Education Pioneer DeVry Poised to Fight Competition

Article excerpt

Byline: J. D. Hillard Medill News Service

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CORRECTION/date 04-03-2004: To correct an article in Thursday's Business section, Ross University, operated by DeVry Inc., is a medical and veterinary school.

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For-profit university DeVry Inc.' s enrollment and common stock are recovering after a year-long slump when technical jobs dried up.

However, the education pioneer faces growing competition for students and for earnings, especially in its home market.

DeVry, based in Oakbrook Terrace, operates DeVry University, Keller Graduate School of Management, and Becker Professional Review, as well as the recently acquired medical and veterinary school, Ross University.

As DeVry stumbled, competitors like Apollo Group Inc.' s University of Phoenix and Hoffman Estates-based Career Education Corp. have increased enrollment and profits.

The job slump of recent years was mostly good for higher education companies in areas other than technology. People sought to improve their value in the market by broadening skills or acquiring new ones.

One securities analyst predicts revenues of the for-profit schools will increase 6 percent annually for the next five years, reflecting continuing enrollment growth as well as tuition increases.

DeVry attracts students with a program stressing accessibility and flexibility. The year-round enrollment schedule means students can get a bachelor's degree in three years, or a master's in four.

The company operates 11 schools in the Chicago area and 67 throughout North America, and it offers much of the curriculum online. About one third of DeVry's students take weekend and evening classes.

The tech wreck of 2000-2001 ended years of steadily growing enrollment at DeVry. The stock fell from above $40 to below $20, a five-year low.

Although total undergraduate enrollment last fall declined a further 2.5 percent to 43,001, new student enrollment rose to 10,633, up 6.2 percent.

"Things are getting less worse," says analyst Jeff Silber, who follows the stock for Harris Nesbitt Corp. "We're not moving in the wrong direction as much."

As a result the stock has climbed back to around $30.

The Chicago area remains a key market for DeVry. …