- Revenue at Grand Canyon Education, or GCE, a publicly traded company that provides education services to more than two dozen universities, grew to $896.6 million in 2021, up 6.2% from the year before, according to documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The company's net income increased to $260.3 million in 2021, up 1.2% from the year before.
- Increased revenue per student drove the growth, though it was partially offset by a decline in enrollment at GCE's partner institutions. GCE's largest partner is Grand Canyon University, a Phoenix-based Christian institution that split off from the company in mid-2018.
- Enrollment at GCE's partner institutions dipped to 112,554 students at the end of 2021, falling 3% from the year before. Grand Canyon University accounted for the vast majority of the enrollment, with 108,139 students at year's end.
Grand Canyon University faced some of the same enrollment challenges that troubled other colleges in 2021. Nationwide, undergraduate enrollment slipped 3.1% in fall 2021 from the year before, representing a decline of nearly half a million students, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Graduate enrollment — a boon in the early days of the pandemic — also declined, by 0.4%.
The decreases at Grand Canyon University were driven by lower enrollment in online programs. Online enrollment at the end of 2021 fell 5.5% from the year before to 84,510 students, while on-campus enrollment grew 9.9% to 23,629 students.
"When COVID first hit, there was an initial surge of working adult students returning to college as online students," GCE CEO Brian Mueller said during a call with analysts Wednesday to discuss the company's yearly earnings. Mueller is also the president of Grand Canyon University.
However, as the pandemic progressed, some potential students began questioning the value of higher education, while others who would have pursued nursing, for example, were busy at work taking care of COVID-19 patients, Mueller said. "2021 definitely saw a downturn in working adults attending universities online, and we experienced that as well," he said.
Dan Bachus, the company's chief financial officer, said GCE is hopeful online enrollment will grow again in 2022.
Despite the overall enrollment declines, Grand Canyon University saw higher fees from room, board and other auxiliary services as more students opted for a traditional residential experience in 2021 than the year before. In turn, GCE's revenue also grew, as it provides services to Grand Canyon University in exchange for 60% of its tuition and fee revenue.
GCE also benefited from growing enrollment at its partner institutions' off-campus classrooms and laboratory sites. Enrollment at these locations grew to 4,684 at the end of 2021, up 5.9% from the year before. Grand Canyon University, which also has such sites, only accounted for 269 of these students.
These locations generally provide GCE higher revenue per student than the company earns under its contract with Grand Canyon University, as they usually provide a larger revenue-share percentage and the partners have higher tuition rates, according to an SEC filing. The majority of students in these programs are in an accelerated bachelor's program in nursing.