tuition and for which a return to Title IV is required as a result of his or her withdrawal, the University recognizes revenue after a student withdraws only at the time of cash collection. Sales tax collected from students is excluded from net revenues. We also charge online students an upfront learning management fee, which is deferred and recognized over the average expected term of a student. Costs that are direct and incremental to new online students are also deferred and recognized ratably over the average expected term of a student. Deferred revenue and student deposits in any period represent the excess of tuition, fees and other student payments received as compared to amounts recognized as revenue on the statement of operations and are reflected as current liabilities in the accompanying balance sheet. Our educational programs have starting and ending dates that differ from our quarters. Therefore, at the end of each fiscal quarter, a portion of revenue from these programs is not yet earned. Other revenues may be recognized as sales occur or services are performed.

Allowance for doubtful accounts. We record an allowance for doubtful accounts for estimated losses resulting from the inability, failure or refusal of our students to make required payments, which includes the recovery of financial aid funds advanced to a student for amounts in excess of the student’s cost of tuition and related fees that we may have to return under Title IV after a student drops. We determine the adequacy of our allowance for doubtful accounts based on an analysis of our historical bad debt experience, current economic trends, and the aging of the accounts receivable and student status. We apply a reserve to our receivables based upon an estimate of the risk presented by the age of the receivables and student status. We write off accounts receivable balances of active students at the earlier of the time the balance is deemed uncollectible, or one year after the revenue is generated. We reserve for receivables due from inactive students on a more accelerated basis than those due from active students and write off inactive student accounts at 150 days, as amounts due from inactive students are much more difficult to collect than amounts due from active students. We monitor our collections and write-off experience to assess whether adjustments to the estimated reserve are necessary.

Long-Lived Assets (other than goodwill). We evaluate the recoverability of our long-lived assets for impairment whenever events or changes in circumstances indicate that the carrying amount of an asset may not be recoverable. Recoverability of assets to be held and used is measured by a comparison of the carrying amount of an asset to undiscounted future net cash flows expected to be generated by the assets. If such assets are considered to be impaired, the impairment to be recognized is measured by the amount by which the carrying amount of the assets exceeds the fair value of the assets.

Income taxes. We recognize the amount of taxes payable or refundable for the current year and deferred tax assets and liabilities for future tax consequences of events that have been recognized in our consolidated financial statements or tax returns. Deferred tax assets and liabilities are measured using enacted tax rates in effect for the year in which the temporary differences are expect to be realized. Our deferred tax assets are subject to periodic recoverability assessments. Valuation allowances are established, when necessary, to reduce deferred tax assets to the amount that more likely than not will be realized. Realization of the deferred tax assets is principally dependent upon achievement of projected future taxable income offset by deferred tax liabilities. We evaluate the realizability of the deferred tax assets annually. Since becoming a taxable corporation in August 2005, we have not recorded any valuation allowances to date on our deferred income tax assets. We evaluate and account for uncertain tax positions using a two-step approach. Recognition occurs when we conclude that a tax position based solely on its technical merits, is more-likely-than-not to be sustained upon examination. Measurement determines the amount of benefit that is greater than 50% likely to be realized upon the ultimate settlement with a taxing authority that has full knowledge of the facts. Derecognition of a tax position that was previously recognized occurs when we determine that a tax position no longer meets the more-likely-than-not threshold of being sustained upon examination. As of December 31, 2017 and 2016, the University has reserved approximately $2,008 and $1,981, respectively, for uncertain tax positions, including interest and penalties.

 

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Results of Operations

The following table sets forth statements of operations data as a percentage of net revenue for each of the periods indicated:

 

     Year Ended December 31,  
     2017     2016     2015  

Net revenue

     100.0     100.0     100.0

Costs and expenses

      

Instructional costs and services

     42.2       42.7       42.4  

Admissions advisory and related

     13.2       13.7       14.5  

Advertising

     10.1       10.1       9.8  

Marketing and promotional

     1.0       1.0       0.9  

General and administrative

     4.5       4.9       5.4  

Lease termination costs

     0.0       0.4       0.0  
  

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Total costs and expenses

     71.0       72.8       73.0  
  

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Operating income

     29.0       27.2       27.0  

Interest expense

     (0.2     (0.2     (0.2

Interest income and other

     0.3       0.0       0.0  
  

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Income before income taxes

     29.1       27.0       26.9  

Income tax expense

     8.2       10.0       10.0  
  

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Net income

     20.9       17.0       16.9  
  

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Year Ended December 31, 2017 Compared to Year Ended December 31, 2016

Net revenue. Our net revenue for the year ended December 31, 2017 was $974.1 million, an increase of $100.8 million, or 11.5%, as compared to net revenue of $873.3 million for the year ended December 31, 2016. This increase was primarily due to an increase in online and ground enrollment and, to a lesser extent, an increase in room and board and other student fees, partially offset by an increase in institutional scholarships. We have not raised our tuition for our traditional ground programs in nine years and we have not raised tuition for our working adult students since September 2015. End-of-period enrollment increased 10.2% between December 31, 2017 and 2016, as ground enrollment increased 9.2% and online enrollment increased 10.5% over the prior year. The majority of the ground enrollment growth between years is due to an increase in the number of residential students at our ground traditional campus in Phoenix, Arizona. We attribute the growth in our enrollment between years to our increasing brand recognition and the value proposition we believe we provide to students and their parents. Although our online enrollment continues to grow, as the proportion of traditional colleges and universities providing alternative learning modalities increases, we will face increasing competition for working adult students from such institutions, including those with well-established reputations for excellence. The increase in revenue per student between years is primarily due to the enrollment growth and due to an increase in ancillary revenues resulting from the increased traditional student enrollment (e.g. housing, food, etc.). The increase in revenue per student between years is primarily due to a higher percentage of students residing on campus resulting in higher room and board related revenue as compared to the prior year. When factoring in room, board and fees, the revenue per student is higher for these students than for our working adult students.

 

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Instructional costs and services expenses. Our instructional costs and services expenses for the year ended December 31, 2017 were $410.8 million, an increase of $37.7 million, or 10.1%, as compared to instructional costs and services expenses of $373.1 million for the year ended December 31, 2016. This increase was primarily due to increases in employee compensation and related expenses including share-based compensation, faculty compensation, depreciation and amortization and occupancy expense including disposals, dues, fees, subscriptions and instructional supplies, and other instructional costs and services of $11.4 million, $10.3 million, $9.6 million, $4.6 million and $1.8 million, respectively. The increase in employee compensation and related expenses and faculty compensation are primarily due to the increase in the number of staff to support the increasing number of students attending the University, tenure adjustments, and increased benefit costs between years. In addition, we continue to increase our full-time faculty between years. The increase in depreciation, amortization and occupancy costs including fixed asset disposals is the result of our placing into service additional buildings to support the growing number of students. In addition, during the third quarter of 2017 we wrote-off the remaining book value of two buildings that will be replaced by a new classroom building that is needed for Fall 2018. The increase in dues, fees, subscriptions and instructional supplies is primarily due to higher food and other expenses as a result of the increased ancillary revenues and a higher number of residential students, and increased licensing fees related to educational resources. Our instructional costs and services expenses as a percentage of net revenue decreased by 0.5% to 42.2% for the year ended December 31, 2017, as compared to 42.7% for the year ended December 31, 2016 due to our ability to leverage our instructional costs and services expenses across an increasing revenue base, partially offset by depreciation and amortization increasing as a percentage of net revenues. Bad debt expense decreased by 0.2% to 1.9% for the year ended December 31, 2017, as compared to 2.1% for the year ended December 31, 2016 due to improved collections.

Admissions advisory and related expenses. Our admissions advisory and related expenses for the year ended December 31, 2017 were $128.5 million, an increase of $9.2 million, or 7.8%, as compared to admissions advisory and related expenses of $119.3 million for the year ended December 31, 2016. This increase was primarily due to increases in employee compensation and related expenses including share-based compensation of $9.2 million, as a result of tenure adjustments and increased benefit costs between years. Our admissions advisory and related expenses as a percentage of net revenue decreased by 0.5% to 13.2% for the year ended December 31, 2017, from 13.7% for the year ended December 31, 2016 primarily due to our ability to leverage our admissions advisory personnel across an increasing revenue base. Although we are hopeful that we will continue to see leverage of our admissions advisory personnel, we do not anticipate the leverage in future years will be as significant as in 2017.

Advertising expenses. Our advertising expenses for the year ended December 31, 2017 were $98.6 million, an increase of $10.4 million, or 11.9%, as compared to advertising expenses of $88.2 million for the year ended December 31, 2016. This increase was primarily due to increased digital media and branding advertising. Our advertising expenses as a percentage of net revenue stayed flat at 10.1% for both of the years ended December 31, 2017 and 2016 as our advertising spend to increase brand awareness was in line with our increasing revenue base. We plan to continue to increase our advertising spend on brand awareness in 2018. We plan to continue to increase our advertising spend on brand awareness in 2018 to counter the increased advertising of our competitors.

Marketing and promotional expenses. Our marketing and promotional expenses for the year ended December 31, 2017 were $9.6 million, an increase of $0.7 million, or 8.7%, as compared to marketing and promotional expenses of $8.9 million for the year ended December 31, 2016. Our marketing and promotional expenses as a percentage of net revenue stayed flat at 1.0% for both of the years ended December 31, 2017 and 2016.

General and administrative expenses. Our general and administrative expenses for the year ended December 31, 2017 were $43.8 million, an increase of $0.6 million, or 1.2%, as compared to general and administrative expenses of $43.2 million for the year ended December 31, 2016. This increase was primarily due to increases in employee compensation and related expenses including share-based compensation, and increased depreciation and occupancy costs of $2.7 million and $0.5 million, respectively. The increase in employee compensation and related expenses are primarily due to the increase in the number of staff to support the increasing number of students attending the University, and increased benefit costs between years. These increases were partially offset by lower contributions to private school tuition organizations in lieu of state income taxes, and lower legal, audit and insurance costs and other general administrative expenses of $2.0 million and $0.6 million, respectively. During 2017 and 2016 our contributions to private school tuition organizations in lieu of state income taxes were $2.0 million and $4.0 million, respectively. Our general and administrative expenses as a percentage of net revenue decreased by 0.4% to 4.5% for the year ended December 31, 2017, from 4.9% for the year ended December 31, 2016 due to the lower contributions made in lieu of state income taxes and our ability to leverage our general and administrative expenses across an increasing revenue base.

Lease termination costs. In July 2016, we notified a current landlord of our intent to vacate leased space by the fourth quarter of 2016. As a result, we were required to pay a termination fee to terminate the lease resulting in $3.4 million of expense in the third quarter of 2016. Additionally in the fourth quarter of 2016, we completed our relocation of our employees to the new buildings and as a result expensed $0.1 million related to impaired assets from leased space no longer occupied by our employees.

 

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Interest expense. Our interest expense for the year ended December 31, 2017 was $2.2 million, an increase of $0.9 million, as compared to interest expense of $1.3 million for the year ended December 31, 2016. This increase was primarily due to lower capitalized interest as compared to the prior year due to a decrease in capital spending in 2017, partially offset by the decrease in the average balance of our loan facility. Our interest expense stayed flat as a percentage of net revenue at 0.2% for the years ended December 31, 2017 and 2016.

Interest income and other. Our interest income and other for the year ended December 31, 2017 was $2.9 million, an increase of $2.7 million, as compared to interest income and other of $0.2 million for the year ended December 31, 2016. Interest income was higher in 2017 as compared to 2016 primarily due to higher average investment balances between years. In addition, included in interest income and other in 2017 is our proportional share of equity income of $0.7 million related to our former ownership interest in LoudCloud, and in 2016 an impairment charge on an investment of $2.5 million.

Income tax expense. Income tax expense for the year ended December 31, 2017 was $80.2 million, a decrease of $7.4 million from $87.6 million for the year ended December 31, 2016. Our effective tax rate was 28.3% in 2017, a significant decrease from 37.1% in 2016. This decrease was primarily due to the adoption of the share-based compensation standard in the first quarter of 2017, which resulted in the recognition of excess tax benefits of $16.5 million from share-based compensation awards that vested or settled in 2017 in the consolidated income statement. The inclusion of excess tax benefits and deficiencies as a component of our income tax expense will increase volatility within our provision for income taxes as the amount of excess tax benefits or deficiencies from share-based compensation awards are dependent on our stock price at the date the restricted awards vest, our stock price on the date an option is exercised, and the quantity of options exercised. In addition, as a result of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (the “Act”) which was signed into law on December 22, 2017, we revalued our deferred tax assets and liabilities due to the reduced corporate federal tax rate. The Act reduces the corporate federal tax rate from a maximum of 35% to a flat 21% rate effective January 1, 2018. The University’s net deferred tax liability was revalued as of December 22, 2017 and the University recorded a $10.7 million income tax benefit related to the revaluation of its deferred tax assets and liabilities. These decreases were slightly offset by a decrease in the contributions made in lieu of state income taxes to school sponsoring organizations. Our contributions decreased from $4.0 million in 2016 to $2.0 million in 2017. Excluding the revaluation of the deferred tax assets and liabilities recorded in 2017, our effective income tax rate would have been 32.1%.

Net income. Our net income for the year ended December 31, 2017 was $203.3 million, an increase of $54.8 million, as compared to $148.5 million for the year ended December 31, 2016, due to the factors discussed above.

Year Ended December 31, 2016 Compared to Year Ended December 31, 2015

Net revenue. Our net revenue for the year ended December 31, 2016 was $873.3 million, an increase of $95.1 million, or 12.2%, as compared to net revenue of $778.2 million for the year ended December 31, 2015. This increase was primarily due to an increase in ground and online enrollment and, to a lesser extent, an increase in room and board and other student fees, partially offset by an increase in institutional scholarships. We did not raise tuition in any of our programs for our 2016-17 academic year. A tuition increase of approximately 1% was implemented for the majority of our online programs in September 2015. We have not raised our tuition for our traditional ground program in eight years. End-of-period enrollment increased 9.9% between December 31, 2016 and 2015, as ground enrollment increased 13.6% and online enrollment increased 9.0% over the prior year. The majority of the ground enrollment growth between years was residential students at our ground traditional campus in Phoenix, Arizona. We attribute the significant growth in our ground enrollment between years to our increasing brand recognition and the value proposition that our ground traditional campus affords to traditional-aged students and their parents. After scholarships, our ground traditional students pay for tuition, room, board, and fees, often half to a third of what it costs to attend a private, traditional university in another state and an amount comparable to what it costs to attend a public university. Although our online enrollment continues to grow, as the proportion of traditional colleges and universities providing alternative learning modalities increases, we will face increasing competition for working adult students from such institutions, including those with well-established reputations for excellence. The growth in revenue per student between years is primarily due to our residential traditional campus enrollment growing at a rate higher than our working adult enrollment. When factoring in room, board and fees, the revenue per student is higher for these students than for our working adult students.

Instructional costs and services expenses. Our instructional costs and services expenses for the year ended December 31, 2016 were $373.1 million, an increase of $43.4 million, or 13.2%, as compared to instructional costs and services expenses of $329.7 million for the year ended December 31, 2015. This increase was primarily due to increases in instructional compensation and related expenses including share-based compensation, faculty compensation, occupancy and depreciation and amortization, dues, fees, subscriptions and other instructional supplies, bad debt expense and other miscellaneous instructional costs and services of $10.9 million, $8.9 million, $14.2 million, $5.6 million, $2.0 million and $1.8 million, respectively. The increase in employee compensation and related expenses and faculty compensation are primarily due to the increase in the number of staff to support the increasing number of students attending the University, tenure adjustments, and increased benefit costs between years. In addition, we continue to increase our full-time faculty between years. The increase in occupancy, depreciation and amortization is the result of us placing into service additional buildings to support the growing number of ground traditional students. The increase in dues, fees, subscriptions and other instructional supplies is primarily due to increased licensing fees related to educational resources and increased food costs associated with a higher number of residential students. Our instructional costs and services expenses as a percentage of net revenue increased by 0.3% to 42.7% for the year ended December 31, 2016, as compared to 42.4% for the year ended December 31, 2015 due to an increase in dues, fees, subscriptions and other instructional supplies as a percentage of revenue due to the low profit margin derived on food sales, and occupancy, depreciation and amortization increasing as a percentage of revenue. Bad debt expense stayed flat year over year at 2.1% of net revenue.

 

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Admissions advisory and related expenses. Our admissions advisory and related expenses for the year ended December 31, 2016 were $119.3 million, an increase of $6.7 million, or 6.0%, as compared to admissions advisory and related expenses of $112.6 million for the year ended December 31, 2015. This increase was primarily due to increases in employee compensation and related expenses, partially offset by decreases in other admissions advisory expenses of $7.0 million and $0.3 million, respectively. Employee compensation and related expenses increased as a result of increasing the number of admissions advisors, tenure adjustments, and increasing benefit costs between years. Our admissions advisory and related expenses as a percentage of net revenue decreased by 0.8% to 13.7% for the year ended December 31, 2016, from 14.5% for the year ended December 31, 2015 primarily due to our ability to leverage our admissions advisory personnel across an increasing revenue base.

Advertising expenses. Our advertising expenses for the year ended December 31, 2016 were $88.2 million, an increase of $12.0 million, or 15.6%, as compared to advertising expenses of $76.2 million for the year ended December 31, 2015. This increase was primarily due to increased digital media and branding advertising. Our advertising expenses as a percentage of net revenue increased by 0.3% to 10.1% for the year ended December 31, 2016, from 9.8% for the year ended December 31, 2015 as we have increased our advertising spend to increase brand awareness.

Marketing and promotional expenses. Our marketing and promotional expenses for the year ended December 31, 2016 were $8.9 million, an increase of $1.6 million, or 21.6%, as compared to marketing and promotional expenses of $7.3 million for the year ended December 31, 2015. Our marketing and promotional expenses as a percentage of net revenue increased slightly by 0.1% to 1.0% for the year ended December 31, 2016, from 0.9% for the year ended December 31, 2015.

General and administrative expenses. Our general and administrative expenses for the year ended December 31, 2016 were $43.2 million, an increase of $1.1 million, or 2.7%, as compared to general and administrative expenses of $42.1 million for the year ended December 31, 2015. This increase was primarily due to increases in employee compensation and related expenses including share-based compensation, and contributions to private school tuition organizations in lieu of state income taxes, partially offset by lower legal, audit and insurance costs and other general administrative expenses of $1.0 million, $1.2 million and $1.2 million respectively. During 2016 and 2015 our contributions to private school tuition organizations in lieu of state income taxes were $4.0 million and $2.8 million, respectively. Our general and administrative expenses as a percentage of net revenue decreased by 0.5% to 4.9% for the year ended December 31, 2016, from 5.4% for the year ended December 31, 2015 due to decreased legal costs and our ability to leverage our general and administrative expenses across an increasing revenue base.

Lease termination costs. In July 2016, we notified a current landlord of our intent to vacate leased space by the fourth quarter of 2016. As a result, we were required to pay a termination fee to terminate the lease resulting in $3.4 million of expense in the third quarter of 2016. Additionally in the fourth quarter of 2016, we completed our relocation of our employees to the new buildings and as a result expensed $0.1 million related to impaired assets from lease space no longer occupied by our employees.

Interest expense. Our interest expense for the year ended December 31, 2016 was $1.3 million, an increase of $0.1 million, as compared to interest expense of $1.2 million for the year ended December 31, 2015. Our interest expense stayed flat as a percentage of net revenue at 0.2% for the years ended December 31, 2016 and 2015.

Interest income and other. Our interest income and other for the year ended December 31, 2016 was a gain of $0.2 million, an increase of $0.3 million, as compared to interest income and other loss of $0.1 million for the year ended December 31, 2015. The increase was primarily due to higher investment returns.

Income tax expense. Income tax expense for the year ended December 31, 2016 was $87.6 million, an increase of $10.0 million from $77.6 million for the year ended December 31, 2015. This increase was primarily attributable to increased income before income taxes. Our effective tax rate was 37.1% for both of the years ended December 31, 2016 and 2015. The tax rate for both periods is less than the annual effective tax rates due to the contributions made in lieu of state income taxes in the third quarter of both years.

 

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Net income. Our net income for the year ended December 31, 2016 was $148.5 million, an increase of $17.1 million, as compared to $131.4 million for the year ended December 31, 2015, due to the factors discussed above.

Seasonality

Our net revenue and operating results normally fluctuate as a result of seasonal variations in our business, principally due to changes in enrollment. Student population varies as a result of new enrollments, graduations, and student attrition. The majority of our traditional ground students do not attend courses during the summer months (May through August), which affects our results for our second and third fiscal quarters. Since a significant amount of our campus costs are fixed, the lower revenue resulting from the decreased ground student enrollment has historically contributed to lower operating margins during those periods. We intend to continue to increase, the relative proportion of our students that are ground traditional students. Thus, we expect this summer effect to become more pronounced in future years. Partially offsetting this summer effect in the third quarter has been the sequential quarterly increase in enrollments that has occurred as a result of the traditional fall school start. This increase in enrollments also has occurred in the first quarter, corresponding to calendar year matriculation. In addition, we typically experience higher net revenue in the fourth quarter due to its overlap with the semester encompassing the traditional fall school start and in the first quarter due to its overlap with the first semester of the calendar year. A portion of our expenses do not vary proportionately with these fluctuations in net revenue, resulting in higher operating income in the first and fourth quarters relative to other quarters. We expect quarterly fluctuation in operating results to continue as a result of these seasonal patterns.

Liquidity, Capital Resources, and Financial Position

Liquidity. During 2017, we financed our operating activities and capital expenditures primarily through cash provided by operating activities. Our unrestricted cash, cash equivalents and investments were $242.7 million at December 31, 2017 and our restricted cash and cash equivalents were $94.5 million. In December 2012, we entered into a new credit agreement, which increased our term loan to $100 million with a maturity date of December 2019. Additionally, this facility, as amended in January 2016, provided a revolving line of credit in the amount of $150 million through December 2017 to be utilized for working capital, capital expenditures and other general corporate purposes. Indebtedness under the credit facility is secured by our assets and is guaranteed by certain of our subsidiaries. We did not renew our revolving line of credit at December 31, 2017 as we do not need this additional liquidity at this time.

Based on our current level of operations and anticipated growth, we believe that our cash flow from operations and other sources of liquidity, including cash, and cash equivalents, will provide adequate funds for ongoing operations, planned capital expenditures, and working capital requirements for at least the next 24 months.

Share Repurchase Program

Our Board of Directors has authorized the University to repurchase up to $175.0 million in aggregate of common stock, from time to time, depending on market conditions and other considerations. The current expiration date on the repurchase authorization by our Board of Directors is December 31, 2018. Repurchases occur at the University’s discretion.

Under our share purchase authorization, we may purchase shares in the open market or in privately negotiated transactions, pursuant to the applicable Securities and Exchange Commission Rules. The amount and timing of future share repurchases, if any, will be made as market and business conditions warrant.

Since the approval of the initial share repurchase plan, the University has purchased 3.5 million shares of common stock at an aggregate cost of $77.3 million, which includes 17,230 shares of common stock at an aggregate cost of $1.5 million during the year ended December 31, 2017. At December 31, 2017, there remains $97.7 million available under our current share repurchase authorization.

Cash Flows

Operating Activities. Net cash provided by operating activities for the years ended December 31, 2017, 2016 and 2015 was $304.9 million, $237.8 million and $185.1 million, respectively. Cash provided by operations in 2017, 2016 and 2015 resulted from our increased net income plus non-cash charges for provision for bad debts, depreciation and amortization, timing of income tax and employee related payments and student deposits and changes in other working capital.

Investing Activities. Net cash used in investing activities was $152.1 million, $216.0 million, and $200.9 million for the years ended December 31, 2017, 2016, and 2015, respectively. Our cash used in investing activities is primarily related to the purchase of short-term investments and capital expenditures, partially offset by proceeds from the sale or maturity of short-term investments. Purchases of short-term investments, net of proceeds of these investments, was $28.8 million for the year ended December 31, 2017. Proceeds from investment, net of purchases of short-term investments, was $20.8 million and $17.4 million during the years ended December 31, 2016 and 2015, respectively. Capital expenditures were $113.6 million, $178.3 million and $204.7 million for the years ended December 31, 2017, 2016, and 2015, respectively. In 2017, capital expenditures primarily consisted of the construction of an additional dormitory, other ground campus building projects and land acquisitions adjacent to our campus to support our growing traditional student enrollment, as well as purchases of computer equipment, other internal use software projects and furniture and equipment to support our increasing employee headcount. Included in off-site development for 2017 is $10.4 million we spent to finish the off-site student services center and parking garage that is in close proximity to our ground traditional campus. Employees that worked in two leased office buildings in the Phoenix area were relocated to this new building by the end of 2016. In 2016, capital expenditures primarily consisted of ground campus building projects that started in late 2015 such as three more apartment style residence halls, a 170,000 square foot classroom building for our College of Science, Engineering and Technology, a student service center, and a fourth parking structure, as well as land purchases adjacent to or near our Phoenix campus, and purchases of computer equipment, other internal use software projects and furniture and equipment to support our increasing employee headcount. Included in off-site development during 2016 is $60.7 million primarily related to an off-site student services center and parking garage that is in close proximity to our ground traditional campus. In 2015, in order to accommodate the continued growth of our traditional ground population, we completed four additional dormitories, a classroom building for our College of Science, Engineering and Technology, and a third parking structure prior to the 2015/2016 school year and started construction on all the construction projects completed in 2016, as well as land purchases adjacent to or near our Phoenix campus, and purchases of computer equipment, other internal use software projects and furniture and equipment to support our increasing employee headcount. Included in off-site development during 2015 is $10.0 million we spent to revitalize what was formerly known as the Maryvale Golf Course under a partnership agreement with the City of Phoenix. The golf course is now known as Grand Canyon University Championship golf course. Also, in late 2015, we commenced construction on the off-site office building and parking garage that is in close proximity to our ground traditional campus.

 

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Financing Activities. Net cash used in financing activities was $35.7 million for the year ended December 31, 2017. Net cash provided by financing activities was $10.7 million for the year ended December 31, 2016. Net cash used in financing activities was $18.9 million for the year ended December 31, 2015. During 2017, $25.0 million was used to repay our revolving line of credit, $1.5 million was used to purchase treasury stock in accordance with the University’s share repurchase program and $9.8 million was used to purchase common shares withheld in lieu of income taxes resulting from restricted share awards while principal payments on notes payable and capital leases totaled $6.8 million, partially offset by proceeds from the exercise of stock options of $7.4 million.    During 2016, net cash provided by financing activities consisted of net proceeds received from the revolving line of credit of $25.0 million and proceeds from the exercise of stock options of $13.2 million, partially offset by $15.4 million used to purchase treasury stock in accordance with the University’s share repurchase program and $4.7 million used to purchase common shares withheld in lieu of income taxes resulting from restricted share awards and principal payments on notes payable, repayments on our notes payable and capital lease payments totaled $7.2 million. During 2015, $11.3 million was used to purchase treasury stock in accordance with the University’s share repurchase program and $4.3 million was used to purchase common shares withheld in lieu of income taxes resulting from restricted share awards while principal payments on notes payable and capital leases totaled $6.8 million, partially offset by proceeds from the exercise of stock options of $3.5 million.

Contractual Obligations

The following table sets forth, as of December 31, 2017, the aggregate amounts of our significant contractual obligations and commitments with definitive payment terms due in each of the periods presented (in millions):

 

            Payments Due by Period  
     Total      Less than
1 Year
     2-3 Years      4-5 Years      More than
5 Years
 

Long term notes payable(1)

   $ 66.6      $ 6.7      $ 59.9      $ 0.0      $ 0.0  

Capital lease obligations

     0.3        0.2        0.1        0.0        0.0  

Purchase obligations(2)

     83.4        76.6        5.0        1.8        0.0  

Operating lease obligations(3)

     2.4        1.1        0.8        0.5        0.0  
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

 

Total contractual obligations

   $ 152.7      $ 84.6      $ 65.8      $ 2.3      $ 0.0  
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

 

 

(1) See Note 6, “Notes Payable and Other Noncurrent Liabilities,” to our consolidated financial statements, included in Item 8, Consolidated Financial Statements and Supplementary Data, for a discussion of our long term notes payable and other obligations.
(2) Represents unconditional purchase obligations and other obligations. Amount consists primarily of construction agreements for construction in progress on our ground traditional campus.

 

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(3) See Note 7, “Commitments and Contingencies,” to our consolidated financial statements, included in Item 8, Consolidated Financial Statements and Supplementary Data, for a discussion of our operating lease obligations.

Off-Balance Sheet Arrangements

We do not have any off-balance sheet arrangements that have had or are reasonably likely to have a material current or future effect on our financial condition, changes in financial condition, revenues or expenses, results of operations, liquidity, capital expenditures, or capital resources.

Non-GAAP Discussion

In addition to our GAAP results, we use Adjusted EBITDA as a supplemental measure of our operating performance and as part of our compensation determinations. Adjusted EBITDA is not required by or presented in accordance with GAAP and should not be considered as an alternative to net income, operating income, or any other performance measure derived in accordance with GAAP, or as an alternative to cash flow from operating activities or as a measure of our liquidity. See Item 6, Selected Consolidated Financial and Other Data, for a discussion of our Adjusted EBITDA computation and reconciliation.

Recent Accounting Pronouncements

See Note 2, Summary of Significant Accounting Policies, in Item 8, Consolidated Financial Statements and Supplementary Data

 

Item 7A. Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosures about Market Risk

Impact of inflation. We believe that inflation has not had a material impact on our results of operations for the years ended December 31, 2017, 2016, or 2015. There can be no assurance that future inflation will not have an adverse impact on our operating results and financial condition.

Market risk. On February 27, 2013 we entered into an interest rate corridor to manage our 30-day LIBOR interest exposure from variable rate debt, which matures in December 2019. The corridor instrument, which hedges variable interest rate risk starting March 1, 2013 through December 20, 2019 with a notional amount of $66.7 million as of December 31, 2017, permits us to hedge our interest rate risk at several thresholds. Under this arrangement, in addition to the credit spread, we will pay variable interest rates based on the 30-day LIBOR rates monthly until that index reaches 1.5%. If 30-day LIBOR is equal to 1.5% through 3.0%, we will continue to pay 1.5%. If the 30-day LIBOR exceeds 3.0%, we will pay actual 30-day LIBOR less 1.5%.

Except with respect to the foregoing, we have no derivative financial instruments or derivative commodity instruments. We invest cash in excess of current operating requirements in short term certificates of deposit and money market instruments, municipal bond portfolios, or municipal mutual funds at multiple financial institutions.

Interest rate risk. We manage interest rate risk through the instruments noted above and by investing excess funds in cash equivalents, BBB or higher rated municipal bonds and municipal mutual funds bearing variable interest rates, which are tied to various market indices or individual bond coupon rates. Our future investment income may fall short of expectations due to changes in interest rates or we may suffer losses in principal if we are forced to sell securities before their maturity date that have declined in market value due to changes in interest rates. At December 31, 2017, a 10% increase or decrease in interest rates would not have a material impact on our future earnings, fair values, or cash flows.

 

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Item 8. Consolidated Financial Statements and Supplementary Data

 

     Page  

Report of Independent Registered Public Accounting Firm

     58  

Consolidated Balance Sheets as of December 31, 2017 and 2016

     59  

Consolidated Income Statements for the years ended December  31, 2017, 2016 and 2015

     60  

Consolidated Statements of Comprehensive Income for the years ended December 31, 2017, 2016 and 2015

     61  

Consolidated Statements of Stockholders’ Equity for the years ended December 31, 2017, 2016 and 2015

     62  

Consolidated Statements of Cash Flows for the years ended December  31, 2017, 2016 and 2015

     63  

Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements

     64  

 

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Report of Independent Registered Public Accounting Firm

The Stockholders and Board of Directors

Grand Canyon Education, Inc.:

Opinion on the Consolidated Financial Statements

We have audited the accompanying consolidated balance sheets of Grand Canyon Education, Inc. and subsidiaries (the “Company”) as of December 31, 2017 and 2016, the related consolidated statements of income, comprehensive income, stockholders’ equity, and cash flows for each of the years in the three-year period ended December 31, 2017, and the related notes (collectively, the “consolidated financial statements”). In our opinion, the consolidated financial statements present fairly, in all material respects, the financial position of the Company as of December 31, 2017 and 2016, and the results of its operations and its cash flows for each of the years in the three-year period ended December 31, 2017, in conformity with U.S. generally accepted accounting principles.

We also have audited, in accordance with the standards of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (United States) (“PCAOB”), the Company’s internal control over financial reporting as of December 31, 2017, based on criteria established in Internal Control — Integrated Framework (2013) issued by the Committee of Sponsoring Organizations of the Treadway Commission, and our report dated February 21, 2018, expressed an unqualified opinion on the effectiveness of the Company’s internal control over financial reporting.

Change in Accounting Principle

As discussed in Note 2 to the consolidated financial statements, the Company has elected to change its method of accounting for restricted cash in 2017, 2016, and 2015 due to the adoption of Accounting Standards Update 2016-18, Restricted Cash. In addition, as discussed in Note 2 to the consolidated financial statements, the Company has elected to change its method of accounting for the tax benefits associated with equity compensation in 2017 due to the adoption of Accounting Standards Update 2016-09, Improvements to Employee Share-Based Payment Accounting.

Basis for Opinion

These consolidated financial statements are the responsibility of the Company’s management. Our responsibility is to express an opinion on these consolidated financial statements based on our audits. We are a public accounting firm registered with the PCAOB and are required to be independent with respect to the Company in accordance with the U.S. federal securities laws and the applicable rules and regulations of the Securities and Exchange Commission and the PCAOB.

We conducted our audits in accordance with the standards of the PCAOB. Those standards require that we plan and perform the audits to obtain reasonable assurance about whether the consolidated financial statements are free of material misstatement, whether due to error or fraud. Our audits included performing procedures to assess the risks of material misstatement of the consolidated financial statements, whether due to error or fraud, and performing procedures that respond to those risks. Such procedures included examining, on a test basis, evidence regarding the amounts and disclosures in the consolidated financial statements. Our audits also included evaluating the accounting principles used and significant estimates made by management, as well as evaluating the overall presentation of the consolidated financial statements. We believe that our audits provide a reasonable basis for our opinion.

/s/ KPMG LLP

We have served as the Company’s auditor since 2012.

Phoenix, Arizona

February 21, 2018

 

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Grand Canyon Education, Inc.

Consolidated Balance Sheets

 

     As of December 31,  

(In thousands, except par value)

   2017     2016  
ASSETS:  

Current assets

    

Cash and cash equivalents

   $ 153,474     $ 45,976  

Restricted cash and cash equivalents

     94,534       84,931  

Investments

     89,271       62,596  

Accounts receivable, net

     10,908       9,538  

Income taxes receivable

     2,086       4,686  

Other current assets

     24,589       22,341  
  

 

 

   

 

 

 

Total current assets

     374,862       230,068  

Property and equipment, net

     922,284       855,528  

Prepaid royalties

     2,763       3,059  

Goodwill

     2,941       2,941  

Other assets

     723       897  
  

 

 

   

 

 

 

Total assets

   $ 1,303,573     $ 1,092,493  
  

 

 

   

 

 

 
LIABILITIES AND STOCKHOLDERS’ EQUITY:     

Current liabilities

    

Accounts payable

   $ 29,139     $ 24,824  

Accrued compensation and benefits

     23,173       19,697  

Accrued liabilities

     20,757       21,283  

Income taxes payable

     16,182       2,734  

Student deposits

     95,298       85,881  

Deferred revenue

     46,895       40,739  

Current portion of notes payable

     6,691       31,636  
  

 

 

   

 

 

 

Total current liabilities

     238,135       226,794  

Other noncurrent liabilities

     1,200       1,689  

Deferred income taxes, non-current

     18,362       23,708  

Notes payable, less current portion

     59,925       66,616  
  

 

 

   

 

 

 

Total liabilities

     317,622       318,807  
  

 

 

   

 

 

 

Commitments and contingencies

    

Stockholders’ equity

    

Preferred stock, $0.01 par value, 10,000 shares authorized; 0 shares issued and outstanding at December 31, 2017 and 2016

     —         —    

Common stock, $0.01 par value, 100,000 shares authorized; 52,277 and 51,509 shares issued and 48,125 and 47,559 shares outstanding at December 31, 2017 and 2016, respectively

     523       515  

Treasury stock, at cost, 4,152 and 3,950 shares of common stock at December 31, 2017 and 2016, respectively

     (100,694     (89,394

Additional paid-in capital

     232,670       212,559  

Accumulated other comprehensive loss

     (724     (910

Retained earnings

     854,176       650,916  
  

 

 

   

 

 

 

Total stockholders’ equity

     985,951       773,686  
  

 

 

   

 

 

 

Total liabilities and stockholders’ equity

   $ 1,303,573     $ 1,092,493  
  

 

 

   

 

 

 

The accompanying notes are an integral part of these consolidated financial statements.

 

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Grand Canyon Education, Inc.

Consolidated Income Statements

 

     Year Ended December 31,  

(In thousands, except per share amounts)

   2017     2016     2015  

Net revenue

   $ 974,134     $ 873,344     $ 778,200  

Costs and expenses:

      

Instructional costs and services

     410,840       373,101       329,651  

Admissions advisory and related

     128,544       119,286       112,572  

Advertising

     98,608       88,152       76,229  

Marketing and promotional

     9,629       8,860       7,287  

General and administrative

     43,759       43,219       42,100  

Lease termination costs

     —         3,523       —    
  

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Total costs and expenses

     691,380       636,141       567,839  
  

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Operating income

     282,754       237,203       210,361  

Interest expense

     (2,169     (1,328     (1,248

Interest income and other

     2,943       249       (106
  

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Income before income taxes

     283,528       236,124       209,007  

Income tax expense

     80,209       87,610       77,596  
  

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Net income

   $ 203,319     $ 148,514     $ 131,411  
  

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Earnings per share:

      

Basic income per share

   $ 4.31     $ 3.22     $ 2.86  
  

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Diluted income per share

   $ 4.22     $ 3.15     $ 2.78  
  

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Basic weighted average shares outstanding

     47,140       46,083       45,975  
  

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Diluted weighted average shares outstanding

     48,235       47,121       47,281  
  

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

The accompanying notes are an integral part of these consolidated financial statements.

 

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Grand Canyon Education, Inc.

Consolidated Statements of Comprehensive Income

 

     Year Ended December 31,  

(In thousands)

   2017      2016     2015  

Net income

   $ 203,319      $ 148,514     $ 131,411  

Other comprehensive income (loss), net of tax:

       

Unrealized gains (losses) on hedging derivatives, net of taxes of $6, $94, and $230 for the years ended December 31, 2017, 2016 and 2015, respectively

     11        (151     (372

Unrealized gains (losses) on available for sale securities, net of taxes of $108, $168 and $50 for the years ended December 31, 2017, 2016 and 2015, respectively

     175        (270     (82
  

 

 

    

 

 

   

 

 

 

Comprehensive income

   $ 203,505      $ 148,093     $ 130,957  
  

 

 

    

 

 

   

 

 

 

The accompanying notes are an integral part of these consolidated financial statements.

 

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Grand Canyon Education, Inc.

Consolidated Statements of Stockholders’ Equity

(In thousands)

 

     Common Stock      Treasury Stock     Additional
Paid-in
Capital
     Accumulated
Other
Comprehensive
Income (Loss)
    Retained
Earnings
    Total  
     Shares      Amount      Shares      Amount           

Balance at December 31, 2014

     49,746      $ 497        3,002      $ (53,770   $ 158,549      $ (35   $ 370,991     $ 476,232  

Comprehensive income

     —          —          —          —         —          (454     131,411       130,957  

Common stock purchased for treasury

     —          —          288        (11,279     —          —         —         (11,279

Share-based compensation

     324        3        94        (4,283     11,269        —         —         6,989  

Restricted shares forfeited

     —          —          27        —         —          —         —         —    

Exercise of stock options

     218        3        —          —         3,486        —         —         3,489  

Excess tax benefits

     —          —          —          —         3,863        —         —         3,863  
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

   

 

 

    

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Balance at December 31, 2015

     50,288        503        3,411        (69,332     177,167        (489     502,402       610,251  

Comprehensive income

     —          —          —          —         —          (421     148,514       148,093  

Common stock purchased for treasury

     —          —          416        (15,367     —          —         —         (15,367

Share-based compensation

     275        3        114        (4,695     12,273        —         —         7,581  

Restricted shares forfeited

     —          —          9        —         —          —         —         —    

Exercise of stock options

     946        9        —          —         13,198        —         —         13,207  

Excess tax benefits

     —          —          —          —         9,921        —         —         9,921  
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

   

 

 

    

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Balance at December 31, 2016

     51,509        515        3,950        (89,394     212,559        (910     650,916       773,686  

Cumulative effect from the adoption of accounting pronouncements, net of taxes

     —          —          —          —         59      —         (59     —    

Comprehensive income

     —          —          —          —         —          186       203,319       203,505  

Common stock purchased for treasury

     —          —          17        (1,510     —          —         —         (1,510

Share-based compensation

     192        2        151        (9,790     12,686        —         —         2,898  

Restricted shares forfeited

     —          —          34        —         —          —         —         —    

Exercise of stock options

     576      6      —          —         7,366        —         —         7,372  
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

   

 

 

    

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Balance at December 31, 2017

     52,277      $ 523        4,152      $ (100,694   $ 232,670      $ (724   $ 854,176     $ 985,951  
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

   

 

 

    

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

The accompanying notes are an integral part of these consolidated financial statements.

 

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Grand Canyon Education, Inc.

Consolidated Statements of Cash Flows

 

     Year Ended December 31,  

(In thousands)

   2017     2016     2015  

Cash flows provided by operating activities:

      

Net income

   $ 203,319     $ 148,514     $ 131,411  

Adjustments to reconcile net income to net cash provided by operating activities:

      

Share-based compensation

     12,688       12,276       11,257  

Provision for bad debts

     18,478       18,639       16,620  

Depreciation and amortization

     54,228       45,683       35,675  

Deferred income taxes

     (5,160     8,432       4,576  

Other, including fixed asset impairments

     3,883       1,161       3,713  

Changes in assets and liabilities:

      

Accounts receivable

     (19,848     (20,598     (17,139

Prepaid expenses and other

     (2,399     (1,715     (2,525

Accounts payable

     5,378       (4,793     5,002  

Accrued liabilities

     3,079       6,743       (5,500

Income taxes receivable/payable

     16,048       11,892       (4,965

Deferred rent

     (369     (475     (1,211

Deferred revenue

     6,156       2,863       1,008  

Student deposits

     9,417       9,139       7,158  
  

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Net cash provided by operating activities

     304,898       237,761       185,080  
  

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Cash flows used in investing activities:

      

Capital expenditures

     (113,586     (178,292     (204,718

Purchases of land, building and golf course improvements related to off-site development

     (10,368     (60,727     (13,583

Proceeds received from note receivable

     —         501       —    

Return of equity method investment

     685       1,749       —    

Purchases of investments

     (94,054     (49,157     (48,122

Proceeds from sale or maturity of investments

     65,259       69,925       65,542  
  

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Net cash used in investing activities

     (152,064     (216,001     (200,881
  

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Cash flows (used in) provided by financing activities:

      

Principal payments on notes payable and capital lease obligations

     (6,805     (7,224     (6,784

Debt issuance costs

     —         (194     —    

Net borrowings from revolving line of credit

     (25,000     25,000       —    

Repurchase of common shares including shares withheld in lieu of income taxes

     (11,300     (20,062     (15,562

Net proceeds from exercise of stock options

     7,372       13,207       3,489  
  

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Net cash (used in) provided by financing activities

     (35,733     10,727       (18,857
  

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Net increase (decrease) in cash and cash equivalents and restricted cash

     117,101       32,487       (34,658

Cash and cash equivalents and restricted cash, beginning of year

     130,907       98,420       133,078  
  

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Cash and cash equivalents and restricted cash, end of year

   $ 248,008     $ 130,907     $ 98,420  
  

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Supplemental disclosure of cash flow information

      

Cash paid during the year for interest

   $ 2,252     $ 1,220     $ 1,244  

Cash paid during the year for income taxes

   $ 69,606     $ 66,206     $ 75,587  

Supplemental disclosure of non-cash investing and financing activities

      

Purchases of property and equipment included in accounts payable

   $ 6,682     $ 7,746     $ 13,277  

Purchases of equipment though capital lease obligations

   $ —       $ —       $ 1,156  

Shortfall tax expense from share-based compensation

   $ —       $ 260     $ 26  

Tax benefit of Spirit warrant intangible

   $ —       $ 253     $ 253  

The accompanying notes are an integral part of these consolidated financial statements.

 

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Grand Canyon Education, Inc.

Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements

(In thousands, except per share data)

1. Nature of Business

Grand Canyon Education, Inc. (together with its subsidiaries, the “University”) was formed in Delaware in November 2003 as a limited liability company, under the name Significant Education, LLC, for the purpose of acquiring the assets of Grand Canyon University from a non-profit foundation on February 2, 2004. On August 24, 2005, the University converted from a limited liability company to a corporation and changed its name to Significant Education, Inc. On May 9, 2008, the University changed its name to Grand Canyon Education, Inc.

The University is a comprehensive regionally accredited university that offers over 225 graduate and undergraduate degree programs, emphases and certificates across nine colleges both online and on ground at our over 275 acre campus in Phoenix, Arizona, at leased facilities and at facilities owned by third party employers. Our undergraduate programs are designed to be innovative and to meet the future needs of employers, while providing students with the needed critical thinking and effective communication skills developed through a Christian, liberal arts foundation. We offer master’s and doctoral degrees in contemporary fields that are designed to provide students with the capacity for transformational leadership in their chosen industry, emphasizing the immediate relevance of theory, application, and evaluation to promote personal and organizational change. The University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. The University’s wholly owned subsidiaries are primarily used to facilitate expansion of the University campus.

2. Summary of Significant Accounting Policies

Principles of Consolidation

The consolidated financial statements include the accounts of Grand Canyon Education, Inc. and its wholly owned subsidiaries. Intercompany transactions have been eliminated in consolidation.

Use of Estimates

The preparation of financial statements in conformity with U.S. generally accepted accounting principles requires management to make estimates and assumptions that affect the reported amounts in the consolidated financial statements and accompanying notes. Actual results could differ from those estimates.

Cash and Cash Equivalents

The University invests a portion of its cash in excess of current operating requirements in short term certificates of deposit and money market instruments. The University considers all highly liquid investments with maturities of three months or less at the time of purchase to be cash equivalents.

Restricted Cash and Cash Equivalents

A significant portion of the University’s revenue is received from students who participate in government financial aid assistance programs. Restricted cash and cash equivalents primarily represent amounts received from the federal and state governments under various student aid grant and loan programs, such as Title IV. The University receives these funds subsequent to the completion of the authorization and disbursement process and holds them for the benefit of the student. The U.S. Department of Education (“Department of Education”) requires Title IV funds collected in advance of student billings to be restricted until the course begins. The University records all of these amounts as a current asset in restricted cash and cash equivalents. The majority of these funds remain as restricted for an average of 60 to 90 days from the date of receipt.

Investments

The University considers its investments in municipal bond, mutual funds, municipal securities and certificates of deposit as available-for-sale securities. Available-for-sale securities are carried at fair value, determined using Level 1 and Level 2 of the hierarchy of valuation inputs, with the use of quoted market prices and inputs other than quoted prices that are observable for the assets, with unrealized gains and losses, net of tax, reported as a separate component of other comprehensive income. Unrealized losses considered to be other-than-temporary are recognized currently in earnings. Amortization of premiums, accretion of discounts, interest and dividend income and realized gains and losses are included in interest and other income.

 

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Grand Canyon Education, Inc.

Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements

(In thousands, except per share data)

 

Property and Equipment

Property and equipment are recorded at cost less accumulated depreciation. Depreciation is computed using the straight-line method. Normal repairs and maintenance are expensed as incurred. Expenditures that materially extend the useful life of an asset are capitalized. Construction in progress represents items not yet placed in service and are not depreciated. Internally developed software represents qualifying salary and consulting costs for time spent on developing internal use software and is included in construction in progress until its completion. The University capitalizes interest using its interest rates on the specific borrowings used to finance the improvements, which approximated 2.8% in 2017, 2.2% in 2016, and 1.9% in 2015. Interest cost capitalized and incurred in the years ended December 31, 2017, 2016, and 2015 are as follows:

 

     Year Ended December 31,  
     2017      2016      2015  

Interest incurred

   $ 2,656      $ 2,538      $ 1,962  

Interest capitalized

     487        1,210        714  
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

 

Interest expense

   $ 2,169      $ 1,328      $ 1,248  
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

 

Depreciation is provided using the straight-line method over the estimated useful lives of the assets. Furniture and fixtures, computer equipment, and vehicles generally have estimated useful lives of ten, four, and five years, respectively. Leasehold improvements are depreciated over the shorter of their lease term or their useful life. Land improvements and buildings are depreciated over lives ranging from 10 to 40 years.

Leases

The University enters into various lease agreements in conducting its business. At the inception of each lease, the University evaluates the lease agreement to determine whether the lease is an operating or capital lease. In addition, many of the lease agreements contain renewal options and tenant improvement allowances. When such items are included in a lease agreement, the University records a deferred liability on the balance sheet and records the rent expense evenly over the term of the lease. Leasehold improvements are included as investing activities and are included as additions to property, plant and equipment. For leases with renewal options, the University records rent expense and amortizes the leasehold improvement on a straight-line basis over the initial non-cancelable lease term unless it intends to exercise the renewal option. Once it extends the renewal option, the University amortizes any tenant improvement allowances over the extended lease period as well as the leasehold improvement asset (unless the extended lease term is longer than the economic life of the asset). The University expenses any additional payments under its operating leases for taxes, insurance or other operating expenses as incurred.

Other Assets

The University developed our online delivery platform with an affiliated entity and put this platform into full production in 2011. The University has prepaid perpetual license fees and source code rights for the software developed, and has prepaid maintenance and service fees. Included in current other assets is the amount that will be amortized in the next twelve month cycle for maintenance and service fees and included in property and equipment is the amount that will be amortized over fifteen years for the perpetual licenses.

Long-Lived Assets

The University evaluates the recoverability of its long-lived assets for impairment, other than goodwill, whenever events or changes in circumstances indicate that the carrying amount of an asset may not be recoverable. Recoverability of assets to be held and used is measured by a comparison of the carrying amount of an asset to undiscounted future net cash flows expected to be generated by the assets. If such assets are considered to be impaired, the impairment to be recognized is measured by the amount by which the carrying amount of the assets exceeds the fair value of the assets.

 

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Grand Canyon Education, Inc.

Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements

(In thousands, except per share data)

 

Prepaid Royalties

In connection with the February 2004 acquisition of the assets of Grand Canyon University from a non-profit foundation, the University entered into a royalty fee arrangement with the former owner in which the University agreed to pay a stated percentage of cash revenue generated by its online programs. The University settled all future royalty obligations with the former owner in April 2008 when it finalized an agreement to pay $22,500 to the former owner. Of this payment $5,920 was considered as settlement of the future royalty payment obligation and is included in the accompanying balance sheet as a component of “Prepaid Royalty” and is being amortized over a period of 20 years.

Goodwill

Goodwill represents the excess of the cost over the fair market value of net assets acquired, including identified intangible assets. Goodwill is tested annually or more frequently if circumstances indicate potential impairment. The Financial Accounting Standards Board (“FASB”) has issued guidance that permits an entity to first assess qualitative factors to determine whether it is necessary to perform the two-step quantitative goodwill impairment test. The University performed its annual goodwill impairment test, by performing a qualitative assessment. Following this assessment, the University determined that it is more likely than not that its fair value exceeds its carrying amount.

Share-Based Compensation

The University measures and recognizes compensation expense for share-based payment awards made to employees and directors. The fair value of the University’s restricted stock awards is based on the market price of its common stock on the date of grant. Stock-based compensation expense related to restricted stock grants is expensed over the vesting period using the straight-line method for University employees and the University’s board of directors. Starting January 1, 2017 with the adoption of the share-based compensation accounting standard, the University made an accounting policy election to account for forfeitures as they occur, prior to 2017 these forfeitures were estimated and reported net of the expense. See Note 2, Accounting Pronouncements Adopted in 2017.

Derivatives and Hedging

Derivative financial instruments are recorded on the balance sheet as assets or liabilities and re-measured at fair value at each reporting date. For derivatives designated as cash flow hedges, the effective portion of the gain or loss on the derivative is reported as a component of other comprehensive income and reclassified into earnings in the same period or period during which the hedged transaction affects earnings. Gains and losses on the derivative representing either hedge ineffectiveness or hedge components excluded from the assessment of effectiveness are recognized in current earnings.

Derivative financial instruments enable the University to manage its exposure to interest rate risk. The University does not engage in any derivative instrument trading activity. Credit risk associated with the University’s derivatives is limited to the risk that a derivative counterparty will not perform in accordance with the terms of the contract. Exposure to counterparty credit risk is considered low because these agreements have been entered into with institutions with Aa or higher credit ratings, and they are expected to perform fully under the terms of the agreements.

Fair Value of Financial Instruments

The carrying value of cash and cash equivalents, accounts receivable, note receivable, accounts payable, accrued compensation and benefits and accrued liabilities approximate their fair value based on the liquidity or the short-term maturities of these instruments. The carrying value of notes payable approximate fair value based on its variable rate index. The carrying value of notes payable approximate fair value based upon market interest rates available to the University for debt of similar risk and maturities. Derivative financial instruments are carried at fair value, determined using Level 2 of the hierarchy of valuation inputs as defined in the FASB Accounting Standards Codification (“Codification”), with the use of inputs other than quoted prices that are observable for the asset or liability. See Note 8, Derivative Instruments.

 

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Grand Canyon Education, Inc.

Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements

(In thousands, except per share data)

 

The fair value of investments, primarily municipal securities, were determined using Level 2 of the hierarchy of valuation inputs, with the use of inputs other than quoted prices that are observable for the assets. The unit of account used for valuation is the individual underlying security. The municipal securities are comprised of city and county bonds related to schools, water and sewer, utilities, transportation, healthcare and housing.

Income Taxes

The University accounts for income taxes payable or refundable for the current year and deferred tax assets and liabilities for future tax consequences of events that have been recognized in the University’s consolidated financial statements or tax returns. Deferred tax assets and liabilities are measured using enacted tax rates in effect for the year in which the temporary differences are expected to be realized.

The University applies a more-likely-than-not threshold for financial statement recognition and measurement of an uncertain tax position taken or expected to be taken in a tax return. The University recognizes interest and penalties related to uncertain tax positions in income tax expense. As of December 31, 2017 and 2016, the University has reserved approximately $2,008 and $1,981, respectively, for uncertain tax positions, including interest and penalties, which is classified within accrued liabilities on the accompanying consolidated balance sheet.

The University has deferred tax assets, which are subject to periodic recoverability assessments. Valuation allowances are established, when necessary, to reduce deferred tax assets to the amount that more likely than not will be realized. Realization of the deferred tax assets is principally dependent upon achievement of projected future taxable income.

Commitments and Contingencies

The University accrues for a contingent obligation when it is probable that a liability has been incurred and the amount is reasonably estimable. When the University becomes aware of a claim or potential claim, the likelihood of any loss exposure is assessed. If it is probable that a loss will result and the amount of the loss is estimable, the University records a liability for the estimated loss. If the loss is not probable or the amount of the potential loss is not estimable, the University will disclose the claim if the likelihood of a potential loss is reasonably possible and the amount of the potential loss could be material. Estimates that are particularly sensitive to future changes include tax, legal, and other regulatory matters, which are subject to change as events evolve, and as additional information becomes available during the administrative and litigation process. The University expenses legal fees as incurred.

Revenue Recognition

Net revenues consist primarily of tuition and fees derived from courses taught by the University online, at its over 275 acre campus in Phoenix, Arizona, and at facilities it leases or those of employers, as well as from related educational resources that the University provides to its students, such as access to online materials. Tuition revenue and most fees from related educational resources are recognized pro-rata over the applicable period of instruction, net of scholarships provided by the University. For the years ended December 31, 2017, 2016 and 2015, the University’s revenue was reduced by approximately $196,334, $179,230 and $163,893, respectively, as a result of scholarships that the University offered to students. The University maintains an institutional tuition refund policy, which provides for all or a portion of tuition to be refunded if a student withdraws during stated refund periods. Certain states in which students reside impose separate, mandatory refund policies, which override the University’s policy to the extent in conflict. If a student withdraws at a time when only a portion, or none of the tuition is refundable, then in accordance with its revenue recognition policy, the University continues to recognize the tuition that was not refunded pro-rata over the applicable period of instruction. However, for students that have taken out financial aid to pay their tuition and for which a return to Title IV is required as a result of his or her withdrawal, the University recognizes revenue after a student withdraws only at the time of cash collection. Sales tax collected from students is excluded from net revenues. Collected but unremitted sales tax is included as an accrued liability in our consolidated balance sheet. The University also charges online students an upfront learning management fee, which is deferred and recognized over the average expected term of a student. Costs that are direct and incremental to new online students are also deferred and recognized ratably over the average expected term of a student. Deferred revenue and student deposits in any period represent the excess of tuition, fees, and other student payments received as compared to amounts recognized as revenue on the consolidated income statement and are reflected as current liabilities in the accompanying consolidated balance sheets. The University’s educational programs have starting and ending dates that differ from its fiscal quarters. Therefore, at the end of each fiscal quarter, a portion of revenue from these programs is not yet earned. Other revenues may be recognized as sales occur or services are performed.

 

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Grand Canyon Education, Inc.

Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements

(In thousands, except per share data)

 

Allowance for Doubtful Accounts

The University records an allowance for doubtful accounts for estimated losses resulting from the inability, failure or refusal of its students to make required payments, which includes the recovery of financial aid funds advanced to a student for amounts in excess of the student’s cost of tuition and related fees. The University determines the adequacy of its allowance for doubtful accounts based on an analysis of its historical bad debt experience, current economic trends, and the aging of the accounts receivable and student status. The University applies reserves to its receivables based upon an estimate of the risk presented by the age of the receivables and student status. The University writes off accounts receivable balances of active students at the earlier of the time the balances were deemed uncollectible, or one year after the revenue is generated. The University accelerates the write off of inactive student accounts such that the accounts are written off by day 150. The University reflects accounts receivable with an offsetting allowance as long as management believes there is a reasonable possibility of collection. Bad debt expense is recorded as an instructional costs and services expense in the consolidated income statement.

Instructional Costs and Services

Instructional costs and services consist primarily of costs related to the administration and delivery of the University’s educational programs. This expense category includes salaries, benefits and share-based compensation for full-time and adjunct faculty and administrative personnel, information technology costs, bad debt expense, curriculum and new program development costs (which are expensed as incurred) and costs associated with other support groups that provide services directly to the students. This category also includes an allocation of depreciation, amortization, rent, and occupancy costs attributable to the provision of educational services, primarily at the University’s Phoenix, Arizona campus.

Admissions Advisory and Related

Admissions advisory and related expenses include salaries and benefits for admissions advisory personnel, and revenue share expense as well as an allocation of depreciation, amortization, rent and occupancy costs attributable to the admissions advisory personnel.

Advertising

Advertising expenses include brand advertising, marketing leads and other branding activities. Advertising costs are expensed as incurred.

Marketing and Promotional

Marketing and promotional expenses include salaries, benefits and share-based compensation for marketing personnel, and other promotional expenses. This category also includes an allocation of depreciation, amortization, rent, and occupancy costs attributable to marketing and promotional activities. Marketing and promotional costs are expensed as incurred.

General and Administrative

General and administrative expenses include salaries, and benefits and share-based compensation of employees engaged in corporate management, finance, human resources, compliance, and other corporate functions. General and administrative expenses also include an allocation of depreciation, amortization, rent, and occupancy costs attributable to the departments providing general and administrative functions.

 

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Grand Canyon Education, Inc.

Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements

(In thousands, except per share data)

 

Lease termination costs

In July 2016, the University notified a current landlord of its intent to vacate leased space by the end of the fourth quarter of 2016. As part of that notification, the University was required to pay a termination fee to its landlord of $3,363 which was recorded as an expense in the third quarter of 2016. As of December 31, 2016, the University had vacated the space, and expensed an additional $160 in the fourth quarter of 2016 related to the remaining amounts due under the lease net of remaining deferred rent.

Insurance/Self-Insurance

The University uses a combination of insurance and self-insurance for a number of risks, including claims related to employee health care, workers’ compensation, general liability, and business interruption. Liabilities associated with these risks are estimated based on, among other things, historical claims experience, severity factors, and other actuarial assumptions. The University’s loss exposure related to self-insurance is limited by stop loss coverage on a per occurrence and aggregate basis. The University regularly analyzes its reserves for incurred but not reported claims, and for reported but not paid claims related to self-funded insurance programs. While the University believes reserves are adequate, significant judgment is involved in assessing these reserves such as assessing historical paid claims, average lags between the claims’ incurred date, reported dates and paid dates, and the frequency and severity of claims. There may be differences between actual settlement amounts and recorded reserves and any resulting adjustments are included in expense once a probable amount is known.

Concentration of Credit Risk

The University believes the credit risk related to cash equivalents and investments is limited due to its adherence to an investment policy that required investments to have a minimum BBB rating, depending on the type of security, by one major rating agency at the time of purchase. All of the University’s cash equivalents and investments as of December 31, 2017 and 2016 consist of investments rated BBB or higher by at least one rating agency. Additionally, the University utilizes more than one financial institution to conduct initial and ongoing credit analysis on its investment portfolio to monitor and lower the potential impact of market risk associated with its cash equivalents and investment portfolio.

A majority of the University’s revenues are derived from tuition financed under the Title IV programs of the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended (the “Higher Education Act”). The financial aid and assistance programs are subject to political and budgetary considerations and are subject to extensive and complex regulations. The University’s administration of these programs is periodically reviewed by various regulatory agencies. Any regulatory violation could be the basis for the initiation of potentially adverse actions including a suspension, limitation, or termination proceeding, which could have a material adverse effect on the University.

Students obtain access to federal student financial aid through a Department of Education prescribed application and eligibility certification process. Student financial aid funds are generally made available to students at prescribed intervals throughout their predetermined expected length of study. Students typically apply the funds received from the federal financial aid programs first to pay their tuition and fees. Any remaining funds are distributed directly to the student.

Segment Information

The University operates as a single educational delivery operation using a core infrastructure that serves the curriculum and educational delivery needs of both its ground and online students regardless of geography. The University’s Chief Executive Officer manages the University’s operations as a whole and no expense or operating income information is generated or evaluated on any component level.

Accounting Pronouncements Adopted in 2017

In March 2016, the FASB issued “Compensation – Stock Compensation: Improvement to Employee Share-Based Payment Accounting,” to simplify certain aspects of the accounting for share-based payment transactions to employees. The new standard requires excess tax benefits and tax deficiencies to be recorded in the consolidated statements of income as a component of the provision for income taxes when stock awards vest or options are exercised. In addition, it eliminates the requirement to reclassify cash flows related to excess tax benefits from operating activities to financing activities on the consolidated statements of cash flows. The standard also provides an accounting policy election to account for forfeitures as they occur, allows us to withhold more of an employee’s vesting shares for tax withholding purposes without triggering liability accounting, and clarifies that all cash payments made to tax authorities on an employee’s behalf for withheld shares should be presented as a financing activity on our consolidated cash flows statement.

 

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Grand Canyon Education, Inc.

Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements

(In thousands, except per share data)

 

The University adopted the new guidance in the first quarter of 2017 which required us to reflect any adjustments as of January 1, 2017. Upon adoption, excess tax benefits or deficiencies from share-based awards or options are now reflected in the consolidated statement of income as a component of the provision for income taxes, whereas previously they were recognized in equity. The University elected to account for forfeitures as they occur, rather than estimate expected forfeitures. The net cumulative effect of this change increased additional paid-in capital and decreased retained earnings as of January 1, 2017 by $59, net of tax. The University did not have any previously unrecognized excess tax effects that had not been recorded as a reduction to tax liability.

The University adopted the provisions of the standard impacting the cash flow presentation retrospectively, and accordingly, to conform to the current period presentation, we reclassified $9,928 and $3,636 of excess tax benefits which had been included as a financing activity to an operating activity for the years ended December 31, 2016 and 2015, respectively, in our consolidated statement of cash flows. The presentation requirement for cash flows related to employee taxes paid for withheld shares had no impact on our consolidated statement of cash flows since such cash flows have historically been presented as a financing activity.

Adoption of the provision of the new standard related to income taxes was adopted prospectively and resulted in a reduction to our provision for income taxes of $16,511 for the year ended December 31, 2017, due to the recognition of excess tax benefits from restricted stock awards that vested or stock options that were exercised in 2017. Our restricted stock awards vest in March each year so the excess tax benefits and deficiencies is greatest in the first quarter each year. The inclusion of excess tax benefits and deficiencies as a component of our income tax expense will increase volatility within our provision for income taxes as the amount of excess tax benefits or deficiencies from share-based compensation awards are dependent on our stock price at the date the restricted awards vest, our stock price on the date an option is exercised, and the quantity of options exercised.

In August 2016, the FASB issued a new standard that clarifies how certain cash receipts and cash payments are presented and classified in the consolidated statement of cash flows. The University elected to early adopt this guidance in the first quarter of 2017 on a retrospective basis. There was no reclassification impact of the adoption on our consolidated statement of cash flows for the years ended December 31, 2017, 2016 and 2015, as our historical statements have been presented in accordance with this new guidance.

In November 2016, the FASB issued a new standard that requires restricted cash and cash equivalents to be included with the amount of cash and cash equivalents that are reconciled on the consolidated statement of cash flows. The University elected to early adopt this guidance in the first quarter of 2017 on a retrospective basis, and accordingly, to conform to the current period presentation, we reclassified our restricted cash and cash equivalents to be included in the total of cash and cash equivalents presented at the bottom of our consolidated statement of cash flows for both the beginning and ending periods for our years ended December 31, 2017, 2016 and 2015. As a result, the amount of the change in our net cash provided by operating activities no longer includes the impact of the change in restricted cash and cash equivalents for either period.

The following table summarizes the effects related to the adoption of both accounting standards (share-based compensation and restricted cash and cash equivalents) for the years ended December 31, 2016 and 2015:

Consolidated Statement of Cash Flows Data:

 

     December 31, 2016      December 31, 2015  
     As
reported
     As
adjusted
     As
reported
    As
adjusted
 

Net cash provided by operating activities

   $ 218,286      $ 237,761      $ 173,900     $ 185,080  

Net cash provided by (used in) financing activities

   $ 20,655      $ 10,727      $ (15,221   $ (18,857

Net increase (decrease) in cash and cash equivalents and restricted cash

   $ 22,940      $ 32,487      $ (42,202   $ (34,658

Cash and cash equivalents and restricted cash, beginning of period

   $ 23,036      $ 98,420      $ 65,238     $ 133,078  

Cash and cash equivalents and restricted cash, end of period

   $ 45,976      $ 130,907      $ 23,036     $ 98,420  

 

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Grand Canyon Education, Inc.

Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements

(In thousands, except per share data)

 

Recent Accounting Pronouncements

In May 2014, the FASB issued “Revenue from Contracts with Customers, as amended.” The standard is a comprehensive new revenue recognition model that requires revenue to be recognized in a manner to depict the transfer of goods or services to a customer at an amount that reflects the consideration expected to be received in exchange for those goods or services. The accounting guidance also requires additional disclosure about the nature, amount, timing and uncertainty of revenue and cash flows arising from customer contracts, including significant judgements and changes in judgements and assets recognized from costs incurred to obtain or fulfill a contract. In July 2015, the FASB approved a one-year delay in the effective date. The University will adopt this new standard January 1, 2018 using the modified retrospective method and providing certain additional disclosures as defined within the standard. The University has elected to apply this guidance retrospectively to all contracts at the date of initial application. Management has undertaken a review of contracts and revenue streams for all of our net revenues. The majority of our revenues are related to tuition, net of scholarships, due from our students. Tuition revenues, net of scholarships, are currently recognized pro-rata over the applicable period of instruction which the University believes is consistent with the revenue recognition method required by the new standard. The University will provide expanded disclosures pertaining to revenue recognition in our annual and quarterly filings beginning in the period of adoption. The University will clarify further its receivables, contract assets and contract liabilities reported in its consolidated balance sheets. The University will elect the short-term contract exemption with respect to disclosures associated with its performance obligations as all performance obligations as of the end of any reporting period have original terms of less than a year. Thus, we anticipate the adoption of this standard will not have a material impact on our consolidated financial statements, cash flows or results of operations.

In January 2016, the FASB issued “Financial Instruments – Overall: Recognition and Measurement of Financial Assets and Financial Liabilities.” The standard addresses certain aspects of recognition, measurement, presentation, and disclosure of financial instruments. Most prominent among the amendments is the requirement for changes in the fair value of equity investments, with certain exceptions, to be recognized through net income rather than other comprehensive income (“OCI”). This standard is effective for fiscal years, and interim periods within those years, beginning after December 15, 2017, and early adoption is not permitted. Accordingly, the standard is effective for us on January 1, 2018. We are currently evaluating the impact that the standard will have on our consolidated financial statements.

In February 2016, the FASB issued “Leases.” The standard establishes a right-of-use (“ROU”) model that requires a lessee to recognize a ROU asset and a lease liability on the balance sheet for all leases with lease terms longer than 12 months. Leases will be classified as either finance or operating, with classification affecting the pattern of expense recognition in the income statement. This standard is effective for fiscal years, and interim periods within those years, beginning after December 15, 2018, and early adoption is permitted. Accordingly, the standard is effective for us on January 1, 2019 using a modified retrospective transition approach. A modified retrospective transition approach is required for lessees for capital and operating leases existing at, or entered into after, the beginning of the earliest comparative period presented in the financial statements, with certain practical expedients available. The University has begun evaluating the impact that the future adoption of this standard will have on our consolidated financial statements and we believe the adoption will slightly increase our assets and liabilities, and will expand our financial statement disclosures.

In June 2016, the FASB issued “Financial Instruments – Credit Losses: Measurement of Credit Losses on Financial Instruments”. The new guidance revises the accounting requirements related to the measurement of credit losses on financial instruments and the timing of when such losses are recorded. The standard is effective for fiscal years, and interim periods within those years, beginning after December 15, 2019. Early adoption is permitted for fiscal years and interim periods within those years, beginning after December 15, 2018. Accordingly, the standard is effective for us on January 1, 2020 using a modified retrospective approach, and we are currently evaluating the impact that the standard will have on our consolidated financial statements.

The University has determined that no other recent accounting pronouncements apply to its operations or could otherwise have a material impact on its consolidated financial statements.

 

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Grand Canyon Education, Inc.

Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements

(In thousands, except per share data)

 

3. Investments

The following is a summary of investments as of December 31, 2017 and 2016. The University considers all investments as available for sale.

 

     As of December 31, 2017  
     Adjusted
Cost
     Gross
Unrealized
Gains
     Gross
Unrealized
(Losses)
    Estimated
Fair
Value
 

Municipal securities

   $ 84,768      $ —        $ (409   $ 84,359  

Certificates of Deposit

   $ 4,915      $ —        $ (3   $ 4,912  
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

   

 

 

 

Total investments

   $ 89,683      $ —        $ (412   $ 89,271  
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

     As of December 31, 2016  
     Adjusted
Cost
     Gross
Unrealized
Gains
     Gross
Unrealized
(Losses)
    Estimated
Fair
Value
 

Municipal securities

   $ 62,769      $ 12      $ (185   $ 62,596  
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

   

 

 

 

The cash flows of municipal securities are backed by the issuing municipality’s credit worthiness. All municipal securities and certificates of deposit are due in one year or less as of December 31, 2017. For the years ended December 31, 2017 and 2016, the net unrealized losses on available-for-sale securities were $255 and $430, net of taxes, respectively.

4. Valuation and Qualifying Accounts

 

     Balance at
Beginning of
Year
     Charged to
Expense
     Deductions
(1)
    Balance at
End of
Year
 

Allowance for doubtful accounts receivable:

          

Year ended December 31, 2017

   $ 5,918        18,478        (18,489   $ 5,907  

Year ended December 31, 2016

   $ 5,137        18,639        (17,858   $ 5,918  

Year ended December 31, 2015

   $ 6,472        16,620        (17,955   $ 5,137  

 

(1) Deductions represent accounts written off, net of recoveries.

5. Property and Equipment

Property and equipment consist of the following:

 

     As of December 31,  
     2017      2016  

Land

   $ 160,126      $ 127,769  

Land improvements

     25,630        23,158  

Buildings

     595,384        559,791  

Building and leasehold improvements

     117,460        105,168  

Equipment under capital leases

     5,937        5,943  

Computer equipment

     116,477        108,551  

Furniture, fixtures and equipment

     63,470        59,300  

Internally developed software

     36,173        30,407  

Other

     1,176        1,176  

Construction in progress

     32,390        19,112  
  

 

 

    

 

 

 
     1,154,223        1,040,375  

Less accumulated depreciation and amortization

     (231,939      (184,847
  

 

 

    

 

 

 

Property and equipment, net

   $ 922,284      $ 855,528  
  

 

 

    

 

 

 

 

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Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements

(In thousands, except per share data)

 

Depreciation and amortization expense associated with property and equipment, including assets under capital lease, totaled $53,607, $44,829, and $34,821 for the years ended December 31, 2017, 2016, and 2015, respectively.

6. Notes Payable and Other Noncurrent Liabilities

In 2012, we entered into a new credit agreement, which increased our term loan to $100,000 with a maturity date of December 2019. Additionally, this facility, as amended in January 2016, provided a revolving line of credit in the amount of $150,000 through December 2017 to be utilized for working capital, capital expenditures, share repurchases and other general corporate purposes. The amendment to this facility increased the revolving line of credit from $50,000 to $150,000. Indebtedness under the credit facility is secured by our assets and is guaranteed by certain of our subsidiaries. The Agreement contains standard covenants that, among other things, restrict the University’s ability to incur additional debt or make certain investments, require the University to maintain compliance with certain applicable regulatory standards, and require the University to achieve certain financial ratios and maintain certain financial condition. As of December 31, 2017, the University is in compliance with its debt covenants. No amounts were drawn on the revolver as of December 31, 2017 and it expired.

 

     As of December 31,  
     2017      2016  

Notes Payable

     

Note payable, monthly payment of $556; interest at 30 day LIBOR plus 1.75% (3.11% at December 31, 2017) through December 31, 2019

   $ 66,477      $ 73,001  

Revolving line of credit; interest at 30 day LIBOR plus 1.75% (2.3% at December 31, 2016)

     —          25,000  

Annuities; quarterly payments of $34; extending through 2019; interest at 10%

     139        251  
  

 

 

    

 

 

 
     66,616        98,252  

Less: Current portion

     6,691        31,636  
  

 

 

    

 

 

 
   $ 59,925      $ 66,616  
  

 

 

    

 

 

 

Payments due under the notes payable obligations are as follows as of December 31, 2017:

 

2018

   $ 6,691

2019

     59,925  
  

 

 

 
   $ 66,616  
  

 

 

 

Long-term deferred rent included in other noncurrent liabilities as of December 31, 2017 and 2016 was $460 and $729, respectively.

7. Commitments and Contingencies

Leases

The University leases certain land, buildings and equipment under non-cancelable operating leases expiring at various dates through 2022. Future minimum lease payments under operating leases due each year are as follows at December 31, 2017:

 

2018

   $ 1,072  

2019

     422  

2020

     412  

2021

     425  

2022

     35  

Thereafter

     —    
  

 

 

 

Total minimum payments

   $ 2,366  
  

 

 

 

 

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Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements

(In thousands, except per share data)

 

Total rent expense and related taxes and operating expenses under operating leases for the years ended December 31, 2017, 2016 and 2015 was $1,545, $6,694, and $7,759, respectively.

Legal Matters

From time to time, the University is party to various lawsuits, claims, and other legal proceedings that arise in the ordinary course of business, some of which are covered by insurance. When the University is aware of a claim or potential claim, it assesses the likelihood of any loss or exposure. If it is probable that a loss will result and the amount of the loss can be reasonably estimated, the University records a liability for the loss. If the loss is not probable or the amount of the loss cannot be reasonably estimated, the University discloses the nature of the specific claim if the likelihood of a potential loss is reasonably possible and the amount involved is material. With respect to the majority of pending litigation matters, the University’s ultimate legal and financial responsibility, if any, cannot be estimated with certainty and, in most cases, any potential losses related to those matters are not considered probable.

Upon resolution of any pending legal matters, the University may incur charges in excess of presently established reserves. Management does not believe that any such charges would, individually or in the aggregate, have a material adverse effect on the University’s financial condition, results of operations or cash flows.

Tax Reserves, Non-Income Tax Related

From time to time the University has exposure to various non-income tax related matters that arise in the ordinary course of business. At both December 31, 2017 and 2016, the University has no reserve for tax matters where its ultimate exposure is considered probable and the potential loss can be reasonably estimated.

8. Derivative Instruments

On February 27, 2013, the University entered into an interest rate corridor to manage its 30 Day LIBOR interest exposure related to its variable rate debt. This instrument did not contain financing elements. The contractual terms of the University’s derivative instrument have not been structured such that net payments made by one party in the earlier periods are to be subsequently returned by the counterparty in later periods of the derivative’s term. The University’s derivative instrument has not been amended or modified since inception. The fair value of the interest rate corridor instrument as of December 31, 2017 and 2016 was $509 and $490, respectively, which is included in other assets. The fair value of the derivative instrument was determined using a hypothetical derivative transaction and Level 2 of the hierarchy of valuation inputs. This derivative instrument was originally designated as a cash flow hedge of variable rate debt obligations. The adjustments of $17, $245, and $602 for the years ended December 31, 2017, 2016 and 2015, respectively, for the effective portion of the gain/loss on the derivative is included as a component of other comprehensive income, net of taxes.

The interest rate corridor instrument reduces variable interest rate risk starting March 1, 2013 through December 20, 2019 with a notional amount of $66,667 as of December 31, 2017. The corridor instrument’s terms permit the University to hedge its interest rate risk at several thresholds; the University pays variable interest monthly based on the 30-day LIBOR rates until that index reaches 1.5%. If 30-day LIBOR is equal to 1.5% through 3.0%, the University pays 1.5%. If 30-day LIBOR exceeds 3.0%, the University pays actual 30-day LIBOR less 1.5%. Therefore, the University has hedged its exposure to future variable rate cash flows through December 20, 2019.

As of December 31, 2017 no derivative ineffectiveness was identified. Any ineffectiveness in the University’s derivative instrument designated as a hedge would be reported in interest expense in the income statement. At December 31, 2017, the University does not expect to reclassify any gains or losses on derivative instruments from accumulated other comprehensive income (loss) into earnings during the next 12 months.

9. Earnings Per Share

Basic earnings per common share is calculated by dividing net income available to common stockholders by the weighted average number of common shares outstanding for the period. Diluted earnings per common share reflects the assumed conversion of all potentially dilutive securities, consisting of stock options and restricted stock awards, for which the estimated fair value exceeds the exercise price, less shares which could have been purchased with the related proceeds, unless anti-dilutive. For employee equity awards, repurchased shares are also included for any unearned compensation adjusted for tax. The table below reflects the calculation of the weighted average number of common shares outstanding, on an as if converted basis, used in computing basic and diluted earnings per common share.

 

     Year Ended December 31,  
     2017      2016      2015  

Denominator:

        

Basic weighted average shares outstanding

     47,140        46,083        45,975  

Effect of dilutive stock options and restricted stock

     1,095        1,038        1,306  
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

 

Diluted weighted average shares outstanding

     48,235        47,121        47,281  
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

 

 

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Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements

(In thousands, except per share data)

 

Diluted weighted average shares outstanding excludes the incremental effect of unvested restricted stock and shares that would be issued upon the assumed exercise of stock options in accordance with the treasury stock method. For each of the years ended December 31, 2017, 2016 and 2015, approximately 2, 344 and 385, respectively, of the University’s stock options and restricted stock awards outstanding were excluded from the calculation of diluted earnings per share as their inclusion would have been anti-dilutive. These options and restricted stock awards could be dilutive in the future.

10. Equity Transactions

Preferred Stock

As of December 31, 2017 and 2016, the University had 10,000 shares of authorized but unissued and undesignated preferred stock. The University’s charter provides that the board of directors has authority to issue preferred stock, with voting powers, designations, preferences, and special rights, qualifications, limitation, or restrictions as permitted by law as determined by the board of directors, without stockholder approval. The board of directors may authorize the issuance of preferred stock with voting or conversion rights that could adversely affect the voting power or other rights of the holders of the common stock.

Treasury Stock

The Board of Directors has authorized the University to repurchase up to $175,000 in aggregate of common stock, from time to time, depending on market conditions and other considerations. The expiration date on the repurchase authorization has been extended to December 31, 2018. Repurchases occur at the University’s discretion. Repurchases may be made in the open market or in privately negotiated transactions, pursuant to the applicable Securities and Exchange Commission rules. The amount and timing of future share repurchases, if any, will be made as market and business conditions warrant. Since its approval of the share repurchase plan, the University has purchased 3,509 shares of common stock at an aggregate cost of $77,292, which are recorded at cost in the accompanying December 31, 2017 consolidated balance sheet and statement of stockholders’ equity. During the year ended December 31, 2017 the University repurchased 17 shares of common stock at an aggregate costs of $1,510. At December 31, 2017, there remained $97,708 available under its current share repurchase authorization. Shares repurchase in lieu of taxes are not included in the repurchase plan totals as they were approved in conjunction with the restricted share awards.

11. Income Taxes

The University has deferred tax assets and liabilities that reflect the net tax effects of temporary differences between the carrying amounts of assets and liabilities for financial reporting purposes and the amounts used for income tax purposes. Deferred tax assets are subject to periodic recoverability assessments. Realization of the deferred tax assets, net of deferred tax liabilities is principally dependent upon achievement of projected future taxable income. Based upon the level of historical taxable income and projections for future taxable income over the periods in which the deferred tax assets are deductible, management believes it is more-likely-than-not that the University will realize the benefits of these deductible differences. The University has no valuation allowance at December 31, 2017 and 2016.

On December 22, 2017, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (the “Act”) was signed into law. For businesses, the Act reduces the corporate federal tax rate from a maximum of 35% to a flat 21% rate. The rate reduction took effect on January 1, 2018. The University has concluded that the Act will cause the University’s deferred tax assets and liabilities to be revalued. Deferred tax assets and liabilities are measured using enacted tax rates expected to apply to taxable income in the years in which those temporary differences are expected to be recovered or settled. As changes in tax laws or rates are enacted, deferred tax assets and liabilities are adjusted though income tax expense. The University’s net deferred tax liability was revalued as of December 22, 2017. The University recorded a $10.7 million income tax benefit related to the revaluation of its net deferred tax liabilities. Excluding this income tax benefit in 2017, our effective tax rate would have been 32.1%. Due to the enactment date and complexities of the new tax law, the regulations may have not been fully interpreted by the federal and state taxing authorities, thus there may be additional impacts to the tax provision that may not have been included herein.

 

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Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements

(In thousands, except per share data)

 

The components of income tax expense (benefit) are as follows:

 

     Year Ended December 31,  
     2017      2016      2015  

Current:

        

Federal

   $ 76,966      $ 64,006      $ 63,481  

State

     8,589        4,831        5,222  
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

 
     85,555        68,837        68,703  
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

 

Deferred:

        

Federal

     (6,189      7,961        4,473  

State

     843        891        557  
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

 
     (5,346      8,852        5,030  
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

 

Tax expense recorded as an increase of paid-in capital

     —          9,921        3,863  
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

 
   $ 80,209      $ 87,610      $ 77,596  
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

 

A reconciliation of income tax computed at the U.S. statutory rate to the effective income tax rate is as follows:

 

     Year Ended December 31,  
     2017     2016     2015  

Statutory U.S. federal income tax rate

     35.0     35.0     35.0

State income taxes, net of federal tax benefit

     3.2       3.2       3.3  

State tax credits, net of federal effect

     (0.7     (1.5     (1.2

Excess tax benefits

     (5.8     0.0       0.0  

Deferred tax revaluation (Federal Rate change)

     (3.7     0.0       0.0  

Nondeductible expenses

     0.0       0.2       0.1  

Other

     0.3       0.2       (0.1
  

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Effective income tax rate

     28.3     37.1     37.1
  

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Significant components of the University’s deferred income tax assets and liabilities, included in Deferred income taxes, non-current on the consolidated balance sheets are as follows:

 

     As of December 31,  
     2017      2016  

Deferred tax assets:

     

Allowance for doubtful accounts

   $ 1,685      $ 2,362  

Share-based compensation

     4,201        7,681  

Deferred tuition revenue

     1,294        1,539  

Deferred scholarship

     618        1,198  

Deferred rent

     54        122  

Intangibles

     590        1,048  

State taxes

     985        1,228  

Other

     1,422        2,731  
  

 

 

    

 

 

 

Deferred tax assets

     10,849        17,909  
  

 

 

    

 

 

 

Deferred tax liability:

     

Property and equipment

     (28,028      (40,358

Other

     (1,183      (1,259
  

 

 

    

 

 

 

Deferred tax liability

     (29,211      (41,617
  

 

 

    

 

 

 

Net deferred tax liability

   $ (18,362    $ (23,708
  

 

 

    

 

 

 

 

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Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements

(In thousands, except per share data)

 

The net deferred tax liability on the accompanying consolidated balance sheet is comprised of the following:

 

     As of December 31,  
     2017      2016  

Deferred income taxes, current

   $ 5,214      $ 7,814  

Deferred income taxes, non-current

     (23,576      (31,522
  

 

 

    

 

 

 

Net deferred tax liability

   $ (18,362    $ (23,708
  

 

 

    

 

 

 

The University recognizes the impact of a tax position in its financial statements if that position is more-likely-than-not to be sustained on audit, based on the technical merits of the position. The University discloses all unrecognized tax benefits, which includes the reserves recorded for uncertain tax positions on filed tax returns and the unrecognized portion of affirmative claims. The University recognizes interest and penalties related to uncertain tax positions in income tax expense. Unrecognized tax benefits as of December 31, 2017 and 2016 were not significant.

The University is subject to taxation in the United States, in states with an income tax and in several local jurisdictions. The University is currently under audit by various state taxing authorities. The University does not anticipate any material adjustments as a result of these audits. As of December 31, 2017, the earliest tax year still subject to examination for federal and state purposes is 2014 and 2013, respectively.

12. Regulatory

The University is subject to extensive regulation by federal and state governmental agencies and accrediting bodies. In particular, the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended (the “Higher Education Act”), and the regulations promulgated thereunder by the Department of Education, subject the University to significant regulatory scrutiny on the basis of numerous standards that schools must satisfy in order to participate in the various federal student financial assistance programs under Title IV of the Higher Education Act.

To participate in the Title IV programs, an institution must be authorized to offer its programs of instruction by the relevant agency of the state in which it is located, accredited by an accrediting agency recognized by the Department of Education and certified as eligible by the Department of Education. The Department of Education will certify an institution to participate in the Title IV programs only after the institution has demonstrated compliance with the Higher Education Act and the Department of Education’s extensive regulations regarding institutional eligibility. An institution must also demonstrate its compliance to the Department of Education on an ongoing basis. The University’s accreditation has been reaffirmed by the Higher Learning Commission (“HLC”) after a comprehensive review of the institution’s academic offerings, governance and administration, mission, finances and resources during 2016. The accreditation was reaffirmed by the HLC’s Institutional Actions council at its meeting on February 28, 2017 with no requirements for any monitoring or interim reports. The comprehensive review occurs every 10 years, along with a mid-term report in year four. As of December 31, 2017, management believes the University is in compliance with the applicable regulations in all material respects. The University has a program participation agreement with full certification from the Department of Education, which gives the University the ability to participate in the Title IV programs through December 31, 2020.

Because the University operates in a highly regulated industry, it, like other industry participants, may be subject from time to time to investigations, claims of non-compliance, or lawsuits by governmental agencies or third parties, which allege statutory violations, regulatory infractions, or common law causes of action. While there can be no assurance that regulatory agencies or third parties will not undertake investigations or make claims against the University, or that such claims, if made, will not have a material adverse effect on the University’s business, results of operations or financial condition, management believes the University is in compliance with applicable regulations in all material respects.

 

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Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements

(In thousands, except per share data)

 

90/10 Disclosure

The University derives a substantial portion of its revenues from student financial aid received by its students under the Title IV programs administered by the Department of Education pursuant to the Higher Education Act. To continue to participate in the student financial aid programs the University must comply with the regulations promulgated under the Higher Education Act. The regulations restrict the proportion of cash receipts for tuition and fees from eligible programs to not more than 90 percent from Title IV programs (the “90/10 revenue test”). If an institution fails to satisfy the test for one year, its participation status becomes provisional for two consecutive fiscal years. If the test is not satisfied for two consecutive years, eligibility to participate in Title IV programs is lost for at least two fiscal years. Using the Department of Education’s cash-basis, regulatory formula under the 90/10 Rule as currently in effect, for its 2017, 2016, and 2015 fiscal years, the University derived 71.5%, 72.3%, and 74.8%, respectively, for its 90/10 revenue from Title IV program funds.

13. Share-Based Compensation Plans

Incentive Plans

Prior to June 2017, the University made grants of restricted stock and stock options under its 2008 Equity Incentive Plan (the “2008 Plan”). In January 2017, the Board of Directors of the University approved, and at the University’s 2017 annual meeting of stockholders held on June 14, 2017, the University’s stockholders adopted a 2017 Equity Incentive Plan (the “2017 Plan”) under which a maximum of 3 million shares may be granted. All future grants of equity incentives will be made from the 2017 Plan.

Restricted Stock

During fiscal year 2017, 2016, and 2015, the University granted 188, 264, and 315 shares of common stock under the 2008 Plan, respectively, with a service vesting condition to certain of its executives, officers, faculty and employees. The restricted shares have voting rights and vest evenly at 20% over each of the next five years. Upon vesting, shares will be held in lieu of taxes equivalent to the statutory tax withholding required to be paid when the restricted stock vests. During the years ended December 31, 2017, 2016 and 2015, the University withheld 151, 114, and 94 shares of common stock in lieu of taxes at a cost of $9,790, $4,695, and $4,283, on the restricted stock vesting dates, respectively. In June 2017, following the annual stockholders meeting, the University granted 4 shares of common stock under the 2017 Plan to the non-employee members of the University’s board of directors. In 2016 and 2015, the University granted 11 and 9 shares of common stock under the 2008 Plan, respectively, to certain of the non-employee members of the University’s board of directors. The restricted shares granted to these directors have voting rights and vest on the earlier of (a) the one year anniversary of the date of grant or (b) immediately prior to the following year’s annual stockholders’ meeting.

A summary of the activity related to restricted stock granted under the University’s Incentive Plan is as follows:

 

     Total
Shares
     Weighted
Average
Grant Date
Fair Value
per Share
 

Outstanding as of December 31, 2014

     1,033      $ 28.75  

Granted

     324      $ 45.66  

Vested

     (274    $ 27.18  

Forfeited, canceled or expired

     (27    $ 30.27  
  

 

 

    

Outstanding as of December 31, 2015

     1,056      $ 34.30  
  

 

 

    

Granted

     275      $ 44.46  

Vested

     (329    $ 30.56  

Forfeited, canceled or expired

     (9    $ 37.94  
  

 

 

    

Outstanding as of December 31, 2016

     993      $ 38.32  
  

 

 

    

Granted

     192      $ 70.44  

Vested

     (375    $ 32.46  

Forfeited, canceled or expired

     (34    $ 44.51  
  

 

 

    

Outstanding as of December 31, 2017

     776      $ 49.16  
  

 

 

    

 

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Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements

(In thousands, except per share data)

 

As of December 31, 2017, there was approximately $27,221 of total unrecognized share-based compensation cost related to unvested restricted stock awards. These costs are expected to be recognized over a weighted average period of 2.0 years.

Stock Options

No options were granted in 2017, 2016 and 2015. Prior to 2012, the University granted time vested options to purchase shares of common stock with an exercise price equal to the fair market value on the date of grant to employees. These time vested options vest ratably over a period of five years and expire ten years from the date of grant. A summary of the activity related to stock options granted under the University’s Incentive Plan is as follows:

 

     Summary of Stock Options Outstanding  
     Total
Shares
     Weighted
Average
Exercise
Price
per
Share
     Weighted
Average
Remaining
Contractual
Term (Years)
     Aggregate
Intrinsic
Value ($)(1)
 

Outstanding as of December 31, 2014

     2,452      $ 14.83        

Granted

     —        $ —          

Exercised

     (218    $ 15.97        

Forfeited, canceled or expired

     (14    $ 16.08        
  

 

 

          

Outstanding as of December 31, 2015

     2,220      $ 14.71        
  

 

 

          

Granted

     —        $ —          

Exercised

     (946    $ 13.97        

Forfeited, canceled or expired

     (2    $ 19.23        
  

 

 

          

Outstanding as of December 31, 2016

     1,272      $ 15.26        
  

 

 

          

Granted

     —        $ —          

Exercised

     (576    $ 12.79        

Forfeited, canceled or expired

     (2    $ 16.35        
  

 

 

          

Outstanding as of December 31, 2017

     694      $ 17.31        2.71      $ 50,114  
  

 

 

          

Exercisable as of December 31, 2017

     694      $ 17.31        2.71      $ 50,114  
  

 

 

          

 

(1) Aggregate intrinsic value represents the value of the University’s closing stock price on December 29, 2017 ($89.53) in excess of the exercise price multiplied by the number of options outstanding or exercisable.

Share-based Compensation

Share-based Compensation Expense Assumptions – Restricted Stock Awards

The University measures and recognizes compensation expense for share-based payment awards made to employees and directors. The fair value of the University’s restricted stock awards is based on the market price of its common stock on the date of grant. Stock-based compensation expense related to restricted stock grants is expensed over the vesting period using the straight-line method for University employees and the University’s board of directors. Starting January 1, 2017 with the adoption of the share-based compensation accounting standard, the University made an accounting policy election to account for forfeitures as they occur, prior to 2017 these forfeitures were estimated and reported net of the expense. The restricted shares have voting rights.

 

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Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements

(In thousands, except per share data)

 

The table below outlines share-based compensation expense for the fiscal years ended December 31, 2017, 2016 and 2015 related to restricted stock and stock options granted:

 

     2017      2016      2015  

Instructional costs and services

   $ 7,874      $ 7,398      $ 6,779  

Admissions advisory and related

     198        232        192  

Marketing and promotional

     169        125        130  

General and administrative

     4,447        4,521        4,156  
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

 

Share-based compensation expense included in operating expenses

     12,688        12,276        11,257  

Tax effect of share-based compensation

     (5,075      (4,910      (4,503
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

 

Share-based compensation expense, net of tax

   $ 7,613      $ 7,366      $ 6,754  
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

 

401(k) Plan

The University has established a 401(k) Defined Contribution Benefit Plan (the “Plan”). The Plan provides eligible employees, upon date of hire, with an opportunity to make tax-deferred contributions into a long-term investment and savings program. All employees over the age of 21 are eligible to participate in the plan. The Plan allows eligible employees to contribute to the Plan subject to Internal Revenue Code restrictions and the Plan allows the University to make discretionary matching contributions. The University plans to make a matching contribution to the Plan of approximately $2,837 for the year ended December 31, 2017. The University made discretionary matching contributions to the Plan of $1,920 and $1,769 for the years ended December 31, 2016 and 2015, respectively.

14. Related Party Transactions

Related party transactions include transactions between the University and certain of its affiliates. The following transactions were in the normal course of operations and were measured at the exchange amount, which is the amount of consideration established and agreed to by the parties. As of and for the years ended December 31, 2017, 2016, and 2015, related party transactions consisted of the following:

Affiliates

GCU Community Fund (“GCUCF”) — GCUCF was formed in 2014 to provide seed funding for entrepreneurial ventures initiated by the University’s students. The University’s President, CEO and Chairman serves as the president of GCUCF. The University is not the primary beneficiary of GCUCF, and accordingly, the University does not consolidate GCUCF’s statement of activities with its financial results. The University contributed $500 for the year ended December 31, 2015.

 

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Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements

(In thousands, except per share data)

 

15. Quarterly Results of Operations (Unaudited)

The following table summarizes the unaudited quarterly results of operations for 2017 and 2016 and should be read in conjunction with other information included in the accompanying consolidated financial statements.

 

     2017  
     First Quarter      Second Quarter      Third Quarter     Fourth Quarter  

Net revenue

   $ 248,206      $ 218,301      $ 236,209     $ 271,418  

Costs and expenses:

          

Instructional costs and services

     102,574        95,030        104,303       108,933  

Admissions advisory and related

     31,972        31,085        31,426       34,061  

Advertising

     24,631        24,776        25,523       23,678  

Marketing and promotional

     2,460        2,264        2,350       2,555  

General and administrative

     9,941        10,058        12,915       10,845  
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

   

 

 

 

Total costs and expenses

     171,578        163,213        176,517       180,072  
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

   

 

 

 

Operating income

     76,628        55,088        59,692       91,346  

Interest expense

     (580      (495      (567     (527

Interest income and other

     2        739        1,445       757  
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

   

 

 

 

Income before income taxes

     76,050        55,332        60,570       91,576  

Income tax expense

     20,138        15,485        21,266       23,320  
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

   

 

 

 

Net income

   $ 55,912      $ 39,847      $ 39,304     $ 68,256  
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

   

 

 

 

Earnings per share:

          

Basic income per share(1)

   $ 1.20      $ 0.85      $ 0.83     $ 1.44  
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

   

 

 

 

Diluted income per share(1)

   $ 1.16      $ 0.83      $ 0.81     $ 1.41  
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

   

 

 

 

Basic weighted average shares outstanding

     46,748        47,151        47,316       47,342  
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

   

 

 

 

Diluted weighted average shares outstanding

     48,070        48,192        48,292       48,382  
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

(1) The sum of quarterly income per share may not equal annual income per share due to rounding.

 

     2016  
     First Quarter      Second Quarter      Third Quarter     Fourth Quarter  

Net revenue

   $ 226,958      $ 191,279      $ 210,444     $ 244,663  

Costs and expenses:

          

Instructional costs and services

     94,654        84,599        91,748       102,100  

Admissions advisory and related

     29,544        28,866        28,814       32,062  

Advertising

     21,107        22,149        23,896       21,000  

Marketing and promotional

     2,242        2,108        2,127       2,383  

General and administrative

     10,720        8,809        13,430       10,260  

Lease termination costs

     —          —          3,363       160  
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

   

 

 

 

Total costs and expenses

     158,267        146,531        163,378       167,965  
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

   

 

 

 

Operating income

     68,691        44,748        47,066       76,698  

Interest expense

     (329      (158      (344     (497

Interest income and other

     2,048        293        (2,291     199  
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

   

 

 

 

Income before income taxes

     70,410        44,883        44,431       76,400  

Income tax expense

     26,745        17,257        15,187       28,421  
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

   

 

 

 

Net income

   $ 43,665      $ 27,626      $ 29,244     $ 47,979  
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

   

 

 

 

Earnings per share:

          

Basic income per share(1)

   $ 0.96      $ 0.60      $ 0.63     $ 1.03  
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

   

 

 

 

Diluted income per share(1)

   $ 0.93      $ 0.59      $ 0.62     $ 1.01  
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

   

 

 

 

Basic weighted average shares outstanding

     45,622        46,004        46,231       46,470  
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

   

 

 

 

Diluted weighted average shares outstanding

     46,860        46,990        47,175       47,452  
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

(1) The sum of quarterly income per share may not equal annual income per share due to rounding.

 

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Item 9. Changes in and Disagreements With Accountants on Accounting and Financial Disclosure

None.

 

Item 9A. Controls and Procedures

Disclosure Controls and Procedures

We maintain disclosure controls and procedures designed to provide reasonable assurance that information required to be disclosed in reports filed under the Exchange Act is recorded, processed, summarized and reported within the specified time periods and accumulated and communicated to our management, including our Chief Executive Officer (“Principal Executive Officer”) and Chief Financial Officer (“Principal Financial Officer”), as appropriate, to allow timely decisions regarding required disclosure. We have established a Disclosure Committee, consisting of certain members of management, to assist in this evaluation. Our Disclosure Committee meets on a quarterly basis and more often if necessary.

Under the supervision and with the participation of our management, including our Principal Executive Officer and Principal Financial Officer, an evaluation was performed on the effectiveness of the design and operation of our disclosure controls and procedures (as defined in Rules 13a-15(e) or 15d-15(e) promulgated under the Exchange Act), as of the end of the period covered by this annual report. Based on that evaluation, our management, including the Principal Executive Officer and Principal Financial Officer, concluded that our disclosure controls and procedures were effective as of December 31, 2017.

Attached as exhibits to this Annual Report on Form 10-K are certifications of our Chief Executive Officer and Chief Financial Officer, which are required in accordance with Rule 13a-14 of the Exchange Act. This Disclosure Controls and Procedures section includes information concerning management’s evaluation of disclosure controls and procedures referred to in those certifications and, as such, should be read in conjunction with the certifications of our Chief Executive Officer and Chief Financial Officer.

Management’s Report on Internal Control Over Financial Reporting

Management is responsible for establishing and maintaining effective internal control over financial reporting, as such term is defined in Exchange Act Rule 13a-15(f). Internal control over financial reporting is a process designed to provide reasonable assurance regarding the reliability of financial reporting and the preparation of consolidated financial statements for external purposes in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles (“GAAP”).

Our internal control over financial reporting includes those policies and procedures that:

 

  (i) pertain to the maintenance of records that, in reasonable detail, accurately and fairly reflect the transactions and dispositions of our assets;

 

  (ii) provide reasonable assurance that transactions are recorded as necessary to permit preparation of consolidated financial statements in accordance with GAAP, and that receipts and expenditures are being made only in accordance with authorizations of our management and directors; and

 

  (iii) provide reasonable assurance regarding prevention or timely detection of unauthorized acquisition, use, or disposition of our assets that could have a material effect on the consolidated financial statements.

Because of its inherent limitation, our internal control systems and procedures may not prevent or detect misstatements. An internal control system, no matter how well conceived and operated, can provide only reasonable, not absolute, assurance that the objectives of the control system are met. Because of the inherent limitations in all control systems, no evaluation of controls can provide absolute assurance that all control issues and instances of fraud, if any, have been detected. Also, projections of any evaluation of effectiveness to future periods are subject to the risks that controls may become inadequate because of changes in condition, or that the degree of compliance with the policies and procedures may deteriorate.

 

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Management performed an assessment of the effectiveness of our internal control over financial reporting as of December 31, 2017, utilizing the criteria described in the “Internal Control-Integrated Framework (2013)” issued by the Committee of Sponsoring Organizations of the Treadway Commission. The objective of this assessment was to determine whether our internal control over financial reporting was effective as of December 31, 2017. Based on its assessment, management believes that, as of December 31, 2017, the Company’s internal control over financial reporting is effective.

The effectiveness of our internal control over financial reporting as of and for the year ended December 31, 2017 has been audited by KPMG LLP, an independent registered public accounting firm, as stated in their audit report which is included herein.

 

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Report of Independent Registered Public Accounting Firm

To the Stockholders and Board of Directors

Grand Canyon Education, Inc.:

Opinion on Internal Control Over Financial Reporting

We have audited Grand Canyon Education, Inc. and subsidiaries (the “Company”) internal control over financial reporting as of December 31, 2017, based on criteria established in Internal Control — Integrated Framework (2013) issued by the Committe