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American Public Education, Inc. (NASDAQ:APEI) recently delivered better-than-expected fourth-quarter 2009 results, helped by an increase in net course registrations, up 39% year-over-year to 58,000. Management now expects net course registrations to rise between 35% and 38% in fiscal year 2010, and between 32% and 35% in fiscal year 2011.

The quarterly earnings of 44 cents a share surpassed the Zacks Consensus Estimate of 42 cents, and soared 63% from 27 cents posted in the prior-year quarter. Net income for the quarter climbed 66% to $8.4 million. Online education provider American Public Education now expects net income to grow in the range of 36% to 37% in fiscal year 2010.

The quarterly earnings topped the Zacks Consensus Estimate by 5%. In the preceding three quarters in fiscal year 2009, the earnings had outperformed the Zacks Consensus Estimate in the first and second quarters by 12% and 4%, respectively, and had remained in line with the Zacks Consensus Estimate in third-quarter 2009.

The current Zacks Consensus Estimate for first-quarter 2010 is 41 cents a share. Over the last 30 days, the Zacks Consensus Estimate has shown an improvement of 3% with only one out of 15 analysts covering the stock, raising his estimate substantially.

American Public Education, the parent company of online learning provider American Public University System, said that total revenue surged 39% to $43.7 million. Management expects revenue to rise between 36% and 39% in fiscal year 2010.

At fiscal-end 2009, 63,800 students were enrolled in the system, an increase of 41%. Higher education sees a countercyclical movement in a recession. Post-secondary enrollments tend to rise as both unemployed and employed workers return to school to re-skill themselves and existing students remain in school longer, compelled by the intensely competitive job market.

Operating income climbed 69% to $14 million, whereas the operating margin expanded 570 basis points to 32%.

American Public Education ended the fiscal year 2009 with cash and cash equivalents of $74.9 million and without any long-term debt. Capital expenditures for the year were $10.8 million, and cash from operations was $36.8 million.

Source: American Public Education Up on Better-Than-Expected Earnings