Ahead of the Bell: Apollo Group

NEW YORK (AP) -- A sharp decline in fall-term student sign-ups at the University of Phoenix is worrying investors of its owner, Apollo Group Inc.

Shares of the for-profit education company slid 8.5 percent to $19.17 in premarket trading Wednesday. The stock has lost 63 percent of its value over the past 12 months as revenue shrinks.

The company said late Tuesday that University of Phoenix enrollments fell 14 percent in the September-November quarter. New student sign-ups fell 15 percent, worse than in the previous three months.

The quarter's profit still topped analyst expectations, but Apollo's outlook left investors unhappy. The company trimmed the top end of its revenue guidance for the year, leaving it just below Wall Street expectations, and cut its guidance for operating income. The profit measure excludes one-time charges, taxes and interest expenses.

The guidance cut suggests that Apollo expects a tough second half for its fiscal year, which ends in August, said Citi analyst James Samford.

Companies like Apollo enjoyed a big boom when the recession first hit, but student demand has since faded. Increased criticism of the schools, new, stricter federal regulations and the still-struggling economy, which limits consumers' ability to spend, has weighed on enrollments.

Fewer student sign-ups have dented Apollo's profits, and the company said in October that it was closing 115 of its smaller locations to cope. The company is also making other cost-cutting efforts.