Three Companies Confronting 'A Nation At Risk'

Includes: CRRC, DISCA, JW.A
by: Jenks Jumps

Whether the subject is the cost of education, the effectiveness of education or the access to education, it is a much discussed topic. And, it is a frustrating topic. In 1983, the National Commission on Excellence in Education issued a call to action in its report on the nation's schools, "A Nation At Risk." Yet, many of the problems continue to exist today. Secondary students in the U.S. still rank lower than international counterparts. William Bennett served as education secretary in the late 1980s. He recently commented on the report and the progress since:

"If there's a bottom line, it's that we're spending twice as much money on education as we did in '83 and the results haven't changed all that much."

At least educators have accepted that not every person learns the same way. Some learn visually - by reading, watching, or with pictures. Others prefer audible cues - through lecture or with music. A third group prefers a kinesthetic style - through activity and hands-on experience. Most people have a primary style of learning. And, most use some combination of all three styles. In that vein, it is easy to see how the interactive qualities of today's technology must be a key factor in formulating curriculums. There are publicly traded publishing companies already embarking on a migration and transition to interactive content for the classroom and beyond.

John Wiley and Sons (NYSE:JW.A) serves undergraduate, graduate, and advanced placement students, lifelong learners, and, in Australia, secondary school students. Through its online teaching and learning environment, WileyPlus provides students with what to do, how to do it and if they did it right. It combines the digital textbook with interactive multi-media resources and assessment tools. WileyPlus is based on over 300 textbooks published by Wiley.

For John Wiley and Sons, the education segment represents 18% of total revenue. In March's third-quarter reporting, year-to-date year-over-year revenue growth in the education segment for eBooks and digital media was 144%. Likewise, for WileyPlus, year-over-year revenue growth was 24%. Wiley is accelerating the move to digital while also implementing a restructuring program. In June, Wiley expects to provide a restructuring progress report, guidance for fiscal year 2014 and longer-term revenue and EPS trends.

Courier Corporation (NASDAQ:CRRC) is the third-largest book manufacturer in the U.S and is a book publisher. Courier's Research and Education Association (REA) produces study aids and test preps. It serves students from middle school to graduate school. In its first full academic year, the REA/All Access environment provided access via mobile devices to digital books, an online study center and mobile flashcards.

The education segment of Courier provided 42% of its total revenue in 2012. Yet, the REA segment decreased 10% primarily due to the loss resulting from the Borders bankruptcy. After reducing debt and buying back $10 million of its stock, Courier is planning to build out the fastest-growing part of its business, which includes digital content delivery.

Unlike traditional book publishing companies, Discovery Communications (NASDAQ:DISCA) is employing its vast content resources to develop interactive learning opportunities. Discovery is the world's leading producer of nonfiction content. Discovery Education plans to "transform traditional classrooms to engaging dynamic learning environments" through digital content, interactive lessons, real time assessment and virtual experiences. The segment provides professional development for instructors as well as lesson plans and materials and classroom contests and challenges. It is committed to providing the products and services on the student's or teacher's platform of choice.

An interesting thing to contemplate about Discovery is whether there could be familiarity and continuity between home and school. The Discovery Channel has been the No. 1 cable network for 19 years when considering value to viewers. In the U.S., The Hub, a partnership between Hasbro and Discovery aimed at children aged 2 to 11, reaches 72 million subscribers. Discovery's largest single expense is the cost of content. Its extensive library of content in science, technology, history, engineering, exploration, civilizations, space, current events and other subjects could easily be re-edited and incorporated into educational lessons.

Discovery's education segment only provided 2% of total revenue in 2012. But, that segment grew revenues 11% year-over-year. In the first quarter of 2013, the education segment grew 13% over the same quarter in 2012.

Analysts project long-term EPS growth for Wiley of 12.5%. The current 2014 EPS estimate is $3.22. Using the YPEG value of $40.25, Wiley is fairly valued. It offers an annual dividend of $0.80.

Though Courier is expecting 5.7% revenue growth in 2013, the company is projecting net income and EPS to be flat. Using the industry's long-term EPS growth estimate of 16% (which is probably too generous), Courier is fairly valued. Courier is in its 20th consecutive year of dividend payments and has a current rate of $0.84.

Discovery is projected to have just over 22% of long-term EPS growth. Using 2014's EPS estimate of $4.26 results in a YPEG of $93.85. With a 50-day moving average of $78.70, Discovery could have another 19% of share price appreciation. Discovery does not pay a dividend.

All three companies have significant business not discussed in this article that investors should diligently review. At this point, each company is serving a different demographic or providing a different service relative to interactive education. To their credit, all are confronting some of the problems found in the 1983 report "A Nation At Risk." They are actively engaged in changing the landscape of the traditional classroom by integrating all three learning styles for the student.

Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.