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UNITED STATES

SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION

Washington, D.C. 20549

Form 10-K

(Mark One)

ANNUAL REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934

For the fiscal year ended: December 31, 2020

OR

TRANSITION REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934

For the transition period from [                    ] to [                    ]

Commission file number: 001-34211

GRAND CANYON EDUCATION, INC.

(Exact name of registrant as specified in its charter)

Delaware

20-3356009

(State or other jurisdiction of
incorporation or organization)

(I.R.S. Employer
Identification No.)

2600 W. Camelback Road, Phoenix, Arizona 85017

(Address of principal executive offices, including zip code)

Registrant’s telephone number, including area code: (602247-4400

Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(b) of the Act:

Title of each class

Trading Symbol(s)

Name of each exchange on which registered

Common Stock

LOPE

Nasdaq Global Select Market

Indicate by check mark if the registrant is a well-known seasoned issuer, as defined in Rule 405 of the Securities Act.   Yes      No  

Indicate by check mark if the registrant is not required to file reports pursuant to Section 13 or Section 15(d) of the Act.   Yes      No  

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant: (1) has filed all reports required to be filed by Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to file such reports), and (2) has been subject to such filing requirements for the past 90 days.   Yes      No  

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has submitted electronically every Interactive Data File required to be submitted pursuant to Rule 405 of Regulation S-T (§232.405 of this chapter) during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to submit such files).   Yes      No  

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a large accelerated filer, an accelerated filer, a non-accelerated filer, a smaller reporting company, or an emerging growth company. See the definitions of “large accelerated filer,” “accelerated filer,” “smaller reporting company” and “emerging growth company” in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act. (Check one):

Large Accelerated Filer

Accelerated Filer

Non-accelerated Filer

Smaller Reporting Company

Emerging Growth Company

If an emerging growth company, indicate by check mark if the registrant has elected not to use the extended transition period for complying with any new or revised financial accounting standards provided pursuant to Section 13(a) of the Exchange Act.

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has filed a report on and attestation to its management’s assessment of the effectiveness of its internal control over financial reporting under Section 404(b) of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (15 U.S.C. 7262(b)) by the registered public accounting firm that prepared or issued its audit report.

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a shell company (as defined in Rule 12b-2 of the Securities Exchange Act).   Yes      No  

The total number of shares of common stock outstanding as of February 12, 2021 was 46,873,732.

As of June 30, 2020, the last business day of the registrant’s most recently completed second fiscal quarter, the registrant’s common stock was listed on the NASDAQ Global Market. As of June 30, 2020, the aggregate market value of the registrant’s common stock held by non-affiliates was approximately $4.2 billion.

DOCUMENTS INCORPORATED BY REFERENCE

Certain portions of the registrant’s Definitive Proxy Statement for its 2021 Annual Meeting of Stockholders (which is expected to be filed with the Commission within 120 days after the end of the registrant’s 2020 fiscal year) are incorporated by reference into Part III of this Report.

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GRAND CANYON EDUCATION, INC.

FORM 10-K

INDEX

    

Page

Special Note Regarding Forward-Looking Statements

3

PART I

5

Item 1. Business

5

Item 1A. Risk Factors

26

Item 1B. Unresolved Staff Comments

42

Item 2. Properties

42

Item 3. Legal Proceedings

42

Item 4. Mine Safety Disclosures

42

PART II

43

Item 5. Market for Registrant’s Common Equity, Related Stockholder Matters and Issuer Purchases of Equity Securities

43

Item 6. Selected Consolidated Financial and Other Data

45

Item 7. Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations

47

Item 7A. Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosures about Market Risk

58

Item 8. Consolidated Financial Statements and Supplementary Data

59

Item 9. Changes in and Disagreements With Accountants on Accounting and Financial Disclosure

94

Item 9A. Controls and Procedures

94

Item 9B. Other Information

98

PART III

98

Item 10. Directors, Executive Officers and Corporate Governance

98

Item 11. Executive Compensation

98

Item 12. Security Ownership of Certain Beneficial Owners and Management and Related Stockholder Matters

98

Item 13. Certain Relationships and Related Transactions, and Director Independence

99

Item 14. Principal Accounting Fees and Services

99

PART IV

99

Item 15. Exhibits and Consolidated Financial Statement Schedules

99

Exhibit Index

99

SIGNATURES

103

2

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Special Note Regarding Forward-Looking Statements

This Annual Report on Form 10-K, including Item 1, Business; Item 1A, Risk Factors; and Item 7, Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations, contains certain “forward-looking statements,” within the meaning of Section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933, as amended, and Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (the “Exchange Act”). These forward-looking statements include, without limitation, statements regarding: proposed new programs; statements as to whether regulatory developments or other matters may or may not have a material adverse effect on our financial position, results of operations, or liquidity; statements concerning projections, predictions, expectations, estimates, or forecasts as to our business, financial and operational results, and future economic performance; and statements of management’s goals and objectives and other similar expressions concerning matters that are not historical facts. Words such as “may,” “should,” “could,” “would,” “predicts,” “potential,” “continue,” “expects,” “anticipates,” “future,” “intends,” “plans,” “believes,” “estimates” and similar expressions, as well as statements in future tense, identify forward-looking statements. You can also identify forward-looking statements by discussions of strategy, plans or intentions of management.

Forward-looking statements should not be read as a guarantee of future performance or results and will not necessarily be accurate indications of the times at, or by, which such performance or results will be achieved. Forward-looking statements are based on information available at the time those statements are made or management’s good faith belief as of that time with respect to future events, and are subject to risks and uncertainties that could cause actual performance or results to differ materially from those expressed in or suggested by the forward-looking statements. Currently, one of the most significant factors that could cause actual outcomes to differ materially from our forward-looking statements is the potential adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and federal, state and/or local regulatory guidelines and private business actions to control it, on our financial condition, operating results and cash flows, our university partners, the higher education industry in which we operate, the global economy and the financial markets. The extent to which the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to impact us and our university partners will depend on future developments, which are highly uncertain and cannot be predicted with confidence, including the scope, severity and duration of the pandemic, and the resulting economic impacts and potential changes in behavior, among others. Important factors that could cause such differences, and which may be further heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic, include, but are not limited to:

the harm to our business, results of operations, and financial condition, and harm to our university partners resulting from epidemics, pandemics, including the COVID-19 outbreak, or public health crises;
the occurrence of any event, change or other circumstance that could give rise to the termination of any of the key university partner agreements;
our ability to properly manage risks and challenges associated with strategic initiatives, including potential acquisitions or divestitures of, or investments in, new businesses, acquisitions of new university partners, and expansion of services provided to our existing university partners;
our failure to comply with the extensive regulatory framework applicable to us either directly as a third-party service provider or indirectly through our university partners, including Title IV of the Higher Education Act and the regulations thereunder, state laws and regulatory requirements, and accrediting commission requirements;
the ability of our university partners’ students to obtain federal Title IV funds, state financial aid, and private financing;
potential damage to our reputation or other adverse effects as a result of negative publicity in the media, in the industry or in connection with governmental reports or investigations or otherwise, affecting us or other companies in the education services sector;
risks associated with changes in applicable federal and state laws and regulations and accrediting commission standards, including pending rulemaking by the United States Department of Education applicable to us directly or indirectly through our university partners;
competition from other education service companies in our geographic region and market sector, including competition for students, qualified executives and other personnel;
our expected tax payments and tax rate;
our ability to hire and train new, and develop and train existing employees;

3

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the pace of growth of our university partners’ enrollment and its effect on the pace of our own growth;
fluctuations in our revenues due to seasonality;
our ability to, on behalf of our university partners, convert prospective students to enrolled students and to retain active students to graduation;
our success in updating and expanding the content of existing programs and developing new programs in a cost-effective manner or on a timely basis for our university partners;
risks associated with the competitive environment for marketing the programs of our university partners;
failure on our part to keep up with advances in technology that could enhance the experience for our university partners’ students;
the extent to which obligations under our credit agreement, including the need to comply with restrictive and financial covenants and to pay principal and interest payments, limits our ability to conduct our operations or seek new business opportunities;
our ability to manage future growth effectively;
the impact of any natural disasters or public health emergencies;
general adverse economic conditions or other developments that affect the job prospects of our university partners’ students; and
other factors discussed under the headings “Risk Factors,” “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations,” “Business,” and “Regulation.”

Forward-looking statements speak only as of the date the statements are made. You should not put undue reliance on any forward-looking statements. We assume no obligation to update forward-looking statements to reflect actual results, changes in assumptions, or changes in other factors affecting forward-looking information, except to the extent required by applicable securities laws. If we do update one or more forward-looking statements, no inference should be drawn that we will make additional updates with respect to those or other forward-looking statements.

4

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Part I

Item 1.    Business

Overview

Grand Canyon Education, Inc., a Delaware corporation (“GCE”) is a publicly traded education services company dedicated to serving colleges and universities. GCE has developed significant technological solutions, infrastructure and operational processes to provide services to these institutions on a large scale. GCE’s most significant university partner is Grand Canyon University (“GCU”), an Arizona non-profit corporation that operates a comprehensive regionally accredited university that offers graduate and undergraduate degree programs, emphases and certificates across nine colleges both online and on ground at its campus in Phoenix, Arizona. As of December 31, 2020, GCE provided education services and support to more than 111,600 students enrolled in GCU’s programs, emphases and certificates.

In January 2019, GCE began providing education services to numerous university partners across the United States through our wholly-owned subsidiary, Orbis Education Services LLC (“Orbis Education”), which we acquired on January 22, 2019 (the “Acquisition”). See Note 3 – Acquisition to consolidated financial statements for a full description of the Acquisition. In the healthcare field, GCE, together with Orbis Education, works in partnership with a growing number of top universities and healthcare networks across the country, offering healthcare-related academic programs at off-campus classroom and laboratory sites located near healthcare providers and developing high-quality, career-ready graduates who enter the workforce ready to meet the demands of the healthcare industry. As of December 31, 2020, GCE provided education services to 25 university partners across the United States.

Prior to July 1, 2018, GCE operated GCU. On July 1, 2018, GCE sold GCU to an independent, non-profit entity (the “Transaction.”) See Note 2 – The Transaction to consolidated financial statements for a full description of the Transaction. Accordingly, results of operations for the year ended December 31, 2018 reflect GCE’s operations prior to July 1, 2018 which were made up exclusively of the operations of GCU. For the period from July 1, 2018 to December 31, 2018, results of operations do not include the operations of GCU but rather reflect the operations of GCE as an educational services company.

We plan to continue to add additional university partners and to roll out additional programs with both our existing partners and with new partners. We may engage with both new and existing university partners to offer healthcare programs, online only or hybrid programs, or as is the case for our most significant partner, GCU, both healthcare and other programs. Therefore, we will refer to all university partners as “GCE partners” or “our partners” and will no longer differentiate between partners of GCE and partners of Orbis Education; we will, however, continue to disclose significant information for GCU, such as enrollments, due to its size in comparison to our other university partners.

Our Business

GCE is an education services company with 25 university partners as of December 31, 2020. We have invested over $250 million in the last 12 years to develop systems that automate key processes and enable us to scale these processes to hundreds of thousands of students. GCE is capable of supporting not just core academic functions, technology and marketing but many additional key processes that surround those functions, such as faculty recruiting and training, admissions, financial aid, accounting, and technical support. We provide these services to our university partners pursuant to master services agreements that define the scope of our engagement, the types of services provided and other key terms of the engagement.

Suite of Services

The following describes the various services that we are capable of providing to university partners. Services actually provided to a given university partner depend upon the nature of programs supported by GCE, existing university infrastructure, and university partner preferences.

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Technology and Academic Services

We provide technology and academic services that relate to the ongoing maintenance of our university partners’ educational infrastructure, including online course delivery and management, student records, assessment, customer relations management and other internal administrative systems. These services also include curriculum conversion, support for content development, support for faculty and related training and development, technical support, rent and occupancy costs for university partners’ simulation and skills labs, and assistance with state regulatory compliance. We have established secure, reliable and scalable technology systems that provide a high-quality educational environment and that give us the capability to grow our university partners’ programs and enrollment.

Technology Services may include the following:

Learning Management System - GCE designed its learning management system, LoudCloud. The system was designed around the pedagogical principles that guide our thinking about curriculum and instruction. This system was designed for small classes that are instructor led, highly interactive and collaborative. Rich content that originates from a myriad of sources, including direct advisement from industry, is coupled with a robust discussion environment. Students most often respond to the content and discussion through written work. The writing assignments are designed to promote critical thinking which is often connected to solving real world problems. Because of its modular implementation, this platform can easily and reliably scale as student populations increase. The platform provides in-depth analytics that allow us to closely monitor student success and the quality of instructional resources. Students learn to navigate many ancillary systems connected to LoudCloud.
Internal administration - We utilize a commercial customer relations management development platform to distribute, manage, track, and report on all interactions with prospective student leads as well as all active and inactive students. This software is scalable to capacity levels well in excess of current requirements. We also utilize a commercial software package to track Title IV funds, student records, grades, accounts receivable, accounts payable and general ledger. We have done significant internal software development around these systems to increase the productivity of our employees and provide students an exceptional educational experience.
Infrastructure - We operate two data centers, one at GCU’s campus and one at another Phoenix-area location. All of our servers are networked and we have redundant data backup. We manage our technology environment internally. Our wide area network is fully redundant to ensure maximum uptime, bandwidth capacity and network performance. Student access is load balanced for optimal performance. Real-time monitoring provides current system status across network, server, and storage components. We provide cybersecurity services, support and incident response for all infrastructure and software that we utilize.
Support - We provide 18/7 technical support for students and faculty. There are two systems utilized by GCE to provide these services.

Academic Services may include the following:

Program and Curriculum – GCE has a curriculum content department that provides design and conversion services to our university partners. In collaboration with our university partners, we assist with the program and course design by providing curricular assistance and recommendations with respect to content and techniques that make use of the available technologies and methods embodied in the learning management system. GCE developed a proprietary system to support these services.
Faculty and Related Training and Development – GCE provides faculty support including recruitment, training and oversight services to its university partners. Under the direction of our university partners and their academic leadership, we recruit and screen candidates, and schedule faculty based on university partner-created requirements. We evaluate all faculty according to university partner standards and provide evaluation results, if requested.
Class Scheduling – GCE has a class scheduling department and has developed a proprietary system to provide these services to our university partners. Our scheduling software provides students the

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ability to set their class schedule and flexibility to make changes and create opportunities to complete courses in a myriad of online or onsite options. We optimize class size prior to course starts based on university partner standards, in order to maximize class resources and faculty utilization.
Skills and Simulation Lab Sites – GCE secures and develops off-campus classroom and laboratory sites for use in various programs offered by our university partners, including the accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN). Off-campus classroom and laboratory sites are branded for specific university partners and all classrooms, faculty, counselors, staff and specialized equipment are centralized and made accessible to every university partner student.

Counseling Services and Support

We provide counseling services and support including one-on-one admissions, schedule and financial counseling and other support for prospective and current students of our university partners. We offer financial aid processing as well.

Counseling Services and Support may include the following:

Admissions Services – GCE provides prospective students with transparent information on program requirements, finance options, degree time to completion and net price calculator results in alignment with university partners’ standards. GCE has developed a robust proprietary system to efficiently evaluate transcripts and build schedules for prospective students. GCE processes applications in alignment with university partners’ admission standards and provides reports on those students selected for admission.
Financial Aid – GCE provides financial aid services, including awarding, certifying, originating and disbursing Title IV program funds to students. We deliver Title IV program credit balance refunds to students, process return of Title IV program funds to the federal government when appropriate and provide financial aid counseling and entrance and exit loan counseling to students. Additionally, we prepare required reports, including but not limited to enrollment reporting to the National Student Loan Data system and the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. Additionally, GCE has built a proprietary system called the Financial Transparent Degree Plan Calculator, which provides students the cost of their entire program.
Counseling Services – GCE provides proactive services to our university partners’ students throughout their matriculation such as schedule building, and financial aid counseling. We provide students an assigned advisor who proactively works with students throughout their matriculation process. We assist students with program changes and communicate with those students throughout their program to help with retention. We provide students with the ability to access a variety of administrative services both telephonically and via the Internet. For example, students can apply for financial aid, pay their tuition, order their transcripts, and apply for graduation online. We believe this online accessibility provides the convenience and self-service capabilities that students value. GCE assesses levels of satisfaction using student surveys.
Field Experience Counseling – For university partner students pursuing programs that lead to external credentials (e.g. teaching, nursing, counseling, theology, etc.), GCE leverages a growing nationwide network of approved healthcare facilities, schools, preceptors, and supervisors to ensure that all students are able to meet program-specific requirements. Each student is assigned a counselor before or during their first course, and several prescribed appointments with their counselor are scheduled throughout the student’s program to ensure that all state-specific progression requirements are met well in advance of deadlines. GCE assists in gathering all required documentation, verifying it as official, and storing it as part of the student’s record.

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Marketing and Communication

We provide marketing and communication services that include lead acquisition, digital communication strategies, brand identity advertising, media planning and strategy, video, data science and analysis, marketing to potential students and other promotional and communication services.

GCE’s marketing leadership team approaches the marketplace with an outlook that applies the latest advancements in integrated marketing strategy and new and emerging technologies while leveraging GCE’s buying power. This methodology embraces proven traditional and online solutions that are developed in conjunction with our university partners.

Marketing and Communication services may include the following:

Lead Acquisition – GCE’s marketing team employs experts across a wide breadth of digital marketing channels. These include Search Engine Optimization, Search Engine Marketing, Social Media Optimization, organic content and strategic acquisition funnels across a variety of mobile markets.
Digital Communications Strategy – GCE’s subject matter experts utilize best-in-class technologies through marketing automation, integrated email, SMS text messaging and social media. GCE develops effective communication strategies that encompass the entire student lifecycle from prospect through alumni.
Brand Identity – GCE’s award-winning team of specialists have proven track records developing strong brands and ensuring the right image is exposed to the consumer. GCE specializes in storytelling shaped by logo creation, taglines, content development, and custom music.
Media Planning and Strategy –GCE offers full-service media planning and strategies that are built to grow sophisticated brands through traditional and digital media platforms. GCE understands today’s culture consumes media and we create robust strategies that build long lasting connections with proven results.
Video – GCE’s team of in-house video experts specialize in high-quality content expanding across a wide variety of marketing channels. Capabilities include broadcast-quality commercials, explainer videos, mini- and full-length documentaries, animations, motion graphics, and short, stackable video content for a variety of social media channels. GCE enhances its internal team with preferred partners to help offset workload.
Data Science and Analysis – GCE employs a team of in-house data analysis professionals who apply prescriptive analytics to facilitate important business decisions. GCE specializes in all aspects of data science, including predictive modeling, data mining and visualization to enrich today’s technology and data-driven marketplace, while providing the information required for success.

Back Office Services

In addition, we currently provide certain requested back office services to GCU that include finance, human resources, audit, and other corporate functions.

Finance and accounting - Finance and accounting services include administration of payroll, accounts payable, general ledger, student accounting, financial reporting, budgeting and taxes at the direction of GCU.
Human Resources - Human resources services include administration of performance management, personnel policies, recruitment and onboarding of new personnel, and benefit plan design and procurement, among others.
Audit - Audit services include development and administration of a GCU approved annual internal audit plan and execution of the audit plan for the service period.

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Procurement - Procurement services include management of purchasing and vendor relationships, including travel services, review of vendor contracts, and maintenance of contracts in the procurement system.

Social Responsibility and Human Capital Development

Our business was created and continues to evolve to meet the needs of the local community in which we operate as well as those outside our community. We started by identifying what we believe to be the educational challenges that our country is facing and then worked to find solutions to these challenges. We believe these challenges include:

University education is too expensive;
Students are taking on too much debt;
Bachelor degrees are taking too long to complete;
Programs are not targeted enough toward careers. Recent surveys show that a large percentage of college students would change majors if starting over, and a significant number of recent graduates are under employed or are in jobs that don’t required degrees
As tuition increases, diversity decreases;
Universities have inadequate counseling and support services, especially for distanced learners;
Most university professors have no formal training in teaching, learning or course design.
Universities are under significant financial pressure, which has only been enhanced during 2020 due to the pandemic;

We provide the capital, technology and expertise to our university partners to lessen the challenges in each of the areas listed above (see Item 1. Business – Suite of Services). We work with these university partners to develop hybrid educational models that allow them the ability to decrease tuition or increase scholarships to their students which will often lower the debt their students incur. We work with our university partners and thousands of high schools across the country on dual credit, online prerequisite courses and other programs that shorten the time to completion thereby lowering cost and debt levels. We focus with our university partners on programs where there are skills shortages such as health care, teacher education, science, technology, engineering and math. GCE provides expanded academic counseling services and support to the students of our university partners which has proven to increase retention and completion. Our faculty services and curriculum development teams assist not only our university partners but other universities and K12 schools in improving their online education pedagogy. And our business model has helped our university partners as changes in the educational landscape and the pandemic has put pressure on their financial condition.

Community Involvement by GCE and its Employees. Examples of activities in which we and our employees participate include:

Improving Our Neighborhood and Increased Home Values - Together with Habitat for Humanity and in concert with our largest university partner, we are participating in the largest home renovation project in the country in the West Phoenix area surrounding GCU’s campus. As of December 31, 2020, 792 different projects have been completed in which 26,000 hours have been logged by volunteers. These efforts, combined with GCU’s expanded presence in the community, have resulted in a significant increase in home values in the 85017 zip code.
Furthering Job Creation - We, along with GCU have launched a number of new business enterprises that have reduced costs, provided management opportunities for recent graduates and employment opportunities for students and neighborhood residents, while spurring economic growth in the area.
Special Olympics - We participate in the annual Plane Pull Challenge, which benefits Special Olympics Indiana (SOIN) athletes. The “Orbeasts” go head to head in a tug of war with a Boeing FedEx 757 jetliner in SOIN’s largest single-day fundraiser. This event offers a unique opportunity for organizations to team build and work together to raise important funds for SOIN athletes. The vision of Special Olympics Indiana

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is that sport will open hearts and minds towards people with intellectual disabilities and create inclusive communities across the state and throughout the world.

Youth Opportunity Foundation - Our employees volunteer and donate time and funds to the Youth Opportunity Foundation which provides advocacy, clinical treatment, education and workforce development for at-risk young people in underprivileged areas.

Covid-19 Response: Our employees and the students of our university partners volunteered at COVID Point of Distribution sites (“POD”), including the GCU POD, which is being jointly operated by GCU and GCE at no cost to the state of Arizona, and other PODs including those run by our hospital partners. The students of our university partners assisted the clinical staff at the PODs in clinical positions including vaccine dilution, vaccine administration and patient observation or in non-clinical positions such as checking in vaccine recipients, documenting vaccinations, traffic flow and sitting with recipients after administration. Our employees also performed these non-clinical roles. These volunteers, especially the students of our university partners, allowed other direct caregivers to be reassigned from vaccine administration back to the bedside to care for the influx of COVID patients.

GCE also invests in the following activities that benefit the community.

Funding of Student Tuition Organizations - GCE contributes to private school tuition organizations, which are entities that allocate financial contributions toward tuition assistance and scholarships for disadvantaged students to attend Arizona private schools. In 2020, we increased our annual contribution to $5.0 million from $4.0 million in 2019.
Encouraging Employee Giving - We participate in Donate to Elevate, a program that encourages employees to participate in the Arizona individual tax credit program, which allows individual taxpayers to contribute money in lieu of state income tax payments to benefit private schools and other non-profit entities in Arizona, as well as local public schools and public charter schools. Employees are encouraged to designate tax dollars to the school or program of their choice.
Students Inspiring Students - GCE continues to support GCU’s free tutoring/mentoring program that serves Phoenix-area K-12 schools. Students who seek academic assistance in the GCU Learning Lounge may become eligible to receive the Students Inspiring Students full-tuition scholarship. To serve our clients and community, we seek donations to fund this neighborhood scholarship program.
Sponsoring K-12 Educational Development - GCE supports GCU’s K-12 Educational Development Department through sponsorship of GCU’s Canyon Professional Development and K-12 Targeted School Assistance programs. Canyon Professional Development offers professional development opportunities for educators and administrators, and their student/parent engagement programs aim to help students become college ready. K-12 Targeted School Assistance programs also offer tutoring and mentorship and more to community schools to improve learning environments and outcomes. Both initiatives elevate public, private, charter and home schools in the form of scholarships, program discounts, professional development, events, and more.
Continuing Community Involvement - GCE and our employees partner in countless other community events and projects throughout the year. We offer our full-time employees a maximum of 16 hours of PTO annually for community service. This time is used to volunteer at an approved charitable organization. Over 40 organizations are approved for employee volunteerism, including Habitat for Humanity.

In addition, GCE continues to partner in countless community events and projects throughout the year, helping organizations such as the Phoenix Rescue Mission, Feed My Starving Children, Arizona Foster Care, Boy/Girl Scouts, Goodwill Arizona, St. Vincent de Paul, Young Life, Elevate Phoenix, Back to School Clothing Drive and St. Mary’s

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Food Bank. Our employees also went out into our surrounding neighborhoods to participate in programs such as Serve the City, Canyon Kids, Salute Our Troops, Colter Commons senior home visits and the Run to Fight Children’s Cancer.

We believe that we must have the best talent, including employees who possess a diverse range of experiences, backgrounds and skills, in order to anticipate and meet the needs of our business and those of our university partners. Over time, we have hired, developed and retained a diverse management and workforce that reflects our surrounding community and that is a key component in GCE’s success and an important part of our culture. We provide employees with training, development, and educational resources that promote learning and lead to real career advancement opportunities. We believe that our success in attracting, retaining, and developing human capital is directly correlated to our ability to provide employees both an interesting and engaging work experience as well as opportunities for meaningful involvement in the surrounding community. Our employees take advantage of these opportunities and share our commitment to and enthusiasm for community service projects, as well as charitable organizations throughout the Phoenix area. Through these activities, our employees have the opportunity to volunteer and provide servant leadership that benefits the surrounding neighborhoods and West Phoenix community.

Our Commitment to Diversity. A growing body of evidence suggests that diverse teams improve financial outcomes and support innovation, resiliency, and productivity. GCE’s commitment to fostering diversity in its community is evident in the following:

Our Diversity Statement - Grand Canyon Education is a faith-friendly shared services provider that embraces a world-view which outlines a responsibility to both charity and stewardship which simply stated is, ‘to love others as yourself’. We are a community of people who value the pursuit of truth and find great understanding in the convergence of differing viewpoints, backgrounds and ideas.  We welcome employees from all walks of life which has contributed to a growing diversity within our population.  Our diversity encompasses a multitude of dimensions, including age, disability, national origin, race, color, religion, gender, veteran status and more.  Our Christian perspective compels us to treat every individual equally with respect and compassion.  All community members deserve a comfortable space to express their feelings, so that every voice is heard.  All members of the Company will be welcomed, valued, and provided safety in this community. Finally, diversity not only enriches the workplace and the educational endeavors of our partners, it is critical to it.  Maintaining a diverse environment requires a measure of tolerance and understanding commensurate with the dignity and value of all human life.  In sum, GCE values diversity because it values every employee and university partners’ students entrusted to its care.
Our Diverse Leadership - Our ability to attract and retain diverse talent is reflected at both the Board and management levels. Three of our five directors are women and one director identifies with an underrepresented diverse ethnicity. In addition, for all of our employees at the level of manager and above totaling 522 persons, 65.9% are held by women and other diverse persons, collectively.
Our Diverse Workforce - As of December 31, 2020, for all of our employees totaling 4,625, 76.1% are women and other diverse persons, collectively. As of December 31, 2020, GCE employed approximately 3,650 professional and administrative personnel, including technical and academic advisors, counseling advisors, marketing and communication professionals, and personnel that handle financial aid processing, information technology, human resources, corporate accounting, finance, and other administrative functions. In addition, at December 31, 2020, GCE employed approximately 975 part-time employees most of whom are student workers. None of our employees are a party to any collective bargaining or similar agreement with us. We consider our relations with our employees to be strong.
Our Hiring Practices and Policies - GCE ensures company diversity through hiring policies and practices that support diversity such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Policy, Nondiscrimination and Anti-Harassment Policy and Complaint Procedure, and the Disability Accommodation Policy. We post all open positions to a variety of diversity-related job boards to ensure we attract diverse candidates.  We also collect and analyze employee demographic data to identify current trends and areas of opportunity in regards to our diversity efforts.

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Diversity Training - We provide employees and management with regular diversity training.  New hires all complete anti-discrimination and harassment training within 3 months of starting at GCE.  Thereafter, all employees complete the training every other year, while management undertakes it annually.  We have also provided Implicit Bias Training to hiring managers, and in 2021 this training will be expanded to include all employees.

Employee Learning and Development (ELD) Services. We provide learning and development support to our employees through numerous ELD initiatives. Onboarding Programs provide new employees a foundation from which one can progress in his or her career at GCE. Leadership Development, Team Development, Advanced Skills, and Self-Development Programs help employees improve their skills, assist management in identifying potential talent for leadership roles, and support those employees already in leadership roles.  Finally, our Compliance Curriculum ensures that employee stays current with regulatory and other compliance requirements. These programs and curricula are offered virtually as both synchronous and self-paced.

Employee Tuition Benefit – GCE promotes the concept of lifelong learning and supports this concept by offering its employees a generous Tuition Benefit program through its university partner, GCU. After 3 months of continuous service, fulltime employees admitted to GCU receive a 100% tuition reduction on undergraduate and graduate programs Additionally, the tuition benefit is available for an eligible employee’s spouse or up to two children with no more than two participants receiving the benefits at any one time. An eligible employee’s spouse or child admitted to GCU receives a 100% tuition reduction on undergraduate programs and a 50% tuition reduction on graduate programs.

Working to Mitigate COVID-19. During 2020 and 2021, GCE has taken numerous steps to protect our employees and mitigate the spread of the virus, including implementation of remote work arrangements, restrictions on employee travel, and guidance to those employees experiencing symptoms. We are continuing to communicate with government and health officials, and to adapt our efforts and responses as needed.

Environmental Awareness

GCE owns a four-story 325,000 square foot administrative building, which includes office space for approximately 2,700 employees, and a parking garage at our headquarters in Phoenix, Arizona. We constructed these facilities in 2016 and, as with every one of our projects over the past 11 years, we designed them to maximize energy efficiency and minimize electricity usage and environmental impact, which ultimately lowers our operating costs. Our headquarters building includes the following design features:

North/South Building Orientation - GCE’s office building is orientated with north/south exposure in order to minimize direct sun and thereby reduce power usage. Exterior courtyards were arranged to ensure summer shade thus creating outdoor areas that can be used by our employees throughout the year.
Use of Window Glazing - Our building utilizes significant window glazing to allow for daylighting thus reducing the need for supplemental electrical lighting. As a result, the building is designed to use just .41 watts per square foot of electrical energy for lighting, which is half of what a typical environmentally efficient building uses.
Reducing Water Consumption - Water usage is another environmental factor for office space that is magnified by the Arizona weather. GCE’s office building utilizes numerous water conservation methods including push-tap faucets, waterless urinals, and a rooftop rain water collection system for irrigating the landscaping below, which significantly reduces our water consumption.
Other Design Features -. Additional environment-friendly design features include low VOC paints, use of recycled building materials, interior and exterior LED light bulbs, motion sensor lighting and implementation of an energy-efficient VRF mechanical system.

In addition to our efficient facilities, we have undertaken other measures to minimize our environmental impact, including, among others:

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implementing a Trip Reduction Program, which provides incentives to employees who participate in carpooling or take public transportation to work;
providing a telecommute option for a significant number of positions; and
participating in a recycling program aimed at minimizing the volume of waste products generated by GCE.

Due to our significant investment in infrastructure, since March 2020, when the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 a global pandemic, over 95% of our diverse workforce has been able to work remotely. This has not only allowed our employees to remain physically safe, but has also resulted in savings in the areas of waste, janitorial costs, and travel costs related to business travel and commuting. Most employees will continue to work from home until at least July 1, 2021.

Our off-campus classroom and laboratory sites are all designed with the same efficient footprint in the 30 sites opened as of December 31, 2020.

Corporate Governance

We believe that effective corporate governance is critical to our ability to create long term value for our stockholders. The following highlights certain key aspects of our corporate governance framework:

oWe Have an Independent and Diverse Board - Four of our five directors are independent. Three of our five directors are diverse persons, and one of the three diverse directors identifies with an under represented diverse ethnicity.
oWe Have Majority Voting for Directors - We have adopted majority voting for directors pursuant to which nominees who fail to achieve an affirmative majority of votes cast must submit their resignation.
oWe Hold Annual Elections for Directors - We do not have a staggered board.
oWe Assess Board Performance - We conduct regular evaluations of our Board and Committees.
oOur Independent Directors Meet Without Management - Our independent directors meet regularly in executive sessions without management present.
oWe Have a Stock Ownership Policy - We require both our named executive officers and our directors to maintain a meaningful ownership stake at levels specified in our stock ownership policy.
oOur Key Committees are Independent - We have fully independent Audit, Compensation and Nominating and Corporate Governance Committees.
oWe Do Not Have a “Poison Pill” - We do not maintain a stockholder rights plan.

You can learn more about GCE, view our governance materials and much more by visiting our website, www.gce.com.

Seasonality

Our service revenue normally fluctuates due to changes in our university partners’ enrollment which tends to be higher in the Spring and Fall periods and lower in the Summer. Our expenses do not normally fluctuate significantly during the year which results in fluctuations in operating income between quarters. See “Item 7, Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations – Seasonality.”

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Competition

There are dozens of companies that seek to partner with non-profit schools and state universities to assist in the development and operation of their educational programs. These companies provide various services that traditional institutions historically have not had the experience or organizational capability to fully support. These services include marketing and recruitment, enrollment management, curriculum development, online course design, student retention support, technology infrastructure, and student and faculty call center support. Among the largest companies in this sector are Pearson Online Learning Services, Wiley Education Services, and 2U.

The education services market, particularly with regard to those companies that help traditional universities develop new degree programs often delivered online, has historically been characterized by a full-service, revenue-sharing model, based on the premise that most traditional institutions are not only operationally unprepared to offer these programs at scale but also are not equipped to make the significant upfront investments necessary to develop these programs organically. In recent years, an alternative unbundled fee-for-service model has emerged, in which the companies offer the same services, or some subset of services, for the market price of those services. Finally, other industry providers affiliate with university partners to offer massive open online courses, which are aimed at unlimited participation and open access via the web at little or no cost to the student.

The education services market is changing and expanding. It is highly fragmented and subject to evolving technology, shifting needs of students and educators and introductions of new delivery modalities. We believe that the competitive factors in the education services market include:

reputation and brand awareness;
quality of university partner base and performance track record;
the effectiveness of marketing and sales efforts;
robustness and evolution of technology solutions;
breadth and depth of services offerings;
convenient, flexible and dependable access to programs and classes;
level of student support services;
quality of student and faculty experience;
cost of programs; and
the time necessary to earn a degree.

Proprietary Rights

We have developed and own, or are licensed to use, intellectual property that is or will be the subject of copyright, trademark, service mark, patent, trade secret, or other protections. This intellectual property includes but is not limited to technology, courseware materials and business know-how and internal processes and procedures developed to respond to the requirements of operating a post-secondary educational institution with a significant online campus and to comply with the rules and regulations of various education regulatory agencies. We rely on a combination of copyrights, trademarks, service marks, trade secrets, domain names, and agreements to protect our intellectual property. We protect our intellectual property by signing agreements with employees, independent contractors, consultants, companies, and any other third party that creates intellectual property for us that assign any intellectual property rights to us. In addition, we seek to maintain the confidentiality of our proprietary information through the use of confidentiality agreements with employees, independent contractors, consultants and companies with which we conduct business. While our intellectual property rights are important to us, we do not believe that the loss of any individual property right or group of related rights would have a material adverse effect on our overall business.

Available Information

We were incorporated as a Delaware corporation in 2008 and completed our initial public offering in November 2008. Our principal executive offices are located at 2600 West Camelback Road, Phoenix, Arizona 85017, our telephone number is (602) 247-4400 and our Internet address is www.gce.com.

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We make available free of charge on our website our Annual Report on Form 10-K, Quarterly Reports on Form 10-Q, Current Reports on Form 8-K, Forms 3, 4, and 5 filed on behalf of directors and executive officers, and all amendments to those reports filed or furnished pursuant to Section 13(a) or 15(d) of the Exchange Act, as soon as reasonably practicable after such reports are electronically filed with, or furnished to, the Securities and Exchange Commission (hereafter, the SEC). In addition, our earnings conference calls are web cast live via our website. In addition to visiting our website, you may obtain any document we file with the SEC at www.sec.gov. The contents of these websites are not incorporated into this filing and our references to the URLs for these websites are intended to be inactive textual references only.

REGULATION OF OUR EDUCATION SERVICES BUSINESS

Institutions of higher education in America are subject to extensive regulation by state post-secondary, licensure and certification agencies, accrediting commissions, and the federal government through the United States Department of Education (“ED”) under the Higher Education Act (“HEA”). The regulations, standards, and policies of these agencies cover the vast majority of operations of colleges and universities, including educational programs, facilities, instructional and administrative staff, administrative procedures, marketing, recruiting, financial operations, athletics and financial condition.

The HEA and the regulations promulgated thereunder are frequently revised, repealed or expanded. Congress historically has reauthorized and amended the HEA in regular intervals, approximately every five to seven years. The re-authorization process is currently under way. The re-authorization of the HEA could alter the regulatory landscape of the higher education industry, and thereby impact the manner in which we conduct business and serve our university partners. In addition, ED is independently conducting an ongoing series of rulemakings intended to assure the integrity of the Title IV programs. ED also frequently issues formal and informal guidance instructing institutions of higher education and other covered entities how to comply with various federal laws and regulations. ED guidance is subject to frequent change and may impact our business model.

Prior to July 1, 2018, GCE, operated GCU. On July 1, 2018, GCE sold GCU to an independent, Arizona non-profit corporation (the “Transaction”). See Note 2 – The Transaction to consolidated financial statements for a full description of the Transaction. As a result of the Transaction, we no longer own and operate an institution of higher education, nor do we directly participate in Title IV programs. Instead, we operate as an education service company to institutions of higher education that do participate in Title IV programs. Nevertheless, we are required to comply with certain regulations promulgated by ED for the following reasons:

Our operations are subject to regulation by ED due to our university partners’ participation in the federal student financial aid programs under Title IV of the HEA. Those Title IV programs include educational loans with below-market interest rates that are issued by the federal government under the Federal Direct Loan program (the “FDL Program”), as well as grant programs for students with demonstrated financial need. To participate in the Title IV programs, a school must receive and maintain authorization by the appropriate state agency or agencies, be accredited by an accrediting commission recognized by ED, and be certified as an eligible institution by ED.
As a third-party servicer under the HEA and the related regulations, we also have a direct relationship with ED. ED regulates our operations insofar as we are performing certain functions classified as third-party servicer functions under relevant regulations and sub-regulatory guidance. A “Third-party servicer” is any person or entity used by “any eligible institution of higher education to administer, through either manual or automated processing, any aspect of such institution’s student assistance programs.” Third-party servicers must comply with a number of regulatory requirements. For example, they must conduct and submit to ED compliance audits under 34 C.F.R. § 668.23. In addition, they must comply with the requirements of 34 C.F.R. § 668.25, which among other things, requires third-party servicers, in their contracts with institutions, to be contractually obligated to, among other things:
oComply with all statutory provisions of or applicable to Title IV of the HEA, including the requirement to use any funds that the servicer administers under any Title IV, HEA program and
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any interest or other earnings thereon solely for the purposes specified in and in accordance with that program;
oRefer to the Office of Inspector General of ED for investigation any information indicating there is reasonable cause to believe that the institution might have engaged in fraud or other criminal misconduct in connection with the institution’s administration of any Title IV, HEA program or an applicant for Title IV, HEA program assistance might have engaged in fraud or other criminal misconduct in connection with his or her application; and
oBe jointly and severally liable with the institution to the Secretary for any violation by the servicer of any statutory provision of or applicable to Title IV of the HEA, any regulatory provision prescribed under that statutory authority, and any applicable special arrangement, agreement, or limitation entered into under the authority of statutes applicable to Title IV of the HEA.

We are also subject to a number of data security and privacy regulations given our role as a third-party service provider, the compliance with which can materially impact our business model. In addition, as more fully described below, we are subject to some of the regulations imposed on our university partners by virtue of the nature of the services we provide.

This area is evolving, however, and the scope of services covered by regulations may change.

REGULATION OF OUR UNIVERSITY PARTNERS

Our current university partners and all likely future university partners are required to be authorized by appropriate state post-secondary, licensure, and certification authorities. In addition, in order to participate in the federal student financial aid programs, our university partners will need to be accredited by an accrediting commission recognized by ED. Accreditation is a private, non-governmental process for evaluating the quality of educational institutions and their programs in areas including student performance, governance, integrity, educational quality, faculty, physical resources, administrative capability and resources, and financial stability. The HEA requires accrediting commissions recognized by ED to review and monitor many aspects of an institution’s operations and to take appropriate action if the institution fails to meet the accrediting commission’s standards.

While we no longer own and operate an institution of higher education, nor do we directly participate in Title IV programs, regulatory matters that materially affect GCU and our other university partners will, necessarily, have a material impact on us. The following section describes regulatory matters that affect our university partners and that may affect us as an education service company to institutions of higher education generally.

State Post-Secondary Education Regulation

Our university partners are authorized to offer education by the relevant state authorizing agencies for the state in which the client is located. For example, GCU, our most significant university partner, is authorized to offer programs by the Arizona State Board for Private Postsecondary Education, the regulatory agency governing private post-secondary educational institutions in the State of Arizona, where it is located. This authorization is very important to our university partners and, as a result, to our business. To maintain their state authorization, our university partners must continuously meet standards relating to, among other things, educational programs, facilities, instructional and administrative staff, marketing and recruitment, financial operations, addition of new locations and educational programs, and various operational and administrative procedures. Our university partners’ failure to comply with the requirements of a state regulatory agency could result in our university partners’ losing their ability to offer educational programs, which would cause our university partners to lose their eligibility to participate in the Title IV programs and could force them, and us, to cease operations. Alternatively, a state regulatory body could restrict our university partners’ ability to offer new or certain degree and non-degree programs, which may impair our ability to grow.

State regulatory requirements for online education have historically varied among the states. To address this issue and to meet new ED requirements many schools have applied and sought to become an approved institutional participant

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in the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (“SARA”). SARA is an agreement among member states, districts and territories that establishes comparable national standards for interstate offering of post-secondary distance education courses and programs. It is intended to make it easier for students to take online courses offered by post-secondary institutions based in another state. SARA is overseen by a national council (NC-SARA) and administered by four regional education compacts. GCU has been granted membership in SARA in Arizona (AZ-SARA), which is administered by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (referred to as W-SARA). There is a yearly renewal for participating in NC-SARA and AZ-SARA and institutions must agree to meet certain requirements to participate. As of December 31, 2020, all states other than California are members of SARA.

Any state that does not participate in SARA may impose regulatory requirements on out-of-state higher education institutions operating within their boundaries, such as those having a physical facility or conducting certain academic activities within the state. GCU, for example, currently enrolls students in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Although it is currently licensed, authorized, in-process, or exempt in all non-SARA jurisdictions in which it operates, if it fails to comply with state licensing or authorization requirements for a state, or fails to obtain licenses or authorizations when required, it could lose its state license or authorization by that state or be subject to other sanctions, including restrictions on our activities in, and fines and penalties imposed by, that state, as well as fines, penalties, and sanctions imposed by ED. The loss of licensure or authorization by a university partner in any non-SARA state could prohibit us from recruiting prospective students or offering services to current students in that state on behalf of such university partner, which could significantly affect our business.

Individual state laws establish standards in areas such as instruction, qualifications of faculty, administrative procedures, marketing, recruiting, financial operations, and other operational matters. To the extent required with respect to an educational service category covered by our contractual relationship, we expect to assist our university partners in meeting these requirements. Some states limit schools’ ability to offer educational programs and award degrees to residents of those states. Some states also prescribe financial regulations that are different from those of ED and may require the posting of surety bonds. While we are not directly subject to those laws, those laws may inhibit our university partners from expanding or operating in those states, limiting our ability to serve our university partners, which could significantly affect our business.

State Professional Licensure

Many states have specific requirements that an individual must satisfy in order to be licensed as a professional in specified fields, including fields such as healthcare, education, and counseling. These requirements vary by state and by field. A student’s success in obtaining licensure following graduation typically depends on several factors, including the background and qualifications of the individual graduate, as well as the following factors, among others:

whether the institution and the program were approved by the state in which the graduate seeks licensure, or by a professional association;
whether the program from which the student graduated meets all requirements for professional licensure in that state;
whether the institution and the program are accredited and, if so, by what accrediting commissions; and
whether the institution’s degrees are recognized by other states in which a student may seek to work.

Many states also require that graduates pass a state test or examination as a prerequisite to becoming certified in certain fields, such as nursing and teaching. Many states will certify individuals if they have already been certified in another state.

Prior to opening a new off-campus classroom and laboratory site, university partners often require approval from the applicable state board to offer its programs at that location. This can delay the site opening and timing can vary based on the state and the university partner.

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Although not directly regulated by these entities, we must be mindful of the requirements placed by state professional licensure bodies on our university partner institutions to ensure those institutions maintain that licensure.

Accreditation

Accreditation is a private, non-governmental process for evaluating the quality of educational institutions and their programs in areas including student performance, governance, integrity, educational quality, faculty, physical resources, administrative capability and resources, and financial stability. To be recognized by ED, accrediting commissions must adopt specific standards for their review of educational institutions, conduct peer-review evaluations of institutions, and publicly designate those institutions that meet their criteria. An accredited school is subject to periodic review by its accrediting commissions to determine whether it continues to meet the performance, integrity and quality required for accreditation.

Our most significant university partner, GCU has been regionally accredited by the HLC and its predecessor since 1968, most recently obtaining reaccreditation in 2017 for the ten-year period through 2027. The HLC is an accrediting agency recognized by the Secretary of Education and accredits entire institutions of higher education. The HLC has historically been categorized as a regional accreditor. Institutional accreditation by a recognized accreditation agency is one of the prerequisites for an institution of higher education to be eligible to disburse Title IV aid to students. In addition, GCU holds a number of programmatic accreditations related to the conduct of specific programs of the college. Other colleges and universities depend, in part, on an institution’s accreditation (institutional, and, in some cases, programmatic) in evaluating transfers of credit and applications to graduate schools. Employers rely on the accredited status of institutions when evaluating candidates’ credentials, and students and corporate and government sponsors under tuition reimbursement programs look to accreditation for assurance that an institution maintains quality educational standards.

University partners other than GCU may be accredited by different accrediting bodies that are likely to have standards that are different from those of the HLC. Moreover, other university partners may also hold various programmatic accreditations that set additional requirements related to specific programs. As we work with university partners in different regions we will need to work with those accrediting bodies and tailor our services to meet the requirements of those accreditors.

Regulation of Federal Student Financial Aid Programs

To be eligible to participate in the Title IV programs, an institution must comply with specific requirements contained in the HEA and the regulations issued thereunder by ED. An institution must, among other things, be licensed or authorized to offer its educational programs by the state in which it is physically located and maintain institutional accreditation by an accrediting commission recognized by ED.

The substantial amount of federal funds disbursed to schools through the Title IV programs and the large number of students and institutions participating in these programs have caused Congress to require ED to exercise considerable regulatory oversight over educational institutions. As a result, our university partners are subject to extensive oversight and review. Because ED periodically revises its regulations and changes its interpretations of existing laws and regulations, we cannot predict with certainty how the Title IV program requirements will be applied in all circumstances to our university partners or to us directly.

Significant regulations and other factors relating to the Title IV programs that could adversely affect us include the following:

Congressional action. Congress must reauthorize the HEA on a periodic basis, usually every five to six years, and the most recent reauthorization through September 30, 2013, occurred in August 2008. The reauthorized HEA reauthorized all of the Title IV programs in which institutions participate but made numerous revisions to the requirements governing the Title IV programs, including provisions relating to student loan default rates and the formula for determining the maximum amount of revenue that institutions are permitted to derive from the Title IV programs. In addition, members of Congress periodically introduce legislation that would impact Title IV programs and the higher

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education industry generally. Because a significant percentage of our revenue is indirectly derived from the Title IV programs, any action by Congress that significantly reduces Title IV program funding or the ability of our university partners to participate in the Title IV programs could reduce the ability of some students to finance their education at our university partner institutions and materially decrease their student enrollment.

Eligibility and certification procedures. Each institution must apply periodically to ED for continued certification to participate in the Title IV programs. Such recertification generally is required every six years, but may be required earlier, including when an institution undergoes a change in control. To the extent ED suspends, limits, modifies, conditions, or terminates any client institution’s eligibility to participate in the Title IV programs, that action is likely to have a negative impact on our business. Indeed, this could range from disallowing the institution from adding new programs or terminating the institution from Title IV eligibility.

The Transaction resulted in a change in control of our most significant university partner, GCU, following which it began operating as a non-profit university and necessitating the application by GCU to ED for approval of the change in control and for a new program participation agreement. In November 2019, GCU received a new provisional program participation agreement, which granted GCU the ability to participate in the Title IV programs on a provisional basis through September 30, 2022. ED also informed GCU at that time, however, that GCU does not satisfy ED’s definition of a nonprofit institution and, as a result, that ED will continue to treat GCU as a proprietary institution for purposes of its continued participation in Title IV programs.

Administrative capability. ED regulations specify extensive criteria by which an institution must establish that it has the requisite “administrative capability” to participate in the Title IV programs. To meet the administrative capability standards, an institution must, among other things:

comply with all applicable Title IV program requirements;
have an adequate number of qualified personnel to administer the Title IV programs;
have acceptable standards for measuring the satisfactory academic progress of its students;
not have student loan cohort default rates above specified levels;
have various procedures in place for awarding, disbursing and safeguarding Title IV funds and for maintaining required records;
administer the Title IV programs with adequate checks and balances in its system of internal controls;
not be, and not have any principal or affiliate who is, debarred or suspended from federal contracting or engaging in activity that is cause for debarment or suspension;
provide financial aid counseling to its students;
refer to ED’s Office of Inspector General any credible information indicating that any student, parent, employee, third-party servicer or other agent of the institution has engaged in any fraud or other illegal conduct involving the Title IV programs;
submit all required reports and consolidated financial statements in a timely manner; and
not otherwise appear to lack administrative capability.

As an education services company, we assist our university partners with some facets of these criteria. As such, we must be mindful of, and compliant with, the administrative capability requirements. If an institution fails to satisfy any of these criteria, ED may:

require the institution to repay Title IV funds its students previously received;
transfer the institution from the advance method of payment of Title IV funds to heightened cash monitoring status or the reimbursement system of payment;
place the institution on provisional certification status; or
commence a proceeding to impose a fine or to limit, suspend or terminate the institution’s participation in the Title IV programs.

Imposition of these sanctions could have a negative impact on our ability to conduct our business.

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Financial responsibility. The HEA and ED regulations establish extensive standards of financial responsibility that institutions must satisfy in order to participate in the Title IV programs. ED evaluates institutions for compliance with these standards on an annual basis based on the institution’s annual audited consolidated financial statements, as well as when the institution applies to ED to have its eligibility to participate in the Title IV programs recertified. The most significant financial responsibility standard is the institution’s composite score, which is derived from a formula established by ED based on three financial ratios:

equity ratio, which measures the institution’s capital resources, financial viability and ability to borrow;
primary reserve ratio, which measures the institution’s ability to support current operations from expendable resources; and
net income ratio, which measures the institution’s ability to operate at a profit or within its means.

ED assigns a strength factor to the results of each of these ratios on a scale from negative 1.0 to positive 3.0, with negative 1.0 reflecting financial weakness and positive 3.0 reflecting financial strength. ED then assigns a weighting percentage to each ratio and adds the weighted scores for the three ratios together to produce a composite score for the institution. The composite score for an institution’s most recent fiscal year must be at least 1.5 for the institution to be deemed financially responsible without the need for further ED oversight. In addition to having an acceptable composite score, an institution must, among other things, provide the administrative resources necessary to comply with Title IV program requirements, meet all of its financial obligations, including required refunds to students and any Title IV liabilities and debts, be current in its debt payments, and not receive an adverse, qualified, or disclaimed opinion by its accountants in its audited consolidated financial statements.

As an education service company, we are not directly subject to this regulation. However, if ED were to determine that a university partner institution did not meet the financial responsibility standards due to a failure to meet the composite score or other financial responsibility factors, ED could impose a range of sanctions on the institution, such as requiring the institution to post a letter of credit, accept provisional certification (which would hamper the ability of the institution to add new programs), comply with additional ED monitoring requirements, agree to receive Title IV program funds under an arrangement other than ED’s standard advance funding arrangement, such as the reimbursement system of payment or heightened cash monitoring, and comply with or accept other limitations on the ability to increase the number of programs it offers or the number of students it enrolls, any of which sanctions on our university partners could also adversely affect our business. In addition, because other regulators may use the composite score for their purposes, a poor composite score could have additional effects. For example, NC-SARA utilizes the composite score in determining whether an institution is eligible to participate in SARA.

Our most significant university partner, GCU, calculated its composite score following the Transaction with respect to its fiscal years ending June 30, 2020 and June 30, 2019. As of June 30, 2020 and 2019, GCU’s composite score was 1.5 and 2.2, respectively, using the proprietary school calculation methodology. If GCU’s future composite scores do not exceed 1.5, ED could impose sanctions. If any such sanctions were imposed, it could have a negative impact on our ability to conduct our business.

Return of Title IV funds for students who withdraw. When a student who has received Title IV program funds withdraws from school, the institution must determine the amount of Title IV program funds the student has “earned” and then must return the unearned Title IV program funds (a “return to Title IV”) to the appropriate lender or ED in a timely manner, which is generally no later than 45 days after the date the institution determined that the student withdrew. If such payments are not timely made, the institution will be required to submit a letter of credit to ED equal to 25% of the Title IV funds that the institution should have returned for withdrawn students in its most recently completed fiscal year. Under ED regulations, the letter of credit requirement is triggered by late returns of Title IV program funds for 5% or more of the withdrawn students (and involving more than two student refunds) in the audit sample in the institution’s annual Title IV compliance audit for either of the institution’s two most recent fiscal years or in a ED program review. To the extent our services for a university partner include conducting returns to Title IV, as they do with GCU, we would likely be jointly and severally liable to ED, along with the relevant university partner, for return of those funds.

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The ”90/10 Rule.” A requirement of the HEA, commonly referred to as the “90/10 Rule,” that is applicable only to proprietary, post-secondary educational institutions, provides that an institution loses its eligibility to participate in the Title IV programs if the institution derives more than 90% of its revenue for each of two consecutive fiscal years from Title IV program funds. For purposes of the 90/10 Rule, revenue is calculated under a complex regulatory formula that requires cash basis accounting and other adjustments to the calculation of an institution’s revenue under generally accepted accounting principles that appears in its consolidated financial statements. Under the 90/10 Rule, an institution becomes ineligible to participate in the Title IV programs as of the first day of the fiscal year following the second consecutive fiscal year in which it exceeds the 90% threshold, and its period of ineligibility extends for at least two consecutive fiscal years. If an institution exceeds the 90% threshold for two consecutive fiscal years and it and its students have received Title IV funds during the subsequent period of ineligibility, the institution will be required to return those Title IV funds to the applicable lender or the ED. If an institution’s rate exceeds 90% for any single fiscal year, it will be placed on provisional certification for at least two fiscal years.

Using the ED’s cash-basis, regulatory formula under the 90/10 Rule as currently in effect, GCU, our most significant client, derived approximately 71.8% and 73.0%, of its 90/10 Rule revenue from Title IV program funds for the fiscal years ended June 30, 2020 and 2019, respectively. Accordingly, even if ED continues to treat GCU as a proprietary institution for nonprofit purposes, we do not expect this rule to have any material impact on GCU.

Student loan defaults. Under the HEA, an educational institution may lose its eligibility to participate in some or all of the Title IV programs if defaults by its students on the repayment of their federal student loans exceed certain levels. For each federal fiscal year, ED calculates a rate of student defaults for each institution (known as a “cohort default rate”). The rate is calculated by determining the rate at which borrowers who became subject to their repayment obligation in one federal fiscal year default in that same year or by the end of the second year following the first federal fiscal year (the “three-year method”).

ED applies legal thresholds to measure an institution’s compliance. If ED notifies an institution that its cohort default rates exceeded 30%, for each of its three most recent federal fiscal years, the institution’s participation in the FDL Program and the Pell grant program would end 30 days after that notification, unless the institution appeals that determination in a timely manner on specified grounds and according to specified procedures. In addition, an institution’s participation in the FDL Program would end 30 days after notification by ED that its most recent cohort default rate, is greater than 40%, unless the institution timely appeals that determination on specified grounds and according to specified procedures. An institution whose participation ends under either of these provisions may not participate in the relevant programs for the remainder of the fiscal year in which the institution receives the notification or for the next two fiscal years. If an institution’s cohort default rate for any single federal fiscal year equals or exceeds 30%, ED may place the institution on provisional certification status.

While we cannot directly influence a university partner’s cohort default rates, and do not provide default rate management services, in the course of performing services for a university partner we would work to assist such university partner in ensuring that its cohort default rates do not present a compliance risk under this regulation. Nonetheless, if a university partner institution exceeded the threshold under the three-year method, the sanction imposed could have a negative impact on our ability to conduct our business. While GCU’s cohort default rates have historically been significantly below these levels, we cannot assure you that this will continue to be the case.

Incentive compensation rule. An institution that participates in the Title IV programs may not provide any commission, bonus, or other incentive payment based directly or indirectly on success in securing enrollments or financial aid to any person or entity engaged in any student recruitment, admissions, or financial aid awarding activity. In its program participation agreement with ED, each higher education institution agrees that it will not "provide any commission, bonus, or other incentive payment based in any part, directly or indirectly, upon success in securing enrollments or the award of financial aid, to any person or entity who is engaged in any student recruitment or admission activity, or in making decisions regarding the award of Title IV, HEA program funds." Pursuant to this rule, we are prohibited from offering our covered employees, who are those employees involved with or responsible for recruiting or admissions activities, any bonus or incentive-based compensation based on the successful recruitment, admission or enrollment of students into a postsecondary institution. We are also precluded from offering our covered employees who

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work on financial aid matters (if any), any bonus or incentive-based compensation based on the award of financial aid to students enrolled in a postsecondary institution.

In addition, the incentive compensation rule raises a question as to whether companies like ours, as an entity, are prohibited from entering into tuition revenue-sharing arrangements with university partners. On March 17, 2011, ED issued official agency guidance, known as a "Dear Colleague Letter," or a DCL, providing guidance on this point. The DCL states that "[t]he Department generally views payment based on the amount of tuition generated as an indirect payment of incentive compensation based on success in recruitment and therefore a prohibited basis upon which to measure the value of the services provided" and that "[t]his is true regardless of the manner in which the entity compensates its employees." But the DCL also provides an important exception to the ban on tuition revenue-sharing arrangements between institutions and third parties. According to the DCL, ED does not consider payment based on the amount of tuition generated by an institution to violate the incentive compensation ban if the payment compensates an "unaffiliated third party" that provides a set of "bundled services" that includes recruitment services, such as those we provide. Example 2-B in the DCL is described as a "possible business model" developed "with the statutory mandate in mind." Example 2-B describes the following as a possible business model:

"A third-party that is not affiliated with the institution it serves and is not affiliated with any other institution that provides educational services, provides bundled services to the institution including marketing, enrollment application assistance, recruitment services, course support for online delivery of courses, the provision of technology, placement services for internships, and student career counseling. The institution may pay the entity an amount based on tuition generated for the institution by the entity’s activities for all the bundled services that are offered and provided collectively, as long as the entity does not make prohibited compensation payments to its employees, and the institution does not pay the entity separately for student recruitment services provided by the entity."

The DCL guidance indicates that an arrangement that complies with Example 2-B will be deemed to be in compliance with the incentive compensation provisions of the HEA and ED’s regulations. Our business model and contractual arrangements with our university partners closely follow Example 2-B in the DCL. In addition, we assure that none of our "covered employees" is paid any bonus or other incentive compensation in violation of the rule.

Because the bundled services rule was promulgated in the form of agency guidance issued by ED in the form of a DCL and is not codified by statute or regulation, the rule could be altered or removed without prior notice, public comment period or other administrative procedural requirements that accompany formal agency rulemaking. Similarly, a court could invalidate the rule in an action involving our company or our university partners, or in action that does not involve us at all. The revision, removal or invalidation of the bundled services rule by Congress, ED or a court could require us to change our business model.

In addition, we have requested guidance from ED that our specific model is proper under the incentive compensation rule and that our company is not an “affiliate” of GCU for purposes of the DCL. We are awaiting a response to this guidance request. See “Risk Factors – Risks Related to Our Business - If we are determined to have paid improper incentive compensation to our covered employees, or tuition sharing arrangements are deemed to violate the incentive compensation regulations, our business will be impaired.”

Borrower Defense to Repayment regulations. ED has long had a regulation that establishes standards for borrowers that govern their ability to raise defenses to their obligation to repay certain Title IV loans, which defenses were based on certain acts or omissions of the institution that relate to the making of the loan for enrollment at the school or the provision of educational services for which the loan was provided and that gave rise to a cause of action under state law against the school. This regulation currently applies to all loans first disbursed prior to July 1, 2017.

In 2016, ED published a regulatory package related to “Borrower Defense to Repayment.” This was a highly consequential rule that, among other things, would make it easier for borrowers – individually or in groups – to extinguish, in whole or in part, their student loans based on whether:

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The borrower or a governmental agency, has obtained against the school a nondefault, favorable contested judgment based on state or federal law in a court of administrative tribunal;
The institution failed to perform its obligations under the terms of a contract with the student; or
The school or any of its representatives (including contractors) or any institution, organization, or person with whom the school has an agreement to provide educational programs, or to provide marketing, advertising, recruiting or admissions services, made a substantial misrepresentation (as defined by ED regulations) that the borrower reasonably relied on to the borrower’s detriment when the borrower decided to attend, or to continue attending, the school or decided to take out a Direct Loan.

These regulations also established separate procedures for claims initiated for individual borrowers and claims initiated for groups of borrowers as well as separate procedures in the event that the institution is open or closed. The rules established varying, borrower-favorable statutes of limitations for the initiation of claims and, in some cases, imposed an unlimited statute of limitations. If the ED official or hearing official approves the borrower’s defense to repayment through the applicable administrative process established in the proposed regulations, ED may discharge the borrower’s obligation to repay some or all of the borrower’s student loans, may return to the borrower amounts already paid by the borrower toward the discharged portion of the loan, and may initiate a separate proceeding to collect the discharged and returned amounts from the institution.

Although ED attempted to prevent the effectiveness of these regulations, an October 2018 court decision mandated that the Borrower Defense to Repayment regulations that were originally published by ED in 2016 are now in effect and apply to loans first disbursed after July 1, 2017 and (because of recent regulatory developments) prior to July 1, 2020.

On September 23, 2019, ED published new regulations related to the “Borrower Defense to Repayment” regulations. These regulations, which are effective July 1, 2020 modify the existing regulations to now permit borrowers to raise as a defense to repayment on a student loan any statement, act, or omission to a borrower that is false, misleading, or deceptive; made with knowledge of its false, misleading, or deceptive nature or with a reckless disregard for the truth; and directly and clearly related to the making of a Direct Loan for enrollment at the school or the provision of educational services for which the loan was made. Among other things, the new regulations modify the procedures and standards for borrowers to assert through an ED-administered process a defense to the borrowers’ obligation to repay certain Title IV loans first disbursed on or after July 1, 2020, based on certain acts or omissions by the institution or a covered party. The procedures establish a process for students to obtain a loan discharge by establishing by a preponderance of the evidence that the institution made a misrepresentation of material fact, upon which the borrower reasonably relied in deciding to obtain a covered loan, where such misrepresentation directly and clearly relates to enrollment or continuing enrollment at the institution or to the provision of educational services for which the loan was made, and where the borrower was financially harmed by the misrepresentation. The regulations establish revised definitions for misrepresentation and financial harm, identify a nonexclusive list of items that may be evidence that a misrepresentation occurred, identify a list of items that do not constitute a basis for a defense to repayment. The regulations also set forth rules on a limitations period for submitting claims and circumstances for extending this period, on the requirements for submitting an application for a discharge, on the consideration of the application by ED, on the opportunities for the institution to respond and submit evidence, and on the process for discharging the borrower’s loan and for ED to seek recovery of the discharged amounts from the institution.

In addition to revising the claims for defenses to repayment, the 2019 Borrower Defense to Repayment regulations that became effective on July 1, 2020, revises the financial responsibility regulations that were a part of the 2016 version of those regulations. The 2019 regulation shortens and reduces the scope of the list of events that could result in ED determining that an institution has failed ED’s financial responsibility standards and requiring a letter of credit or other form of acceptable financial protection and the acceptance of other conditions or requirements. Specifically, the regulations establish revised lists of mandatory triggering events and discretionary triggering events. The regulation also establishes discretionary triggering events for which ED may determine that an institution is not able to meet its financial or administrative obligations if the events are likely to have a material adverse effect on the financial condition of the institution. The regulations require the institution to notify ED of the occurrence of a mandatory or discretionary event in accordance with procedures established by ED, typically within 10 days of the occurrence of the event with certain

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exceptions. ED may make a determination that an institution fails to meet the financial responsibility standards based on the occurrence of one or more mandatory or discretionary triggers and impose a letter of credit and/or other conditions upon the institution. As with the 2016 version of this rule, the 2019 version of the regulations could require institutions we service – like GCU – to submit a letter of credit or other form of acceptable financial protection and accept other conditions or requirements. This could put financial strain on our university partners and negatively affect our business.

Note, the borrower defense to repayment regulations discussed herein were and are extensive and this does not attempt to discuss all the facets of any of the versions of these regulations.

Compliance reviews. Our client institutions are subject to announced and unannounced compliance reviews and audits by various external agencies, including ED, its Office of Inspector General, state licensing agencies, the applicable state approving agencies for financial assistance to veterans, and accrediting commissions. As part of ED’s ongoing monitoring of institutions’ administration of the Title IV programs, the HEA also requires institutions to annually submit to ED a Title IV compliance audit conducted by an independent certified public accountant in accordance with applicable federal and ED audit standards. In addition, to enable ED to make a determination of an institution’s financial responsibility, each institution must annually submit audited financial statements prepared in accordance with ED regulations.

As a third-party servicer, not only are our university partners subject to reviews and audits that may require our involvement, but we are also subject to program reviews from ED and the Office of the Inspector General. Further, we also have an obligation to annually submit to ED a Title IV compliance audit conducted by an independent certified public accountant in accordance with applicable federal and ED audit standards.

Gainful employment rules. Under the HEA, proprietary schools are eligible to participate in Title IV programs in respect of educational programs that lead to “gainful employment in a recognized occupation,” with the limited exception of qualified programs leading to a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts. ED attempted to define this in a series of regulations from 2010 to 2016. On July 1, 2019, ED rescinded the previously enacted gainful employment regulations. While this change is effective July 1, 2020, ED also permitted institutions to enact this change as early as July 1, 2019, so long as any such institution made manifest its intention to be subject to the rescinded regulations. It is our understanding that GCU had made manifest that intention and, as of July 1, 2019, is no longer subject to the gainful employment rules. While GCU largely complied with the previously published gainful employment rules, the previously published draft rates did indicate that four current degree programs were in the “Zone” – that is, potentially faced sanctions in the future if GCU could not reform the program to comply with the regulations – including three undergraduate education programs and the Masters in Theology.

Substantial misrepresentation. The HEA prohibits an institution that participates in Title IV programs from engaging in “substantial misrepresentation” of the nature of its educational program, its financial charges, or the employability of its graduates. ED has defined a misrepresentation as any statement made by the institution or a third party that provides educational programs, marketing, advertising, recruiting, or admissions services to the institution that is false, erroneous or has the likelihood or tendency to deceive. A substantial misrepresentation is any misrepresentation on which the person to whom it was made could reasonably be expected to rely, or has reasonably relied, to that person’s detriment.

The regulation also covers statements made by any representative of an institution, including agents, employees and subcontractors, and statements made directly or indirectly to any third party, including state agencies, government officials or the public, and not just to students or prospective students. Therefore, we are subject to this regulation.

Considering the breadth of the definition of “substantial misrepresentation,” it is possible that despite our efforts to prevent such misrepresentations, our employees or contractors may make statements that could be construed as substantial misrepresentations for which our university partners would be held responsible by ED. We and our employees and subcontractors, as agents of our university partners, must use a high degree of care to comply with such rules and are prohibited by contract from making any false, erroneous or misleading statements about our university partners. To avoid an issue under the misrepresentation rule and similar rules, we assure that all marketing materials are

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approved in advance by our university partners before they are used by our employees and we carefully monitor our subcontractors.

Despite our best efforts, we may face complaints from students and prospective students of our university partners over statements made by us and our agents throughout the conduct of our services which would expose our university partners, and derivatively us, to increased risk of enforcement action and applicable sanctions or other penalties and increased risk of private qui tam actions under the Federal False Claims Act. Also, if ED determines that an institution (including its contractors) has engaged in substantial misrepresentation, ED may revoke an institution’s program participation agreement, impose limitations on the institution’s participation in Title IV programs, deny applications from the institution for approval of new programs or locations or other matters, or initiate proceedings to fine the institution or limit, suspend, or terminate its eligibility to participate in Title IV programs. Similar rules apply under state laws or are incorporated in institutional accreditation standards and the Federal Trade Commission, or FTC, applies similar rules prohibiting any unfair or deceptive marketing practices to the education sector. If ED or another regulator determines that statements made by us or on our behalf are in violation of the regulations, we could be subject to sanctions and other liability, which could have a material adverse effect on our business.

Regulatory Standards that May Restrict Institutional Expansion or Other Changes

Many actions that our university partners may wish to take in connection with expanding their operations or other changes are subject to review or approval by the applicable regulatory agencies. For example, requirements and standards of state post-secondary agencies, accrediting commissions, and ED limit an institution’s ability in certain instances to establish additional teaching locations, implement new educational programs, or increase enrollment in certain programs. Many states require review and approval before institutions can add new locations or programs, and many states limit the number of pre-licensure professional students (such as nursing) colleges may enroll. Similarly, accrediting agencies (institutional and programmatic) generally require institutions to notify them in advance of adding new locations or implementing new programs, and upon notification may undertake a review of the quality of the facility or the program and the financial, academic, and other qualifications of the institution.

With respect to ED, if an institution participating in the Title IV programs plans to add a new location or educational program, the institution must generally apply to ED to have the additional location or educational program designated as within the scope of the institution’s Title IV eligibility. Institutions that are fully certified to participate in the Title IV programs are not required to obtain ED’s approval of additional programs that lead to a bachelor’s, professional, or graduate degree at the same degree level as programs previously approved by ED, and, similarly, is not required to obtain advance approval for new programs that prepare students for gainful employment in the same or a related recognized occupation as an educational program that has previously been designated by ED as an eligible program at that institution if it meets certain minimum-length requirements. GCU, because it is currently certified to participate in the Title IV programs through September 30, 2022, is required to obtain ED approval for new programs, which requirement could impede GCU’s ability to introduce new programs and slow its growth.

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Item 1A.       Risk Factors

There are many factors that affect our business, financial condition, operating results, cash flows and distributions, as well as the market price for our securities. The following is a description of important factors that may cause our actual results of operations in future periods to differ materially from those currently expected or discussed in forward-looking statements set forth in this Annual Report. Additional risks and uncertainties not presently known to us or that we may currently deem immaterial also may impair our business operations. Forward-looking statements and such risks, uncertainties and other factors speak only as of the date of this Annual Report, and we expressly disclaim any obligation or undertaking to update or revise any forward-looking statement contained herein, to reflect any change in our expectations with regard thereto, or any other change in events, conditions or circumstances on which any such statement is based, except to the extent otherwise required by law. See “Forward-Looking Statements.” These risk factors should be read in conjunction with other information set forth in this Annual Report, including Item 7, Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations, and Item 8, Consolidated Financial Statements and Supplementary Data, including the related Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements.

Upon the consummation of the Transaction with GCU on July 1, 2018 (as discussed in “Part I. Business – The Transaction”), we became a third-party provider of education services to GCU, our only university partner during 2018. In January 2019, we began providing education services to numerous university partners across the United States, through our wholly-owned subsidiary, Orbis Education, which we acquired on January 22, 2019. In the healthcare field, GCE, together with Orbis Education, works in partnership with a growing number of top universities and healthcare networks across the country, offering health care related academic programs at off-campus classroom and laboratory sites located near healthcare providers and developing high-quality, career-ready graduates who enter the workforce ready to meet the demands of the healthcare industry. While we currently provide services to 25 university partners across the United States, GCU is, and will for the foreseeable future remain, our most significant university partner. Accordingly, the risk factors set forth below include risks attributable to GCU’s operations, which could materially affect us.

Risks Related to Our Relationship with GCU

A large percentage of our revenue is attributable to our contractual relationship as a service provider to GCU, and the loss of, or a decline in enrollment in, GCU programs could significantly reduce our revenue and impact our overall financial performance.

We expect the revenue derived from our Master Services Agreement with GCU to account for a large percentage of our revenue for the foreseeable future. Any decline in reputation or changes in policies of GCU could adversely affect its student enrollment and its overall financial and operating results, which could materially impact us. Furthermore, GCU has the right to terminate the Master Services Agreement early after the later of seven (7) years or the payment in full of the Secured Note (defined below) and, upon the termination or expiration of the Master Services Agreement, GCU is not required to continue using us as the provider of the services set forth thereunder. If GCU were to terminate or not renew its relationship with us, or if certain of the programs offered by GCU pursuant to the Master Services Agreement were to materially underperform for any reason, it could negatively affect our reputation, revenue and future operating results.

GCU’s board of trustees and management have fiduciary and other duties that require them to focus on the best interests of GCU and, over time, those interests could diverge from those of GCE.

GCU is a separate Arizona non-profit corporation under the control of an independent board of trustees, none of whose members have ever served in a management or corporate board role at GCE. Accordingly, GCE’s relationship with GCU, both pursuant to the Master Services Agreement and operationally, is no longer as owner and operator, but as a third-party service provider to an independent customer. While GCE believes that its relationship with GCU will remain strong, GCU’s board of trustees and management have fiduciary and other duties that require them to focus on the best interests of GCU and, over time, those interests could diverge from those of GCE.

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Our Chief Executive Officer’s role as President of GCU may adversely affect his ability to run GCE.

Mr. Brian E. Mueller has served as the Chief Executive Officer of GCE since 2008, the Chairman of the Board of GCE since 2017 and the President of GCU since 2012. In connection with the Transaction, the Board of Directors of GCE and the board of trustees of GCU each determined that Mr. Mueller should retain those roles. Accordingly, Mr. Mueller serves as the Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of GCE and as the President of GCU, although he is prohibited from serving on the board of trustees of GCU. Our Board and the board of trustees of GCU each recognized that Mr. Mueller’s dual role could raise conflict of interest issues. Accordingly, at the time of the Transaction, GCU adopted governance provisions that prohibit Mr. Mueller from serving on the board of trustees of GCU. We also jointly imposed a structure, through GCU’s governance documents and through express provisions of the Master Services Agreement, that prevent Mr. Mueller from participating in day-to-day management of, or negotiations between GCE and GCU relating to, the Master Services Agreement. In addition, Mr. Mueller’s dual capacity may at times adversely affect his ability to devote time, attention, and effort to GCE.

The purchase price for the Transferred Assets in the Transaction was paid in the form of a senior Secured Note, and our ability to realize the negotiated value of the acquired assets is subject to GCU’s performance and its ability to pay amounts due under the Secured Note as they come due.

GCU paid the purchase price for the Transferred Assets by issuing to GCE a secured note (the “Secured Note”) that is governed by a credit agreement between GCE and GCU. That credit agreement contains customary commercial credit terms, including affirmative and negative covenants applicable to GCU, and provides that the Secured Note bears interest at an annual rate of 6.0%, has a maturity date of June 30, 2025, and is secured by all of the assets of GCU. The Secured Note provides for GCU to make interest only payments during the term, with all principal and accrued and unpaid interest due at maturity and also provides that GCE will lend additional amounts to GCU to fund GCU-approved capital expenditures during the first three years of the term. Our ability to realize the negotiated value of the acquired assets depends on GCU’s performance and its ability to pay amounts due under the Secured Note as they come due.

Other Risks Related to Our Business

The recent global coronavirus outbreak could harm our business, results of operations, and financial condition, and has harmed our most significant university partner.

 

In March 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. This contagious outbreak, which has continued to spread, and the related adverse public health developments, including orders to shelter-in-place, travel restrictions and mandated non-essential business closures, have adversely affected workforces, organizations, customers, economies and financial markets globally, leading to an economic downturn and increased market volatility. It has also disrupted the normal operations of many businesses, including ours, and those of our university partners.

 

This outbreak, as well as measures taken to contain the spread of COVID-19, has impacted GCU’s students and its business in a number of ways, including the closure of dormitories and GCU’s hotel and various ancillary businesses near the end of the Spring 2020 semester, limitations on the number of residential students, doctoral residencies and the various ancillary businesses in the summer and fall months, and a delay in the start of its Fall 2020 ground traditional student semester including when residential students could move on to campus. A significant number of traditional ground students chose to take the Fall semester in an online modality rather than living on campus. These actions served to reduce GCU’s non-tuition revenue and, consequently, the service revenue we earned under the Master Services Agreement.

The COVID-19 outbreak also impacted some of our other university partners’ students and their businesses as well, including, but not limited to decreasing the student enrollments at some of our other university partners as some prelicensure nursing and occupational therapy students delayed their education including those that had to relocate to attend class.

The COVID-19 outbreak could cause future disruptions to our university partners, including, but not limited to:

 

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decreasing the student enrollments at our university partners as students might delay their education including those that relocate to attend class;
decreasing the number of residential students at GCU;
impacting current and prospective university partners’ desire to launch new locations with us;
negatively impacting collections of accounts receivable from university partners;
negatively impacting our ability to facilitate placements for students in clinical graduate programs which could delay their path to graduation; and
harming our business, results of operations and financial condition.

 

The outbreak also presents challenges as approximately 90% of our entire workforce is currently, and is expected to continue for the foreseeable future, working remotely and this could cause increased risks in the areas of internal control, cyber security and the use of remote technology, which could result in interruptions or disruptions in normal operational processes. We have eliminated all non-essential travel as a result of the pandemic and as a result are seeing a decrease in travel costs.

 

The COVID-19 pandemic presents material uncertainty and risk with respect to our financial condition, results of operations, cash flows and performance and it is not possible for us to completely predict the duration or magnitude of the adverse results of the outbreak and its effects on us. The COVID-19 pandemic may also have the effect of heightening many of the risk factors identified in this Annual Report on Form 10-K, such as those related to disruption or failures of our learning platform.

If we are determined to have paid improper incentive compensation to our covered employees, or tuition sharing arrangements are deemed to violate the incentive compensation regulations, our business will be impaired.

An institution that participates in the Title IV programs may not provide any commission, bonus, or other incentive payment based directly or indirectly on success in securing enrollments or financial aid to any person or entity engaged in any student recruitment, admissions, or financial aid awarding activity. Current regulations provide that higher education institutions agree that it will not "provide any commission, bonus, or other incentive payment based in any part, directly or indirectly, upon success in securing enrollments or the award of financial aid, to any person or entity who is engaged in any student recruitment or admission activity, or in making decisions regarding the award of title IV, HEA program funds." Pursuant to this regulation, we are prohibited from offering our covered employees, which are those involved with or responsible for recruiting or admissions activities, any bonus or incentive-based compensation based on the successful recruitment, admission or enrollment of students into a postsecondary institution. We are also precluded from offering our covered employees that work on financial aid matters (if any), any bonus or incentive-based compensation based on the award of financial aid to students enrolled in a postsecondary institution.

In addition, the regulation raises a question as to whether companies like ours, as an entity, are prohibited from entering into tuition revenue-sharing arrangements with university partners. On March 17, 2011, ED issued official agency guidance, known as a "Dear Colleague Letter," or the DCL, providing guidance on this point. The DCL states that "[t]he Department generally views payment based on the amount of tuition generated as an indirect payment of incentive compensation based on success in recruitment and therefore a prohibited basis upon which to measure the value of the services provided" and that "[t]his is true regardless of the manner in which the entity compensates its employees." But the DCL also provides an important exception to the ban on tuition revenue-sharing arrangements between institutions and third parties. According to the DCL, ED does not consider payment based on the amount of tuition generated by an institution to violate the incentive compensation ban if the payment compensates an "unaffiliated third party" that provides a set of "bundled services" that includes recruitment services, such as those we provide. Example 2-B in the DCL is described as a "possible business model" developed "with the statutory mandate in mind." Example 2-B describes the following as a possible business model:

"A third party that is not affiliated with the institution it serves and is not affiliated with any other institution that provides educational services, provides bundled services to the institution including marketing, enrollment application assistance, recruitment services, course support for online delivery of courses, the provision of technology, placement services for internships, and student career counseling. The institution may pay the entity an amount based on tuition generated for the institution by the entity’s activities for all the bundled

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services that are offered and provided collectively, as long as the entity does not make prohibited compensation payments to its employees, and the institution does not pay the entity separately for student recruitment services provided by the entity."

The DCL guidance indicates that an arrangement that complies with Example 2-B will be deemed to be in compliance with the incentive compensation provisions of the HEA and ED’s regulations. Our business model and contractual arrangements with our university partners closely follow Example 2-B in the DCL. In addition, we assure that none of our "covered employees" is paid any bonus or other incentive compensation in violation of the rule.

Because the bundled services rule was promulgated in the form of agency guidance issued by ED in the form of a DCL and is not codified by statute or regulation, the rule could be altered or removed without prior notice, public comment period or other administrative procedural requirements that accompany formal agency rulemaking. Similarly, a court could invalidate the rule in an action involving our company or our university partners, or in action that does not involve us at all. The revision, removal or invalidation of the bundled services rule by Congress, ED or a court could require us to change our business model.

We may have difficulty integrating future acquisitions, which would reduce the anticipated benefits of those transactions and the Acquisition.

In addition to the Acquisition in January 2019, we intend to continually evaluate potential acquisitions of complementary businesses, products, services and technologies, including those that are significant in size and scope. The risks we may encounter in acquisitions include:

if we incur significant debt to finance a future acquisition and our business does not perform as expected, we may have difficulty complying with debt covenants;
we may be unable to make a future acquisition which is in our best interest due to our existing indebtedness;
if we use our stock to make a future acquisition, it will dilute existing stockholders;
we may have difficulty assimilating the operations and personnel of any acquired company;
the challenge and additional investment involved with integrating new products, services and technologies into our sales and marketing process;
our ongoing business may be disrupted by transition and integration issues;
the costs and complexity of integrating the internal information technology infrastructure of each acquired business with ours may be greater than expected and may require additional capital investments;
we may be unable to achieve the financial and strategic goals for any acquired businesses;
we may have difficulty in maintaining controls, procedures and policies during the transition and integration period following a future acquisition;
our relationships with existing clients could be adversely affected; and
as successor we may be subject to certain liabilities of our acquisition targets.

Our failure to effectively integrate any future acquisition would adversely affect the benefit of such transaction, including potential synergies or sales growth opportunities, in the time frame anticipated.

Our success depends, in part, on the effectiveness of our marketing and advertising programs in recruiting new students.

Building awareness of our university partner institutions, and the programs they offer, is critical to our ability to attract prospective students. It is also critical to our success that we convert prospective students to enrolled students in a cost-effective manner and that these enrolled students remain active in the programs of our client institutions. Some of

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the factors that could prevent us from successfully recruiting, enrolling, and retaining students in those programs include:

with respect to GCU, ED’s determination to treat GCU as a proprietary institution for Title IV purposes, which could impact our ability to recruit students to GCU;
the reduced availability of, or higher interest rates and other costs associated with, Title IV loan funds or other sources of financial aid;
the emergence of more successful competitors;
factors related to our marketing, including the costs and effectiveness of Internet advertising and broad-based branding campaigns and recruiting efforts;
performance problems with our online systems;
failure of our client institutions to maintain institutional and specialized accreditations;
the requirements of the education agencies that regulate our client institutions which could restrict their initiation of new programs and modification of existing programs;
the requirements of the education agencies that regulate our university partner institutions which restrict the ways schools can compensate their recruitment personnel;
increased regulation of online education, including in states in which our university partner institutions do not have a physical presence;
restrictions that may be imposed on graduates of online programs that seek certification or licensure in certain states;
student dissatisfaction with our services and programs;
damage to our reputation or other adverse effects as a result of negative publicity in the media, in industry or governmental reports, or otherwise, affecting us or other companies in the post-secondary education sector;
price reductions by competitors that we are unwilling or unable to match;
a decline in the acceptance of online education;
an adverse economic or other development that affects job prospects in our core disciplines; and
a decrease in the perceived or actual economic benefits that students derive from the programs offered by any university partner institution.

If we are unable to continue to develop awareness of the programs of our university partners, and to recruit, enroll, and retain students, enrollments would suffer and our ability to increase revenues and maintain profitability would be significantly impaired.

Our failure to keep pace with changing market needs and technology could harm our ability to meet the needs of our client institutions.

We have invested significant resources to develop and implement features that enhance the online classroom experience, such as delivering course content through streaming video, simulations, and other interactive enhancements as well as technology to meet the back-office support needs of our client institutions’ students. Our information technology systems and tools could become impaired or obsolete due to our action or failure to act. For instance, we could install new information technology without accurately assessing its costs or benefits, or we could experience delayed or ineffective implementation of new information technology. We could fail to respond in a timely manner for future technological developments in our industry. Should our actions or failure to act impair or render our information technology less effective, this could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations and cash flows.

A decline in the overall growth of enrollment in post-secondary institutions, or in the number of students seeking degrees online, could cause our university partner institutions to experience lower enrollment, which could negatively impact our future growth.

Based on industry analyses, we believe that enrollment growth in degree-granting, post-secondary institutions is slowing and that the number of high school graduates that are eligible to enroll in degree-granting, post-secondary institutions is expected to decrease over the next few years. In order to maintain current growth rates, we will need to

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attract a larger percentage of students in existing markets to our client institutions and work with university partner institutions to create new academic programs. In addition, if job growth in the fields related to our university partners’ core disciplines is weaker than expected, as a result of any regional or national economic downturn or otherwise, fewer students may seek the types of degrees that our clients offer. Our failure to attract new students for our university partners, or the decisions by prospective students to seek degrees in other disciplines, would have an adverse impact on our future growth.

We face competition from established and other emerging companies, which could divert university partners to our competitors, result in pricing pressure and significantly reduce our revenue.

We expect existing competitors and new entrants to the educational services market to revise and improve their business models constantly in response to challenges from competing businesses, including ours.

Our primary competitors include EmbanetCompass (owned by Pearson), Wiley Education Services, and 2U. There are also several new and existing vendors providing some or all of the services we provide to other segments of the education market, and these vendors may pursue the institutions we target. In addition, colleges and universities may choose to continue using or to develop their own solutions in-house, rather than pay for our solutions.

Increased competition may result in changes in the revenue share percentage we are able to negotiate to receive from a university partner. The competitive landscape may also result in longer and more complex sales cycles with a prospective university partner, which would negatively affect our ability to add additional university partners and thus our ability to grow our business.

A number of competitive factors could cause us to lose potential university partner opportunities or force us to offer our solutions on less favorable economic terms, including

competitors may develop service offerings that our potential university partners find to be more compelling than ours;
competitors may adopt more aggressive pricing policies and offer more attractive sales terms, adapt more quickly to new technologies and changes in university partner and student requirements, and devote greater resources to the acquisition of qualified students than we can; and
current and potential competitors may establish cooperative relationships among themselves or with third parties to enhance their products and expand their markets, and our industry is likely to see an increasing number of new entrants and increased consolidation. Accordingly, new competitors or alliances among competitors may emerge and rapidly acquire significant market share.

We may not be able to compete successfully against current and future competitors. In addition, competition may intensify as our competitors raise additional capital and as established companies in other market segments or geographic markets expand into our market segments or geographic markets. If we cannot compete successfully against our competitors, our ability to grow our business could be impaired.

We are subject to laws and regulations as a result of our collection and use of personal information, and any violations of such laws or regulations, or any breach, theft, or loss of such information, could adversely affect our reputation and operations.

Possession and use of personal information in our operations subjects us to risks and costs that could harm our business. We collect, use, and retain large amounts of personal information regarding our primary university partner’s applicants and students, including social security numbers, tax return information, personal and family financial data, and credit card numbers. We also collect and maintain personal information of our employees in the ordinary course of our business. Our services can be accessed globally through the Internet. Therefore, we may be subject to the application of national privacy laws in countries outside the U.S. from which applicants and students access our services. Such privacy laws could impose conditions that limit the way we market and provide our services.

Our computer networks and the networks of certain of our vendors that hold and manage confidential information on our behalf may be vulnerable to unauthorized access, employee theft or misuse, computer hackers, computer viruses,

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and other security threats. Confidential information may also inadvertently become available to third parties when we integrate systems or migrate data to our servers in connection with periodic hardware or software upgrades.

Due to the sensitive nature of the personal information stored on our servers, our networks may be targeted by hackers seeking to access this data. A user who circumvents security measures could misappropriate sensitive information or cause interruptions or malfunctions in our operations. Although we use security and business controls to limit access and use of personal information, a third party may be able to circumvent those security and business controls, which could result in a breach of student or employee privacy. In addition, errors in the storage, use, or transmission of personal information could result in a breach of privacy for current or prospective students or employees. Possession and use of personal information in our operations also subjects us to legislative and regulatory burdens that could require us to implement certain policies and procedures, such as the procedures we adopted to comply with the Red Flags Rule that was promulgated by the FTC under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act and that requires the establishment of guidelines and policies regarding identity theft related to student credit accounts, and could require us to make certain notifications of data breaches and restrict our use of personal information. Similarly, California passed the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) in 2018 (which went into effect in 2020), and Massachusetts recently proposed MA Bill SD 341, “An Act relative to consumer data privacy.” There are similar bills pending in a number of other states, as well. CCPA and MA Bill SD 341 each represent a trend toward stronger privacy protections and greater data transparency in the U.S. Currently, federal law legislates privacy on an industry by industry basis. Without an overarching federal law driving privacy compliance, the risk is high of a patchwork of privacy legislation formed by individual state laws, similar to the states’ approach to breach notification obligations. This could not only increase costs for compliance but also raise the risk of enforcement by individual state Attorneys General. A violation of any laws or regulations relating to the collection or use of personal information could result in the imposition of fines against us. As a result, we may be required to expend significant resources to protect against the threat of these security breaches or to alleviate problems caused by these breaches. A major breach, theft, or loss of personal information regarding our university partner’s students and their families or our employees that is held by us or our vendors, or a violation of laws or regulations relating to the same, could have a material adverse effect on our reputation and result in further regulation and oversight by federal and state authorities and increased costs of compliance.

We are required to comply with The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, and failure to do so could harm our reputation and negatively affect our business.

FERPA generally prohibits an institution of higher education participating in Title IV programs from disclosing personally identifiable information from a student’s education records without the student’s consent. Our university partners and their students disclose to us certain information that originates from or comprises a student education record under FERPA. As an entity that provides services to institutions participating in Title IV programs, we are indirectly subject to FERPA, and we may not transfer or otherwise disclose any personally identifiable information from a student record to another party other than in a manner permitted under the statute. If we violate FERPA, it could result in a material breach of contract with one or more of our university partners and could harm our reputation. Further, in the event that we disclose student information in violation of FERPA, the DOE could require a university partner to suspend our access to their student information for at least five years.

Capacity constraints, system disruptions, or security breaches in our online computer networks and phone systems could have a material adverse effect on our ability to attract and retain students.

The performance and reliability of the infrastructure of our computer networks and phone systems, including the online programs of our university partners, is critical to our operations, reputation and to our ability to attract and retain students on our university partners’ behalf. Any computer system disruption or failure, or a sudden and significant increase in traffic on the servers that host our online operations, may result in the online courses and programs being unavailable for a period of time. In addition, any significant failure of our computer networks or servers, whether as a result of third-party actions or in connection with planned upgrades and conversions, could disrupt our operations. Individual, sustained, or repeated occurrences could significantly damage the reputation of our technology/services and result in a loss of potential or existing students of our university partner institutions. Additionally, our operations are vulnerable to interruption or malfunction due to events beyond our control, including natural disasters and network and telecommunications failures. Our computer networks may also be vulnerable to unauthorized access, computer hackers, computer viruses, malicious code, organized cyber-attacks and other security problems. A user who circumvents security

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measures could misappropriate proprietary information or cause interruptions to or malfunctions in operations. As a result, we may be required to expend significant resources to protect against the threat of these security breaches or to alleviate problems caused by these incidents. Any interruption to our operations could have a material adverse effect on our ability to attract students to our university partner’s programs and to retain those students.

Risks Related to the Extensive Regulation of The Higher Education Industry

Our failure, or our university partners’ failure, to comply with the extensive regulatory requirements governing institutions of higher education could result in financial penalties, restrictions on our operations or growth, or loss of external financial aid funding for our university partners’ students.

To participate in the Title IV programs, a school must be authorized by the appropriate state post-secondary agency or agencies, be accredited by an accrediting commission recognized by ED, and be certified as an eligible institution by ED. In addition, the operations and programs of our primary university partner, and any future university partners, are regulated by other state education agencies and additional accrediting commissions. As a result of these requirements, we are subject to extensive regulation from state entities, institutional accrediting commissions, specialized accrediting commissions, and ED. These regulatory requirements cover many of our operations, as well as the operations of our university partners. These include regulations related to educational programs, instructional and administrative staff, administrative procedures, marketing, recruiting, financial operations, and financial condition of any university partner. These regulatory requirements also affect our ability to assist university partner institutions with adding new educational programs and changing existing educational programs. The agencies that regulate higher education periodically revise their requirements and modify their interpretations of existing requirements. Regulatory requirements are not always precise and clear, and regulatory agencies may sometimes disagree with the way we have (or any university partner has) interpreted or applied these requirements. Any misinterpretation of regulatory requirements could materially adversely affect us. If we fail, or any university partner institution fails, to comply with any of these regulatory requirements, we or any university partner could suffer financial penalties, limitations on our operations, or other sanctions, each of which could materially adversely affect us. In addition, if we or any university partner are charged with regulatory violations, our reputation could be damaged, which could have a negative impact on our stock price and enrollments at university partner institutions. ED and other regulators have increased the frequency and severity of their enforcement actions against post-secondary schools. In some cases, these enforcement actions have resulted in material sanctions, loss of Title IV eligibility, or closure in schools. We cannot predict with certainty how all of these regulatory requirements will be applied, or whether we will be able to comply with all of the applicable requirements in the future.

Rulemaking by the ED could materially and adversely affect our business.

Over the past few years, the ED has regularly promulgated new regulations and guidance that impact our university partners and our business directly. These and other regulations and guidance documents, including those discussed above under “Business – Regulation,” can increase our operating costs and, in some cases, change the manner in which we operate our business. In addition, because certain of these regulations have been vacated or blocked as a result of litigation challenging the regulations, there remains substantial uncertainty regarding their present or future effectiveness or enforcement. New or amended regulations in the future, particularly regulations focused on third-party servicers, could further negatively impact our business.

If ED does not recertify a university partner institution to continue participating in the Title IV programs, the students we assist would lose their access to Title IV program funds, or a university partner institution could be recertified but required to accept significant limitations as a condition of its continued participation in the Title IV programs.

ED certification to participate in the Title IV programs lasts a maximum of six years, and institutions are thus required to seek recertification from ED on a regular basis in order to continue their participation in the Title IV programs. An institution must also apply for recertification by ED if it undergoes a change in control, as defined by ED regulations, and may be subject to similar review if it expands its operations or educational programs in certain ways.

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As an example, on November 6, 2019, ED informed GCU that it had approved the Transaction and granted to GCU a provisional Program Participation Agreement (“PPA”), permitting GCU to participate in Title IV, HEA programs on a provisional basis for the period through September 30, 2022.  This PPA, which was automatically granted on a provisional basis due to the fact that the Transaction constituted a change of control of GCU, was granted without any requirement to post a letter of credit or any growth restrictions.  Accordingly, GCU is authorized to participate in Title IV, HEA programs for the stated period. GCU will need to reapply for certification on or before June 30, 2022 to continue its participation in the Title IV HEA programs and, at that time, a determination will be made whether GCU meets the requirements for full certification.

There can be no assurance that ED will recertify any university partner institution at that time or that it will not impose conditions or other restrictions on any university partner institution as a condition of approving any future recertification. If ED does not renew or withdraws certification to participate in the Title IV programs from any university partners, students at that institution would no longer be able to receive Title IV program funds. Alternatively, ED could renew a university partner institution’s certification, but restrict or delay students’ receipt of Title IV funds, limit the number of students to whom it can disburse such funds, place other restrictions on the institution, or it could delay recertification after any university partners’ program participation agreement expires, in which case our university partner’s certification would continue on a month-to-month basis. Any of these outcomes could have a material adverse effect on our university partners’ enrollments and us.

A university partner institution could lose the ability to participate in the Title IV programs if it fails to maintain its institutional accreditation, and our university partners’ student enrollments could decline if a client institution fails to maintain any of its accreditations or approvals.

An institution must be accredited by an accrediting commission recognized by ED in order to participate in the Title IV programs. Our primary university partner, GCU has been regionally accredited by the HLC and its predecessor since 1968, most recently obtaining reaccreditation in 2017 for the ten-year period through 2027, and the HLC approved the Transaction in February 2018. Some of our other partners are accredited by HLC while the others are accredited by different accrediting bodies that are likely to have standards that are different from those of the HLC. Accrediting bodies review the accredited status of institutions periodically (for example, the HLC reviews institutions every ten years, along with a mid-term report in year four).

If any client institution fails to satisfy the relevant accrediting standards, it could lose accreditation, which would cause a revocation of its eligibility to participate in the Title IV programs. This could cause a significant decline in student enrollments, and could have a material adverse effect on us. In addition, many university partner institutions will have educational programs that are also accredited by specialized accrediting commissions or approved by specialized state agencies. If our university partner institutions fail to satisfy the standards of any of those specialized accrediting commissions or state agencies, the institution could lose the specialized accreditation or approval for the affected programs, which could result in materially reduced student enrollments in those programs and have a material adverse effect on us.

A university partner institution may lose eligibility to participate in the Title IV programs if its student loan default rates are too high.

An institution may lose its eligibility to participate in some or all of the Title IV programs if, for three consecutive years, 30% or more of its students who were required to begin repayment on their student loans in one year default on their payment by the end of the second year. In addition, an institution may lose its eligibility to participate in some or all of the Title IV programs if the default rate of its students exceeds 40% for any single year. While GCU’s cohort default rates, for example, have historically been significantly below these levels, we cannot assure you that this will continue to be the case. Increases in interest rates or declines in income or job losses for students could contribute to higher default rates on student loans. In addition, while we will conduct appropriate diligence on new university partner institutions, we cannot guarantee that all university partner institutions will have a cohort default rate as low as GCU. Having a university partner exceed the student loan default rate thresholds and losing eligibility to participate in the Title IV programs would have a material adverse effect on our business, prospects, financial condition, and results of

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operations. Any future changes in the formula for calculating student loan default rates, economic conditions, or other factors that cause default rates to increase, could materially adversely affect us.

If our university partner institutions do not meet specific financial responsibility standards established by ED, they may be required to post a letter of credit or accept other limitations in order to continue participating in the Title IV programs, or could lose eligibility to participate in the Title IV programs.

To participate in the Title IV programs, an institution must either satisfy specific quantitative standards of financial responsibility prescribed by ED or post a letter of credit in favor of ED and possibly accept operating restrictions as well. These financial responsibility tests are applied to each institution on an annual basis based on the institution’s audited consolidated financial statements, and may be applied at other times, such as if the institution undergoes a change in control. These tests may also be applied to an institution’s parent company or other related entity. The operating restrictions that may be placed on an institution that does not meet the quantitative standards of financial responsibility include being transferred from the advance payment method of receiving Title IV program funds to either the reimbursement or the heightened cash monitoring system, which could result in a significant delay in the institution’s receipt of those funds. As a service provider, we are not directly subject to this regulation. However, if ED were to determine that a university partner institution did not meet the financial responsibility standards due to a failure to meet the composite score or other financial responsibility factors, ED could impose a range of sanctions on the institution, such as requiring the institution to post a letter of credit, accept provisional certification (which would hamper the ability of the institution to add new programs), comply with additional ED monitoring requirements, agree to receive Title IV program funds under an arrangement other than ED’s standard advance funding arrangement, such as the reimbursement system of payment or heightened cash monitoring, and to comply with or accept other limitations on the ability to increase the number of programs offered by our client institutions or the number of students they enroll, any of which sanctions could have an adverse impact on our business. For example, GCU, calculated its composite score with respect to its fiscal years ending June 30, 2020 and 2019. As of June 30, 2020 and 2019, GCU’s composite score was 1.5 and 2.2, respectively, using the proprietary school calculation. If GCU’s future composite scores do not exceed 1.5 or if ED would impose any sanctions on GCU if its composite score is below 1.5. If any such sanctions were imposed on GCU or one of our other partners, it could have a negative impact on our ability to conduct our business.

If our university partner institutions do not comply with ED’s administrative capability standards, we could suffer harm.

To continue participating in the Title IV programs, an institution must demonstrate to ED that the institution is capable of adequately administering the Title IV programs under specific standards prescribed by ED. These administrative capability criteria require, among other things, the institution to have an adequate number of qualified personnel to administer the Title IV programs, have adequate procedures for disbursing and safeguarding Title IV funds and for maintaining records, submit all required reports and consolidated financial statements in a timely manner, and not have significant problems that affect the institution’s ability to administer the Title IV programs. As a service provider, we assist our university partners with some facets of these areas. As such, we must be mindful of, and compliant with, the administrative capability requirements. If our university partner institutions fail to satisfy any of these criteria, ED may assess financial penalties against such institutions, restrict the manner in which those institutions receive Title IV funds, require them to post a letter of credit, place them on provisional certification status, or limit or terminate participation in the Title IV programs, any of which could materially adversely affect us. As a third-party servicer, if we are the cause of the administrative deficiency, we may also face monetary sanctions and actions to limit, suspend, or terminate our ability to offer those and other services to institutions of higher education.

A finding that our university partner institutions violated ED’s substantial misrepresentation regulation could materially and adversely affect our business.

The HEA prohibits an institution that participates in Title IV programs from engaging in “substantial misrepresentation” of the nature of its educational program, its financial charges, or the employability of its graduates. Under these rules, a misrepresentation is any statement made by the institution or a third party that provides educational programs, marketing, advertising, recruiting, or admissions services to the institution that is false, erroneous or has the likelihood or tendency to deceive or confuse. A substantial misrepresentation is any misrepresentation on which the

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person to whom it was made could reasonably be expected to rely, or has reasonably relied, to that person’s detriment. The regulation also covers statements made by any representative of an institution, including agents, employees and subcontractors, and statements made directly or indirectly to any third party, including state agencies, government officials or the public, and not just to students or prospective students. Considering the breadth of the definition of “substantial misrepresentation,” it is possible that despite our efforts to prevent such misrepresentations, our employees or contractors may make statements that could be construed as substantial misrepresentations for which our current and any future university partners would be held responsible by ED. We and our employees and subcontractors, as agents of our university partners, must use a high degree of care to comply with such rules and are prohibited by contract from making any false, erroneous or misleading statements about our university partners. To avoid an issue under the misrepresentation rule and similar rules, we assure that all marketing materials are approved in advance by our university partners before they are used by our employees and we carefully monitor our employees and subcontractors conversations with students and prospective students.

Despite our best efforts, we may face complaints from our university partners’ students and prospective students over statements made by us and our agents throughout the conduct of all our services which would expose our university partners, and derivatively us, to increased risk of enforcement action and applicable sanctions or other penalties and increased risk of private qui tam actions under the Federal False Claims Act. Also, if ED determines that an institution (including its contractors) has engaged in substantial misrepresentation, ED may revoke an institution’s program participation agreement, impose limitations on the institution’s participation in Title IV programs, deny applications from the institution for approval of new programs or locations or other matters, or initiate proceedings to fine the institution or limit, suspend, or terminate its eligibility to participate in Title IV programs. Similar rules apply under state laws or are incorporated in institutional accreditation standards and the FTC applies similar rules prohibiting any unfair or deceptive marketing practices to the education sector. If ED or other regulator determines that statements made by us or on our university partner’s behalf are in violation of the regulations, we could be subject to sanctions and other liability, which could have a material adverse effect on our business.

To the extent we are performing return to Title IV calculations for our university partner institutions, we are subject to sanctions if we fail to correctly calculate and timely return Title IV program funds for students who withdraw before completing their educational program.

A school participating in the Title IV programs must calculate the amount of unearned Title IV program funds that it has disbursed to students who withdraw from their educational programs before completing such programs and must return those unearned funds to the appropriate lender or ED in a timely manner, generally within 45 days of the date the school determines that the student has withdrawn. To the extent our services for a university partner include conducting returns to Title IV, as they do with our primary university partner, GCU, we would likely be jointly and severally liable to ED, along with the relevant client, for return of those funds. Further, we could be fined or otherwise sanctioned by ED, which could increase our cost of regulatory compliance and materially adversely affect us. Further, a failure to comply with these regulatory requirements could result in termination of our ability to continue providing these services to other university partner institutions, which would materially affect us.

A reduction in funding or new restrictions on eligibility for the Federal Pell Grant Program, or the elimination of subsidized Stafford loans, could make college less affordable for certain students at our university partner institutions, which could negatively impact our university partner institutions’ enrollments, revenue and results of operations.

The U.S. Congress must periodically reauthorize the HEA and annually determine the funding level for each Title IV program. In 2008, the HEA was reauthorized through September 30, 2013 by the Higher Education Opportunity Act. Changes to the HEA, including changes in eligibility and funding for Title IV programs, are likely to occur in subsequent reauthorizations, but we cannot predict the scope or substance of any such changes.

Any action by Congress that significantly reduces Title IV program funding, whether through across-the-board funding reductions, sequestration or otherwise, or materially impacts the eligibility of our client institutions or students to participate in Title IV programs would have a material adverse effect on our client institutions enrollment, financial condition, results of operations and cash flows. Congressional action could also require us to modify our practices in

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ways that could increase our administrative costs and reduce our operating income, which could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition, results of operations and cash flows.

We cannot offer new programs for our university partners or expand university partner operations into certain states if such actions are not timely approved by the applicable regulatory agencies, and our university partners may have to repay Title IV funds disbursed to students enrolled in any such programs, schools, or states if they do not obtain prior approval.

Our expansion efforts include developing new educational programs for our university partners. If our university partner institutions are unable to obtain the necessary approvals for such new programs or operations, or if our university partner institutions are unable to obtain such approvals in a timely manner, our ability to consummate the planned actions and the ability of our university partner institutions to provide Title IV funds to any affected students would be impaired, which could have a material adverse effect on our expansion plans. For example, GCU, because it is currently certified to participate in the Title IV programs through September 30, 2022 on a provisional basis, is required to obtain ED approval for new programs, which requirement could impede GCU’s ability to introduce new programs and slow its growth.

If our university partner institutions do not maintain state authorization, they may not operate or participate in the Title IV programs.

A school that grants degrees or certificates must be authorized by the relevant education agency of the state in which it is located. State authorization is also required for their students to be eligible to receive funding under the Title IV programs. To maintain their state authorization, our university partner institutions must continuously meet standards relating to, among other things, educational programs, facilities, instructional and administrative staff, marketing and recruitment, financial operations, addition of new locations and educational programs, and various operational and administrative procedures. If our client institutions fail to satisfy any of these standards, they could lose state authorization to offer educational programs, which would also cause them to lose eligibility to participate in the Title IV programs and have a material adverse effect on us.

In addition, almost every state imposes regulatory requirements on educational institutions that have physical facilities located within the state’s boundaries. Individual state laws establish standards in areas such as educational programs, facilities, instructional and administrative staff, marketing and recruitment, financial operations, addition of new locations and educational programs, and various operational and administrative procedures, some of which are different than the standards prescribed by other regulators. Several states have sought to assert jurisdiction over educational institutions offering online degree programs that have no physical location in the state but that have some activity in the state, such as enrolling or offering educational services to students who reside in the state, employing faculty who reside in the state, or advertising to or recruiting prospective students in the state.

State regulatory requirements for online education have historically varied among the states. To address this issue and to meet new ED requirements many schools have applied and have been approved to be an approved institutional participant in the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (“SARA”). SARA is an agreement among member states, districts and territories that establishes comparable national standards for interstate offering of post-secondary distance education courses and programs. It is intended to make it easier for students to take online courses offered by post-secondary institutions based in another state. SARA is overseen by a national council (NC-SARA) and administered by four regional education compacts. GCU, for example, has been granted membership in SARA in Arizona (AZ-SARA), which is administered by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (referred to as W-SARA). There is a yearly renewal for participating in NC-SARA and AZ-SARA and institutions must agree to meet certain requirements to participate. As of June 30, 2018, all states other than California are members of SARA.

Any state that does not participate in SARA may impose regulatory requirements on out-of-state post-secondary institutions operating within their boundaries, such as those having a physical facility or conducting certain academic activities within the state. GCU, for example, enrolls students in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Although it is currently licensed, authorized, in-process, or exempt in all non-SARA jurisdictions in which it operates, if GCU fails to comply with state licensing or authorization requirements for a state, or fails to obtain licenses or authorizations when

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required, it could lose its state license or authorization by that state or be subject to other sanctions, including restrictions on its activities in, and fines and penalties imposed by, that state, as well as fines, penalties, and sanctions imposed by ED. The loss of licensure or authorization in any non-SARA state by a client institution could prohibit us from recruiting prospective students or offering services to current students in that state, which could significantly reduce our university partner’s enrollments.

Laws, regulations, or interpretations related to doing business over the Internet could also increase our cost of doing business and affect our ability to recruit students in particular states, which could, in turn, negatively affect enrollments and revenues and have a material adverse effect on our business.

Additionally, regulatory agencies may sometimes disagree with the way we have interpreted or applied these requirements. Any misinterpretation by us of these regulatory requirements or adverse changes in regulations or interpretations thereof by regulators could materially adversely affect us. If a university partner institution fails to comply with state licensing or authorization requirements for a state in which it operates, or fails to obtain licenses or authorizations when required, it could lose its state licensure or authorization by that state or be subject to other sanctions, including restrictions on its activities in, and fines and penalties imposed by, that state, as well as fines, penalties, and sanctions imposed by ED. The loss of licensure or authorization in a state other than a state in which a university partner institution is physically located could prohibit us from recruiting prospective students or assisting with offering educational services to current students in that state, which could significantly reduce enrollments.

Furthermore, our university partners must typically maintain a composite score of at least 1.5 to maintain their membership in a State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement, or SARA. Failure to maintain that score, and loss of eligibility for SARA, could result in the loss of the ability to offer online programs in various states unless the university partner is otherwise eligible to do so. This could greatly affect our ability to market our university partners’ online programs.

Government agencies, regulatory agencies, and third parties may conduct compliance reviews, bring claims, or initiate litigation against us or our university partners based on alleged violations of the extensive regulatory requirements applicable to us and our university partners, which could cause the imposition of sanctions against us or our university partners.

Because our university partner institutions operate in a highly regulated industry, they are subject to program reviews, audits, investigations, claims of non-compliance, and lawsuits by government agencies, regulatory agencies, students, employees, stockholders, and other third parties alleging non-compliance with applicable legal requirements, many of which are imprecise and subject to interpretation. Similarly, we could be subject to those same reviews. If the result of any such proceeding is unfavorable to our university partners, they may lose or have limitations imposed on their state licensing, accreditation, or Title IV program participation; be required to pay monetary damages (including triple damages in certain whistleblower suits); or be subject to fines, injunctions, or other penalties, any of which could have a material adverse effect on their business, prospects, financial condition, and results of operations. Similarly, reviews of us directly could also impose a host of limitations and monetary penalties and fines for wrongful actions on our part. Claims and lawsuits brought against us or our university partners, even if they are without merit, may also result in adverse publicity, damage our reputation, negatively affect the market price of our stock, adversely affect student enrollments, and reduce the willingness of third parties to do business with us. Even if we adequately address the issues raised by any such proceeding and successfully defend against it, we may have to devote significant financial and management resources to address these issues, which could harm our business.

The regulatory guidance governing third-party servicers imposes a number of requirements on our business and may expose us to liability for certain regulatory violations that are coextensive with our university partner institutions.

A “Third-party servicer” is any person or entity used by “any eligible institution of higher education to administer, through either manual or automated processing, any aspect of such institution’s student assistance programs.” Third party servicers have a number of requirements. For example, they must conduct and submit to ED compliance audits

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under 34 C.F.R. § 668.23. In addition, they must comply with the requirements of 34 C.F.R. § 668.25, which requires third-party servicers, in their contracts with institutions, to be contractually obligated to, among other things:

Comply with all statutory provisions of or applicable to Title IV of the HEA, including the requirement to use any funds that the servicer administers under any Title IV, HEA program and any interest or other earnings thereon solely for the purposes specified in and in accordance with that program;
Refer to the Office of Inspector General of ED for investigation any information indicating there is reasonable cause to believe that the institution might have engaged in fraud or other criminal misconduct in connection with the institution’s administration of any Title IV, HEA program or an applicant for Title IV, HEA program assistance might have engaged in fraud or other criminal misconduct in connection with his or her application; and
Be jointly and severally liable with the institution to the Secretary for any violation by the servicer of any statutory provision of or applicable to Title IV of the HEA, any regulatory provision prescribed under that statutory authority, and any applicable special arrangement, agreement, or limitation entered into under the authority of statutes applicable to Title IV of the HEA.

We are also subject to a number of data security and privacy regulations given our role as a third-party servicer and these standards are evolving. To the extent we continue to provide third party servicer functions, we will be subject to these requirements, the compliance with which can materially impact our business model.

Proposed legislation, additional rulemaking or additional examinations from U.S. Congress may impact general public perception of the industry in a negative manner resulting in a material and adverse impact on our business.

The process of re-authorization of the HEA began in 2014 and is ongoing. Congressional hearings began in 2013 and will continue to be scheduled by the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce and other Congressional committees regarding various aspects of the education industry, including accreditation matters, student debt, student recruiting, cost of tuition, distance learning, competency-based learning, student success and outcomes and other matters.

Criticisms of the overall student lending and post-secondary education sectors may impact general public perceptions of educational institutions, including our university partner institutions and us, in a negative manner. Adverse media coverage regarding educational institutions – whether or not a university partner – or regarding third party services such as us directly could damage our reputation. The environment surrounding access to and the costs of student loans remains in a state of flux. The uncertainty surrounding these issues, and any resolution of these issues that increases loan costs or reduces students’ access to Title IV loans or to student extended payment plans, could reduce student demand for educational programs which would adversely impact our revenues and operating profit or result in increased regulatory scrutiny.

The increased scrutiny and results-based accountability initiatives in the education sector, as well as ongoing policy differences in Congress regarding spending levels, could lead to significant changes in connection with the reauthorization of the HEA or otherwise. These changes may place additional regulatory burdens on postsecondary schools generally, and specific initiatives may be targeted at or have an impact upon companies like us that provide services to institutions of higher education. The adoption of any laws or regulations that limit our ability to provide our bundled services to our university partners could compromise our ability to drive revenue through their programs or make our platform less attractive to them. Congress could also enact laws or regulations that require us to modify our practices in ways that could increase our costs.

Changing requirements related to data privacy may create increased costs and operational difficulties for university partner institutions and, potential for GCE.

On December 18, 2020, the ED announced that it was finalizing a new Campus Cybersecurity Program framework. This proposed multi-year phased implementation would begin with a self-assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Special Publication 800–171 Rev. 2, Controlled Unclassified Information in

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Nonfederal Systems (NIST 800–171 Rev. 2) readiness and outreach activities. The ED specifically said it was “committed to fully advancing and encouraging all postsecondary institutions implementation of NIST 800-171 controls.” This announcement was addressed both to institutions of higher education and their third-party servicers.

While details related to this announcement are few, it does suggest that the ED will be taking a greater role in ensuring universities and their service providers meet NIST standards and are protecting the students and Department data received. Although management is reviewing this letter and the issues it raises, compliance with NIST will likely increase operational cost if required to come into compliance.

Risks Related to Owning our Common Stock

Provisions in our charter documents and the Delaware General Corporation Law could make it more difficult for a third party to acquire us and could discourage a takeover and adversely affect existing stockholders.

Anti-takeover provisions of our certificate of incorporation, bylaws, the Delaware General Corporation Law, or DGCL, and regulations of state and federal education agencies could diminish the opportunity for stockholders to participate in acquisition proposals at a price above the then-current market price of our common stock. For example, while we have no present plans to issue any preferred stock, our Board of Directors, without further stockholder approval, may issue shares of undesignated preferred stock and fix the powers, preferences, rights, and limitations of such class or series, which could adversely affect the voting power of your shares. In addition, our bylaws provide for an advance notice procedure for nomination of candidates to our Board of Directors that could have the effect of delaying, deterring, or preventing a change in control. Further, as a Delaware corporation, we are subject to provisions of the DGCL regarding “business combinations,” which can deter attempted takeovers in certain situations. The approval requirements of ED, our regional accrediting commission, and state post-secondary, licensure, and certification agencies for a change in control transaction could also delay, deter, or prevent a transaction that would result in a change in control. We may, in the future, consider adopting additional anti-takeover measures. The authority of our Board of Directors to issue undesignated preferred or other capital stock and the anti-takeover provisions of the DGCL, as well as other current and any future anti-takeover measures adopted by us, may, in certain circumstances, delay, deter, or prevent takeover attempts and other changes in control of the company not approved by our Board of Directors.

If securities analysts do not publish research or reports about our business or industry or if they downgrade their evaluations of our stock, the price of our stock could decline.

The activity within the trading market for our common stock depends in part on the research and reports that industry or financial analysts publish about us, our business and the for-profit education sector. In recent periods, a number of analysts have dropped coverage of the sector. If analysts cease coverage of us or additional analysts cease coverage of our sector, we could lose visibility in the market for our stock, which in turn could cause our stock price to decline. If one or more of the analysts covering us downgrade their estimates or evaluations of our stock, the price of our stock could decline.

If we fail to maintain proper and effective internal controls, our ability to produce accurate financial statements on a timely basis could be impaired.

We are subject to the reporting requirements of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and the rules and regulations of The Nasdaq Global Select Market. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act requires, among other things, that we maintain effective disclosure controls and procedures and internal control over financial reporting. We are required to perform system and process evaluation and testing of our internal control over financial reporting to allow management to report on the effectiveness of our internal control over financial reporting in our Form 10-K filing for that year, as required by Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. This may require us to incur substantial additional professional fees and internal costs to further expand our accounting and finance functions and expend significant management efforts. If we are not able to comply with the requirements of Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in a timely manner, or if we are unable to maintain proper and effective internal controls, we may not be able to produce timely and accurate financial statements. If that were to happen, the market price of our stock could decline and we could be subject to sanctions or investigations by the stock exchange on which our common stock is listed, the SEC, or other regulatory authorities.

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Because we do not anticipate paying any cash dividends on our common stock in the foreseeable future, capital appreciation, if any, will be your sole source of gains and you may never receive a return on your investment.

You should not rely on an investment in our common stock to provide dividend income. We have not declared or paid cash dividends on our common stock to date. We currently intend to retain our future earnings, if any, to fund the development and growth of our business or to repurchase shares of our common stock. In addition, the terms of our existing credit facility preclude, and the terms of any future debt agreements is likely to similarly preclude, us from paying dividends. As a result, capital appreciation, if any, of our common stock will be your sole source of gain for the foreseeable future. Investors seeking cash dividends should not purchase our common stock

Other General Risks

Our success depends upon our ability to recruit and retain key personnel.

Our success to date has largely depended on, and will continue to depend on, the skills, efforts, and motivation of our executive officers, who generally have significant experience with our business and the education industry, and we may have difficulties in locating and hiring qualified personnel and in retaining such personnel once hired. In addition, other than non-compete agreements of limited duration that we have with certain executive officers, we have not historically sought non-compete agreements with key personnel and they may leave and subsequently compete against us. The loss of the services of any of our key personnel, many of whom are not party to employment agreements with us, or our failure to attract and retain other qualified and experienced personnel on acceptable terms, could cause our business to suffer.

Our credit agreement may restrict our operations and our ability to complete certain transactions.

Our credit agreement imposes certain operating restrictions on us, including limitations on our ability to incur additional debt or make certain investments, and requires us to maintain compliance with certain applicable regulatory standards. In addition, the credit agreement requires us to maintain a maximum leverage ratio, a minimum fixed charge coverage ratio and a minimum tangible net worth, in each case as such terms are defined in the credit agreement. We cannot assure you that these covenants will not adversely affect our ability to finance our future operations or capital needs or to pursue available business opportunities. A breach of any of these covenants or our inability to maintain the required financial ratios could result in a default in respect of the related indebtedness. If a default occurs, the affected lenders could elect to declare the indebtedness, together with accrued interest and other fees, to be immediately due and payable.

A failure of our information systems to properly store, process and report relevant data may reduce our management’s effectiveness, interfere with our regulatory compliance and increase our operating expenses.

We are dependent on the integrity of our data management systems. If these systems do not effectively collect, store and process relevant data for the operation of our business, whether due to equipment malfunctions or constraints, software deficiencies, or human error, our ability to effectively report, plan, forecast and execute our business plan and comply with applicable laws and regulations, including the HEA, as reauthorized, and the regulations thereunder, will be impaired, perhaps materially. Any such impairment could materially and adversely affect our financial condition, results of operations, and cash flows.

Occurrence of natural or man-made catastrophes could materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition, results of operations and prospects.

Natural events, health epidemics (including the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic), acts of God, terrorist attacks and other acts of violence, computer cyber-terrorism or other catastrophes could result in significant worker absenteeism, increased student attrition rates for our university partners, lower asset utilization rates, voluntary or mandatory closure of facilities, our inability to meet dynamic employee health and safety requirements, our inability to meet contractual service levels, our inability to procure essential supplies, travel restrictions on our employees and other disruptions to our business. In addition, these events could adversely affect the economy, financial markets and activity levels of our

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university partners. Any of these events, their consequences or the costs related to mitigation or remediation could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations and prospects.

Item 1B.        Unresolved Staff Comments

None.

Item 2.          Properties

GCE owns a four story 325,000 square foot administrative building, which includes office space for approximately 2,700 employees, and a parking garage in close proximity to GCU’s ground campus. We constructed this space in 2016 and every aspect of the design was intended to maximize energy efficiency and minimize environmental impact. Lighting load and related electricity usage is a major environmental drain for most office buildings and this is especially true in Arizona. GCE’s office building is orientated with north/south exposure in order to minimize direct sun, and exterior courtyards were arranged to ensure summer shade thus creating outdoor areas that can be used throughout the year. The design also utilized significant window glazing to allow for daylighting thus reducing the need for supplemental electrical lighting. As a result, the building is designed to use just .41 watts per square foot of electrical energy for lighting, which is half of what a typical environmentally efficient building uses. Water usage is another environmental factor for office space that is magnified by the Arizona weather. GCE’s office building utilizes a rooftop rain water collection system for irrigating the landscaping below, which reduces water consumption. Additional environment-friendly design features include low VOC paints, use of recycled building materials, interior and exterior LED light bulbs, and implementation of an energy-efficient VRF mechanical system. Overall, GCE’s office building is 60% more energy efficient than a standard office building.

In addition to its owned facilities, GCE leases 25 off-campus classroom and laboratory sites for use in serving its university partners, four office locations in California, one office location in Colorado, and office space in Indianapolis, Indiana. GCE has commitments to add more off-campus classroom and laboratory sites as of December 31, 2020 that have not yet commenced and may add additional space in Arizona and in other states in the U.S. to accommodate our growth plans in 2021 and beyond. GCE works to maximize energy efficiency and minimize environmental impact in operating its leased facilities just as it does with its owned properties.

Item 3.          Legal Proceedings

From time to time, we are subject to ordinary and routine litigation incidental to our business. While the outcomes of these matters are uncertain, management does not expect that the ultimate costs to resolve these matters will have a material adverse effect on our financial position, results of operations or cash flows.

Item 4.          Mine Safety Disclosures

None.

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PART II

Item 5.          Market for Registrant’s Common Equity, Related Stockholder Matters and Issuer Purchases of Equity Securities

Market Information

Our common stock trades on the Nasdaq Global Market under the symbol “LOPE.” The holders of our common stock are entitled to one vote per share on any matter to be voted upon by stockholders. All shares of common stock rank equally as to voting and all other matters. The shares of common stock have no preemptive or conversion rights, no redemption or sinking fund provisions, are not liable for further call or assessment and are not entitled to cumulative voting rights.

Holders

As of December 31, 2020, there were approximately 152 registered holders of record of common stock. A substantially greater number of holders of common stock are “street name” or beneficial holders, whose shares are held of record by banks, brokers and other financial institutions.

Dividends

We currently do not anticipate paying cash dividends on our common stock in the foreseeable future.

Recent Sales of Unregistered Securities

None.

Securities Authorized for Issuance under Equity Compensation Plans

The information required by Item 201(d) of Regulation S-K is provided under Item 12, Security Ownership of Certain Beneficial Owners and Management and Related Stockholder Matters, “Equity Compensation Plan Information,” which is incorporated herein by reference.

Purchases of Equity Securities by the Issuer and Affiliated Purchasers

In July 2020, December 2020 and January 2021, our Board of Directors increased the authorization under its existing stock repurchase program by $50.0 million, $100.0 million and $100.0 million, respectively, reflecting an aggregate authorization for share repurchases since the initiation of our program of $500.0 million. The current expiration date on the repurchase authorization by our Board of Directors is December 31, 2021. Repurchases occur at GCE’s discretion and GCE may modify, suspend or discontinue the repurchase authorization at any time. Repurchases may be made in the open market or in privately negotiated transactions, pursuant to the applicable SEC rules. The amount and timing of future share repurchases, if any, will be made as market and business conditions warrant. Since the initial approval of our share repurchase plan, we have purchased 5,578,141 shares of common stock at an aggregate cost of $251.7 million, which purchases are recorded at cost in the accompanying December 31, 2020 consolidated balance sheet and statement of stockholders’ equity. At December 31, 2020, there remained $148.3 million available under our current share repurchase authorization (which authorization was increased to $248.3 million in January 2021). During the fourth quarter and the year ended December 31, 2020, GCE repurchased 437,544 and 1,601,788 shares of common stock, respectively, at an aggregate cost of $36.7 million and $129.0 million, respectively.

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The following table sets forth our share repurchases of common stock and our share repurchases in lieu of taxes, which are not included in the repurchase plan totals as they were effected in conjunction with the vesting of restricted share awards, during each period in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2020:

    

    

    

Total Number of

   

Maximum Dollar

Shares Purchased as

Value of Shares

Average

Part of Publicly

That May Yet Be

Total Number of

Price Paid

Announced

Purchased Under

Period

Shares Purchased

Per Share

Program

the Program

Share Repurchases

 

  

 

  

 

  

 

  

October 1, 2020 – October 31, 2020

 

184,486

$

81.66

 

184,486

$

69,900,000

November 1, 2020 – November 30, 2020

 

197,400

$

84.85

 

197,400

$

53,200,000

December 1, 2020 – December 31, 2020

 

55,658

$

88.32

 

55,658

$

148,300,000

Total

 

437,544

$

83.95

 

437,544

$

148,300,000

Tax Withholdings

 

  

 

  

 

  

 

  

October 1, 2020 – October 31, 2020

 

$

 

$

November 1, 2020 – November 30, 2020

 

$

 

$

December 1, 2020 – December 31, 2020

 

$

 

$

Total

 

$

 

$

GCE Stock Performance

The following graph compares the cumulative total return of our common stock with the cumulative total returns of the S&P 500 Index and our education services peer group of seven companies that includes: Wiley Education Services, Pearson plc., CHEGG, Inc., Laureate Education, Inc., Strategic Education, Inc., Adtalum Global Education, Inc, and 2U, Inc. This chart assumes that an investment of $100 was made in our common stock, in the index, and in the peer group on December 31, 2015 and that all dividends paid by us and such companies were reinvested, and tracks the relative performance of such investments through December 31, 2020.

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Graphic

    

12/15

    

12/16

    

12/17

    

12/18

    

12/19

    

12/20

Grand Canyon Education, Inc.

 

100.00

 

145.69

 

223.16

 

239.63

 

238.76

 

232.08

S&P 500

 

100.00

 

111.96

 

136.40

 

130.42

 

171.49

 

203.04

2020 Peer Group

 

100.00

 

108.22

 

137.03

 

151.00

 

137.12

 

174.93

The information contained in the performance graph shall not be deemed “soliciting material” or to be “filed” with the SEC nor shall such information be deemed incorporated by reference into any future filing under the Securities Act or the Exchange Act, except to the extent that we specifically incorporate it by reference into such filing.

The stock price performance included in this graph is not necessarily indicative of future stock price performance.

Item 6.       Selected Consolidated Financial and Other Data

The following selected consolidated financial and other data should be read in conjunction with Item 8, Consolidated Financial Statements and Supplementary Data, and Item 7, Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations, to fully understand the information presented below. The selected consolidated income statement data and other data, excluding period end enrollment, for the years ended December 31, 2020, 2019 and 2018, and the selected consolidated balance sheet data as of December 31, 2020 and 2019, have been

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derived from our audited consolidated financial statements for such years, which are included herein. The selected consolidated income statement data and other data, excluding period end enrollment, for the years ended December 31 2017 and 2016, and the selected consolidated balance sheet data as of December 31, 2018, 2017 and 2016, have been derived from our audited consolidated financial statements for such years, which are not included herein. Our historical results are not necessarily indicative of our results for any future period.

Year Ended December 31,

    

2020

    

2019

    

2018

    

2017

    

2016

(In thousands, except per share data)

Income Statement Data:

Service revenue

$

844,096

$

778,643

$

333,002

$

$

University related revenue

 

 

 

512,499

 

974,134

 

873,344

Net revenue

 

844,096

 

778,643

 

845,501

 

974,134

 

873,344

Costs and expenses:

 

 

 

 

 

Technology and academic services(1)

 

116,012

 

90,512

 

43,574

 

41,834

 

39,101

Counseling services and support(1)

 

234,534

 

223,598

 

204,690

 

188,595

 

175,045

Marketing and communication(1)

 

164,334

 

142,896

 

117,420

 

109,092

 

98,592

General and administrative(1)

 

43,360

 

44,317

 

29,968

 

27,157

 

28,079

Amortization of intangible assets

8,419

8,223

University related expenses(1)

 

 

 

173,330

 

324,140

 

294,188

Loss on transaction

 

 

3,966

 

18,370

 

562

 

1,136

Total costs and expenses

 

566,659

 

513,512

 

587,352

 

691,380

 

636,141

Operating income

 

277,437

 

265,131

 

258,149

 

282,754

 

237,203

Interest income on Secured Note

 

59,190

 

59,297

 

26,947

 

 

Interest expense

 

(4,402)

 

(11,311)

 

(1,536)

 

(2,169)

 

(1,328)

Investment interest and other

 

915

 

4,385

 

3,440

 

2,943

 

249

Income before income taxes

 

333,140

 

317,502

 

287,000

 

283,528

 

236,124

Income tax expense

 

75,944

 

58,327

 

57,989

 

80,209

 

87,610

Net income

$

257,196

$

259,175

$

229,011

$

203,319

$

148,514

Earnings per common share

 

 

 

 

 

Basic

$

5.49

$

5.42

$

4.81

$

4.31

$

3.22

Diluted

$

5.45

$

5.37

$

4.73

$

4.22

$

3.15

Shares used in computing earnings per common share

 

 

 

 

 

Basic

 

46,880

 

47,814

 

47,608

 

47,140

 

46,083

Diluted

 

47,165

 

48,266

 

48,414

 

48,235

 

47,121

Other Data:

 

 

 

 

 

Capital expenditures

$

29,418

$

22,391

$

94,857

$

123,954

$

239,019

Depreciation and amortization

$

21,233

$

18,696

$

35,673

$

54,228

$

45,683

Intangible asset amortization

$

8,419

$

8,223

$

$

$

Period end enrollment(2)

 

115,997

 

106,861

 

97,369

 

90,297

 

81,908

Balance Sheet Data:

 

 

 

 

 

Cash and cash equivalents, and investments

$

256,609

$

143,873

$

120,346

$

242,745

$

108,572

Restricted cash, cash equivalents and investments

$

$

300

$

61,667

$

94,534

$

84,931

Secured Note receivable, net

$

964,912

$

969,912

$

900,093

$

$

Total assets(3)

$

1,844,579

$

1,690,289

$

1,324,017

$

1,303,573

$

1,092,493

Notes payable (including short-term)

$

107,774

$

140,918

$

59,905

$

66,616

$

98,252

Total stockholders’ equity

$

1,574,329

$

1,443,433

$

1,213,597

$

985,951

$

773,686

(1)During the third quarter of 2018, GCE made changes in its presentation of operating expenses and reclassified prior periods to conform to the current presentation. All years in the five (5) year table were reclassified to conform to the current presentation.
(2)Enrollment represents individual students who attended a course during the last two months of the calendar year.

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(3)During the first quarter of 2016, GCE made changes in its presentation of deferred tax assets and liabilities to comply with a new accounting standard. Accordingly, we reclassified the current deferred taxes to net against noncurrent deferred tax liabilities for all prior periods to conform to the current presentation.

Item 7.      Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations

The following discussion and analysis of our financial condition and results of operations for the years ended December 31, 2020 and 2019 should be read in conjunction with our consolidated financial statements and related notes that appear in Item 8, Consolidated Financial Statements and Supplementary Data. In addition to historical information, the following discussion contains forward-looking statements that reflect our plans, estimates and beliefs. Our actual results could differ materially from those discussed in the forward-looking statements. Factors that could cause or contribute to these differences include those discussed below and elsewhere in this Annual Report on Form 10-K, particularly in Special Note Regarding Forward-Looking Statements and in Item 1A, Risk Factors.

Executive Overview

GCE is a publicly traded education services company dedicated to serving colleges and universities. GCE has developed significant technological solutions, infrastructure and operational processes to provide services to these institutions on a large scale. GCE’s most significant university partner is GCU, a comprehensive regionally accredited university that offers graduate and undergraduate degree programs, emphases and certificates across nine colleges both online and on ground at its campus in Phoenix, Arizona.

In January 2019, GCE began providing education services to numerous university partners across the United States, through our wholly-owned subsidiary, Orbis Education, which we acquired on January 22, 2019. See Note 3 - Acquisition to consolidated financial statements for a full description of the Acquisition. In the healthcare field, GCE, together with Orbis Education, works in partnership with a growing number of top universities and healthcare networks across the country, offering health care related academic programs at off-campus classroom and laboratory sites located near healthcare providers and developing high-quality, career-ready graduates, who enter the workforce ready to meet the demands of the healthcare industry. As of December 31, 2020, GCE provides education services to 25 university partners across the United States.

We plan to continue to add additional university partners and to introduce additional programs with both our existing partners and with new partners. We may engage with both new and existing university partners to offer healthcare programs, online only or hybrid programs, or, as is the case for our most significant partner, GCU, both healthcare and other programs. Therefore, we will refer to all university partners as “GCE partners” or “our partners” and will no longer differentiate between partners of GCE and partners of Orbis Education; we will, however, continue to disclose significant information for GCU, such as enrollments, due to its size in comparison to our other university partners.

Impact of COVID-19

In March 2020, the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak to be a global pandemic. This contagious outbreak, which has continued to spread, and the related adverse public health developments, including orders to shelter-in-place, travel restrictions and mandated non-essential business closures, have adversely affected workforces, organizations, customers, economies and financial markets globally, leading to an economic downturn and increased market volatility. It has also disrupted the normal operations of many businesses, including ours, and that of our university partners. Due to the economic disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Bureau of Economic Research announced in June 2020 that the United States entered into a recession in February 2020.

 

GCE has a long-term master services agreement with GCU (the “Master Services Agreement”) pursuant to which GCE provides education services to GCU in return for 60% of GCU’s tuition and fee revenues, which includes fee revenues from room, board, and other ancillary businesses including a student-run golf course and hotel. GCU has three types of students: traditional ground university students, who attend class on its campus in Phoenix, Arizona and of which approximately 70% have historically lived on campus in university owned residence halls; professional studies

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students, who are working adult students who attend class one night a week on the Phoenix campus; and online students who attend class fully online.

The COVID-19 outbreak, as well as measures taken to contain its spread, has impacted GCU’s students and its business in a number of ways. Beginning in March 2020, GCU’s programs for its professional studies students and its traditional ground university students were immediately converted to an online learning environment and residential students were strongly encouraged to move off campus. Summer 2020 semester classes were moved to an online environment as well and most students were given the choice of attending the Fall semester in person or completely online. Given GCE’s historical experience delivering online education services and the fact that all of GCU’s students and faculty use the university’s online learning management system for at least some of the coursework, the transition has been seamless and thus, the university has not incurred a significant decrease in tuition revenue or significant increase in costs associated with this transition. The following impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, however, did serve to reduce GCU’s non-tuition revenue during its Spring, Summer and Fall 2020 semesters and, consequently, the service revenues we earned under the Master Services Agreement:

Traditional ground university students who elected to move off campus near the end of the Spring 2020 semester received partial refunds for dormitory and meal payments, which reduced GCU’s revenue and thus the service revenues earned by GCE in the last nine days of March and the month of April;

Ancillary businesses operated by GCU such as its hotel and merchandise shops were closed in late March. Some of these businesses remain closed while others opened with scaled back operations in mid-September, which reduced and will continue to reduce GCU’s revenues and thus the service revenues earned by GCE until these businesses are fully reopened;

Limited residential students remained on campus during the Summer semester, which reduced GCU’s dormitory and ancillary revenues and thus the service revenues earned by GCE;

GCU’s doctoral students are required to attend two residencies on the university’s campus and at its hotel in Phoenix, Arizona as part of their dissertation. On an annual basis approximately 3,000 learners attend the week-long residency, most of whom have historically attended in the Summer. Most of the residencies who were scheduled for the last week of March through the end of July were cancelled. The doctoral residencies scheduled for August through December were held at another location with lower than normal attendance resulting in lower GCU revenues including at its hotel, and thus reduced the service revenues earned by GCE;

GCU shifted its start date for the Fall semester for its traditional ground students from August 24, 2020 to September 8, 2020, which had the effect of moving tuition revenue for all GCU traditional students, and certain ancillary revenue for residential students, from the third quarter of 2020 to the fourth quarter of 2020; and

GCU shifted its move-in date for its residential students to the week of September 21, 2020, which reduced housing revenue and certain ancillary revenue for residential students by three weeks. In addition, approximately 4,900 of GCU’s traditional campus students elected to attend the Fall semester entirely in the online modality. Residential enrollment for the Fall of 2020 was approximately 11,500 whereas residential bed capacity is approximately 14,500. This reduction in residential students caused a reduction in GCU’s revenue and thus the service revenues earned by GCE.

In January 2021, GCU announced the first week of the Spring 2021 semester would be completed in an online modality to provide greater flexibility for students returning to campus after the holidays. Face-to-face instruction for the Spring semester for its traditional ground students commenced on January 11, 2021. Approximately 3,500 traditional ground students have elected to complete the Spring semester entirely in the online modality. Spring semester face-to-face instruction will end April 1, 2021 for approximately 80% of classes, followed by two weeks of online instruction from April 5, 2021 through April 16, 2021 with Spring Break from April 19, 2021 to April 25, 2021. These changes will have the effect of reducing GCU’s dormitory and ancillary revenues in the Spring of 2021 and thus the service revenues earned by GCE.

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The changes described above at GCU have impacted or will impact GCE’s service revenue under the Master Services Agreement. In addition, due to the limited operating expenses that we incur to deliver those services, there has been or will be a direct reduction in our operating profit and operating margin.

GCE also has long-term services agreements with numerous other university partners across the United States. The majority of these other university partners’ students are studying in the Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program which is offered in a 12-16 month format in three or four academic semesters. The Spring, Summer and Fall 2020 semesters were completed without interruption and each university partner has started its Spring 2021 semester. Some students who were scheduled to start their program in the Summer 2020 semester delayed their start until the Fall 2020 which resulted in lower enrollments and revenues in the Summer 2020 semester than was planned. In a number of locations, the demand to start in the Fall 2020 semester was greater than initially planned but a number of our university or healthcare partners chose not to increase the Fall 2020 cohort size to compensate for the Summer 2020 start shortfall due to concerns about clinical availability. The Fall 2020 enrollment was only slightly lower than our original expectations as the Summer 2020 new start shortfall was offset by higher retention rates and slightly higher than expected Fall 2020 new starts.

No other changes are currently anticipated related to the Spring 2021 semester that would have an impact on GCE’s service revenue, operating profit and operating margins. However, if GCU determines that it must send its students home prior to the end of the Spring semester and elects to give partial refunds for dormitory and meal payments or if one of our other university partners closes a location prior to the end of the Spring semester, such an event would reduce the service revenues earned by GCE.

The COVID-19 outbreak also presents operational challenges to GCE as approximately 90% of our workforce is currently working remotely and is expected to continue doing so for the foreseeable future. This degree of remote working could increase risks in the areas of internal control, cyber security and the use of remote technology, and thereby result in interruptions or disruptions in normal operational processes.

It is not possible for us to completely predict the duration or magnitude of the adverse results of the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on our business, results of operations or financial condition at this time, but such effects may be material in future quarters.

We estimate that the reduction in service revenue attributable to reduced tuition, fees and ancillary revenues of our university partners resulting from COVID-19 will be $4.5 million in the first quarter of 2021 with a comparable reduction in operating profit.

Critical Accounting Policies and Estimates

The discussion of our financial condition and results of operations is based upon our consolidated financial statements, which have been prepared in accordance with U.S. generally accepted accounting principles, or GAAP. During the preparation of these consolidated financial statements, we are required to make estimates and assumptions that affect the reported amounts of assets, liabilities, revenues, costs and expenses, and related disclosures. On an ongoing basis, we evaluate our estimates and assumptions, including those discussed below. We base our estimates on historical experience and on various other assumptions that we believe are reasonable under the circumstances. The results of our analysis form the basis for making assumptions about the carrying values of assets and liabilities that are not readily apparent from other sources. Actual results may differ from these estimates under different assumptions or conditions, and the impact of such differences may be material to our consolidated financial statements.

We believe that the following critical accounting policies involve our more significant judgments and estimates used in the preparation of our consolidated financial statements:

Revenue recognition. Starting July 1, 2018, GCE generates all of its revenue through services agreements with its university partners (“Services Agreements”), pursuant to which GCE provides integrated technology and academic

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services, marketing and communication services, and as applicable, certain back office services to its university partners in return for a percentage of tuition and fee revenue.

GCE’s Services Agreements have a single performance obligation, as the promises to provide the identified services are not distinct within the context of these agreements. The single performance obligation is delivered as our partners receive and consume benefits, which occurs ratably over a series of distinct service periods (daily or semester). Service revenue is recognized over time using the output method of measuring progress towards complete satisfaction of the single performance obligation. The output method provides a faithful depiction of the performance toward complete satisfaction of the performance obligation and can be tied to the time elapsed which is consumed evenly over the service period and is a direct measurement of the value provided to our partners. The service fees received from our partners over the term of the agreement are variable in nature in that they are dependent upon the number of students attending the university partner’s program and revenues generated from those students during the service period. Due to the variable nature of the consideration over the life of the service arrangement, GCE considered forming an expectation of the variable consideration to be received over the service life of this one performance obligation. However, since the performance obligation represents a series of distinct services, GCE recognizes the variable consideration that becomes known and billable because these fees relate to the distinct service period in which the fees are earned. GCE meets the criteria in the standard and exercises the practical expedient to not disclose the aggregate amount of the transaction price allocated to the single performance obligation that is unsatisfied as of the end of the reporting period. GCE does not disclose the value of unsatisfied performance obligations because the directly allocable variable consideration is allocated entirely to a wholly unsatisfied promise to transfer a service that forms part of a single performance obligation. The service fees are calculated and settled per the terms of the Services Agreements and result in a settlement duration of less than one year for all partners. There are no refunds or return rights under the Services Agreements.

Business Combinations, Intangible Assets, and Goodwill. We apply the purchase accounting standards for “Business Combinations,” to acquisitions. The purchase price of an acquisition is allocated to individual tangible and identifiable intangible assets acquired and liabilities assumed based on their estimated fair values on the acquisition date. Any excess purchase price over the assigned values of net assets acquired is recorded as goodwill. On January 22, 2019, GCE acquired, by merger, all of the outstanding equity interests of Orbis Education for $361.2 million, net of cash acquired. As a result of this acquisition, GCE recorded $210.3 million of intangible assets, primarily customer relationships, and $157.8 million of goodwill. Refer to Note 3 – Acquisition within the footnotes to the consolidated financial statements for additional information. The acquired goodwill was allocated to the entity level reporting unit. The determination of the fair value and useful lives of the intangible assets acquired involves certain judgements and estimates. These judgments can include, but are not limited to, the cash flows that an asset is expected to generate in the future and the appropriate weighted average cost of capital.

Income taxes. We recognize the amount of taxes payable or refundable for the current year and deferred tax assets and liabilities for future tax consequences of events that have been recognized in our consolidated financial statements or tax returns. Deferred tax assets and liabilities are measured using enacted tax rates in effect for the year in which the temporary differences are expected to be realized. Our deferred tax assets are subject to periodic recoverability assessments. Valuation allowances are established, when necessary, to reduce deferred tax assets to the amount that more likely than not will be realized. Realization of the deferred tax assets is principally dependent upon achievement of projected future taxable income offset by deferred tax liabilities. We evaluate the realizability of the deferred tax assets annually. Since becoming a taxable corporation in August 2005, we have not recorded any valuation allowances to date on our deferred income tax assets. We evaluate and account for uncertain tax positions using a two-step approach. Recognition occurs when we conclude that a tax position based solely on its technical merits, is more-likely-than-not to be sustained upon examination. Measurement determines the amount of benefit that is greater than 50% likely to be realized upon the ultimate settlement with a taxing authority that has full knowledge of the facts. Derecognition of a tax position that was previously recognized occurs when we determine that a tax position no longer meets the more-likely-than-not threshold of being sustained upon examination. As of December 31, 2020 and 2019, GCE has reserved approximately $11,318 and $6,773, respectively, for uncertain tax positions, including interest and penalties.

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Results of Operations

In July 2019, the FASB issued Accounting Standards Update 2019-07, “Codification Updates to SEC Sections- Amendments to SEC Paragraphs Pursuant to SEC Final Rule Releases No. 33-10532, Disclosure Update and Simplification", which makes a number of changes meant to simplify certain disclosures in financial condition and results of operations, particularly by eliminating year-to-year comparisons between prior periods previously disclosed. In complying with the relevant aspects of the rule covering the current year annual report, we now include disclosures on results of operations for fiscal year 2020 versus 2019 only. For a discussion of the results of operations for fiscal year 2019 vs 2018, see “Item 7. Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations” in our Annual Report on Form 10-K filed with the SEC for the fiscal year ended December 31, 2019 incorporated herein by reference.

The following table sets forth certain income statement data as a percentage of net revenue for each of the periods indicated. Amortization of intangible assets and the loss on transaction have been excluded from the table below:

Year Ended December 31,

2020

    

2019

    

Costs and expenses

  

 

  

 

Technology and academic services

13.7

%  

11.6

%  

Counseling services and support

27.8

 

28.7

 

Marketing and communication

19.5

 

18.4

 

General and administrative

5.1

 

5.7

 

Year Ended December 31, 2020 Compared to Year Ended December 31, 2019

Service revenue. Our service revenue for the year ended December 31, 2020 was $844.1 million, an increase of $65.5 million, or 8.4%, as compared to service revenue of $778.6 million for the year ended December 31, 2019. The increase year over year in service revenue was primarily due to an increase in university partner enrollments between years of 8.5% partially offset by a decrease in revenue per student year over year. Partner enrollments totaled 115,997 at December 31, 2020 as compared to 106,861 at December 31, 2019. Enrollments at GCU grew to 111,624 at December 31, 2020, an increase of 8.3% over enrollments at December 31, 2019, while enrollments at our other university partners were 4,373, an increase of 16.6% over enrollments at December 31, 2019. The decrease in revenue per student is primarily due to the service revenue impact of the lower room, board, fee and ancillary revenues at GCU caused by COVID-19 (see - Impact of COVID-19 above). This was partially offset by the fact that our services agreements with our other university partners generally generate a higher revenue per student than our agreement with GCU. This higher revenue is due to our service agreements with other partners generally provide us with a higher revenue share percentage, the partners have higher tuition rates than GCU and the majority of their students are studying in the Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program so these students take more credits on average per semester. In addition, we opened seven new off-campus classroom and laboratory sites in the third quarter of 2020 bringing the total number of these sites to 30 as compared to 23 at December 31, 2019. Last, we generated slightly more revenues in 2020 as compared to the same period in 2019 due to the timing of the Acquisition on January 22, 2019, and due to 2020 being a Leap Year and thus providing an extra day of revenue in 2020 as compared to 2019.

Technology and academic services. Our technology and academic services expenses for the year ended December 31, 2020 were $116.0 million, an increase of $25.5 million, or 28.2%, as compared to technology and academic services expenses of $90.5 million for the year ended December 31, 2019. This increase was primarily due to increases in employee compensation and related expenses including share-based compensation, in occupancy and depreciation including lease expenses, and in other technology and academic supply costs of $19.7 million, $5.0 million and $0.8 million, respectively. These increases, in turn, were primarily due to increased headcount to support our 25 university partners, and their increased enrollment growth, tenure-based salary adjustments, an increase in benefit costs, the timing of the Acquisition and the increased number of off-campus classroom and laboratory sites open between years. Our technology and academic services expenses as a percentage of net revenue increased 2.1% to 13.7% for the year ended

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December 31, 2020, from 11.6% for the year ended December 31, 2019 primarily due to our services agreements with university partners that provide for off-campus classroom and laboratory sites, which necessitate a higher level of technology and academic services than does our agreement with GCU and due to the revenue impacts caused by COVID-19 as we incur limited operating expenses to deliver those services. Additionally, for the year ended December 31, 2020 we incurred costs related to the opening of seven off-campus classroom and laboratory sites in the second half of 2020 and we are incurring costs for four more locations that will open in the first half of 2021. GCE has 30 off-campus classroom and laboratory sites open as of December 31, 2020 as compared to the 23 sites that were open as of December 31, 2019.

Counseling services and support. Our counseling services and support expenses for the year ended December 31, 2020 were $234.5 million, an increase of $10.9 million, or 4.9%, as compared to counseling services and support expenses of $223.6 million for the year ended December 31, 2019. This increase was primarily attributable to increases in employee compensation and related expenses including share-based compensation and in depreciation, amortization and occupancy costs of $18.0 million and $1.2 million, respectively, partially offset by a decrease in other counseling services and support expenses of $8.3 million. The increases in employee compensation and related expenses were primarily due to increased headcount to support our 25 university partners, and their increased enrollment growth, tenure-based salary adjustments, and an increase in benefit costs, while the increase in depreciation, amortization and occupancy costs were primarily due to the timing of the Acquisition and the increased number of off-campus classroom and laboratory sites open year over year. The decrease in other counseling services and support expenses is primarily the result of decreased travel costs to service our 25 university partners. All non-essential travel ceased when the COVID-19 national emergency was announced in mid-March and only a small amount of travel has occurred subsequent to that date. Our counseling services and support expenses as a percentage of net revenue decreased by 0.9% to 27.8% for the year ended December 31, 2020, from 28.7% for the year ended December 31, 2019 primarily due to the decrease in travel costs and our ability to leverage our other counseling services and support expenses across an increasing revenue base, partially offset by the revenue impacts caused by COVID-19 as we incur limited operating expenses to deliver those services.

Marketing and communication. Our marketing and communication expenses for the year ended December 31, 2020 were $164.3 million, an increase of $21.4 million, or 15.0%, as compared to marketing and communication expenses of $142.9 million for the year ended December 31, 2019. This increase was primarily attributable to the increased cost to market our university partners’ programs and due to the marketing of new university partners and new off-campus classroom and laboratory sites which resulted in increased advertising of $21.4 million and increased employee compensation expenses and related expenses including share-based compensation of $0.2 million, partially offset by a slight decrease in other marketing supplies of $0.2 million. Our marketing and communication expenses as a percentage of net revenue increased by 1.1% to 19.5% for the year ended December 31, 2020, from 18.4% for the year ended December 31, 2019, primarily due to the increase in the number of new university partners and increased off-campus classroom and laboratory sites open between years and due to the revenue impacts caused by COVID-19 as we incur limited operating expenses to deliver those services.

General and administrative. Our general and administrative expenses for the year ended December 31, 2020 were $43.4 million, a decrease of $0.9 million, or 2.2%, as compared to general and administrative expenses of $44.3 million for the year ended December 31, 2019. This decrease was primarily due to decreases in professional fees of $1.8 million and in employee compensation and related expenses including share-based compensation of $1.3 million, partially offset by an increase in contributions in lieu of state income taxes to school sponsoring organizations of $1.0 million from $4.0 million in 2019 to $5.0 million in 2020, and increases in occupancy and depreciation of $0.8 million and in other general and administrative expenses of $0.4 million. In 2019, our professional fees were significantly higher due to a payment made to an outside provider that assisted us in obtaining a state tax refund with a favorable impact of $5.9 million in the first quarter of 2019. The decrease in employee compensation and related expenses is primarily related to lower headcount at our office in Indiana as we have transitioned a number of back office functions to Arizona. Our increase in occupancy and depreciation are primarily related to the timing of the Acquisition and the increased lease expense for our office in Indiana. Our general and administrative expenses as a percentage of net revenue decreased by 0.6% to 5.1% for the year ended December 31, 2020, from 5.7% for the year ended December 31, 2019 due to the lower professional fees and our ability to leverage our other general and administrative expenses across an increasing revenue

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base, partially offset by the revenue impacts caused by COVID-19 as we incur limited operating expenses to deliver those services.

Amortization of intangible assets. Amortization of intangible assets for the year ended December 31, 2020 was $8.4 million, an increase of $0.2 million, as compared to $8.2 million for the year ended December 31, 2019. This increase is related to the timing of the Acquisition, which occurred on January 22, 2019. As a result of the Acquisition, certain identifiable intangible assets were created (primarily customer relationships) that will be amortized over their expected lives.

Loss on transaction. The loss on transaction for the year ended December 31, 2019 was $4.0 million due to transaction costs related to the Acquisition.

Interest income on Secured Note. Interest income on the Secured Note for the year ended December 31, 2020 was $59.2 million, a decrease of $0.1 million, or 0.2%, as compared to $59.3 million for the year ended December 31, 2019. GCE recognizes interest income on its Secured Note with GCU including borrowings made for capital expenditures, earning interest at 6%, with monthly interest payments. The decrease over the prior year was primarily due to a decrease in the average principal balance of the Secured Note between periods due to repayments made by GCU under the Secured Note during the past 12 months.

Interest expense. Interest expense was $4.4 million for the year ended December 31, 2020, a decrease of $6.9 million, as compared to interest expense of $11.3 million for the year ended December 31, 2019. The decrease in interest expense is primarily due to a decline in the average credit facility outstanding balance between periods due to paydowns of the credit facility during the past 12 months and a decrease in the average borrowing rate between years of approximately 163 basis points.

Investment interest and other. Investment interest and other for the year ended December 31, 2020 was $0.9 million, a decrease of $3.5 million, as compared to $4.4 million for the year ended December 31, 2019. This decrease was primarily attributable to a decline in interest income on excess cash as the average investment balance declined year over year and significantly lower interest rates.

Income tax expense. Income tax expense for the year ended December 31, 2020 was $75.9 million, an increase of $17.6 million, or 30.2%, as compared to income tax expense of $58.3 million for the year ended December 31, 2019. This increase is the result of an increase in our taxable income between periods, and an increase in our effective tax rate. Our effective tax rate was 22.8% during the year ended December 31, 2020 as compared to 18.4% during the year ended December 31, 2019. The 2019 effective tax rate was lower due to some large, one-time, favorable discreet items. In 2019, an agreement was reached with the Arizona Department of Revenue regarding previously filed refund claims related to income tax obligations for prior calendar years, which resulted in a favorable tax impact of $5.9 million recorded as a discrete tax item in the first quarter of 2019. In addition, the effective tax rate in 2019 was favorably impacted by a law change with respect to Arizona state taxes and higher excess tax benefits of $7.2 million compared to excess tax benefits of $1.4 million for the year ended December 31, 2020. The inclusion of excess tax benefits and deficiencies as a component of our income tax expense increases the volatility within our provision for income taxes as the amount of excess tax benefits or deficiencies from share-based compensation awards are dependent on our stock price at the date the restricted awards vest, our stock price on the date an option is exercised, and the quantity of options exercised. Our restricted stock vests in March each year so the favorable benefit will primarily impact the first quarter each year.

Net income. Our net income for the year months ended December 31, 2020 was $257.2 million, a decrease of $2.0 million, or 0.8% as compared to $259.2 million for the year ended December 31, 2019, due to the factors discussed above.

Seasonality

Our net revenue and operating results normally fluctuate as a result of seasonal variations in our business, principally due to changes in our university partners’ enrollment. Our partners’ enrollment varies as a result of new

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enrollments, graduations, and student attrition. Revenues in the summer months (May through August) are lower primarily due to the majority of GCU’s traditional ground students not attending courses during the summer months, which affects our results for our second and third fiscal quarters. Since a significant amount of our costs are fixed, the lower revenue resulting from the decreased summer enrollment has historically contributed to lower operating margins during those periods. Partially offsetting this summer effect has been the sequential quarterly increase in enrollments that has occurred as a result of the traditional fall school start. This increase in enrollments also has occurred in the first quarter, corresponding to calendar year matriculation. Thus, we experience higher net revenue in the fourth quarter due to its overlap with the semester encompassing the traditional fall school start and in the first quarter due to its overlap with the first semester of the calendar year. A portion of our expenses do not vary proportionately with these fluctuations in net revenue, resulting in higher operating income in the first and fourth quarters relative to other quarters. We expect quarterly fluctuation in operating results to continue as a result of these seasonal patterns.

Liquidity, Capital Resources, and Financial Position

Liquidity. Our unrestricted cash and cash equivalents and investments were $256.6 million and $143.9 million at December 31, 2020 and 2019, respectively. Our credit facility had an available line of credit of $150.0 million as of December 31, 2020.

During 2019, we financed our acquisition of Orbis Education for $361.2 million, net of cash acquired, from an increase in our credit facility of $190.1 million and the use of $171.1 million of operating cash on hand. Concurrent with the closing of the Acquisition, we entered into an amended and restated credit agreement dated January 22, 2019 and two related amendments dated January 31, 2019 and February 1, 2019, respectively, that together provided a credit facility of $325.0 million comprised of a term loan facility of $243.8 million and a revolving credit facility of $81.3 million, both with a five-year maturity date. The term facility is subject to quarterly amortization of principal, commencing with the fiscal quarter ended June 30, 2019, in equal installments of 5% of the principal amount of the term facility per quarter. The proceeds of the term loan, together with $6.3 million drawn under the revolver and cash on hand, were used to pay the purchase price in the Acquisition. Concurrent with the entry into the amended and restated credit agreement and the completion of the Acquisition, we repaid our existing term loan of $59.9 million and our cash collateral of $61.7 million was released.

GCE entered into a further amendment to the credit facility on October 31, 2019. This amendment increased the revolving commitment by $68.8 million to $150.0 million, while reducing the term loan by the same $68.8 million to $150.6 million. GCE elected to repay the $68.8 million revolver balance on November 1, 2019. The amended facility is subject to quarterly amortization of principal, commencing with the fiscal quarter ended December 31, 2019, in equal quarterly payments of $8.4 million with a maturity date of January 2025. Both the term loan and revolver have monthly interest payments currently at 30-Day LIBOR plus an applicable margin of 2%.

Based on our current level of operations and anticipated growth, we believe that our cash flow from operations and other sources of liquidity, including cash and cash equivalents and our revolving line of credit, will provide adequate funds for ongoing operations, planned capital expenditures, and working capital requirements for at least the next 24 months.

Arrangements with GCU

In conjunction with the Asset Purchase Agreement with GCU, we received a Secured Note as consideration for the transferred assets (the “Transferred Assets”). The Secured Note contains customary commercial credit terms, including affirmative and negative covenants applicable to GCU, and provides that the Secured Note bears interest at an annual rate of 6%, has a maturity date of June 30, 2025, and is secured by all the assets of GCU. The Secured Note provides for GCU to make interest only payments during the term, with all principal and accrued and unpaid interest due at maturity, and also provides that we may loan additional amounts to GCU to fund approved capital expenditures during the first three years of the term. As of December 31, 2020, GCE had loaned an additional $99,815 to GCU, net of repayments. We believe that GCU’s cash flows from operations are currently sufficient to fund all of its capital expenditures although it is possible that GCU may make requests to borrow additional amounts from us for short term cash flow needs.

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Share Repurchase Program

In July 2020, December 2020 and January 2021, our Board of Directors increased the authorization under our existing stock repurchase program by $50.0 million, $100.0 million and $100.0 million, respectively, reflecting an aggregate authorization for share repurchases since the initiation of our program of $500.0 million. As of December 31, 2020, we had a total remaining authorization of $148.3 million (which authorization was increased to $248.3 million in January 2021). Pursuant to this authorization, in our discretion, we can repurchase our common stock, from time to time, in open market or in privately negotiated transactions, depending on market conditions and other considerations. The amount and timing of future share repurchases, if any, will be made as market and business conditions warrant, and we may modify, suspend or discontinue repurchases at any time. The current expiration date on the repurchase authorization by our Board of Directors is December 31, 2021.

Since 2011, we have purchased 5.6 million shares of common stock at an aggregate cost of $251.7 million, which includes 1,601,788 shares of common stock at an aggregate cost of $129.0 million during the year ended December 31, 2020.

Cash Flows

Operating Activities. Net cash provided by operating activities for the years ended December 31, 2020 and 2019 was $308.8 million and $306.3 million, respectively. The slight increase in cash generated from operating activities between the years ended December 31, 2019 and 2020 was primarily due to changes in other working capital balances. We define working capital as the assets and liabilities, other than cash, generated through GCE’s primary operating activities. Changes in these balances are included in the changes in assets and liabilities presented in the statement of cash flows.

Investing Activities. Net cash used in investing activities was $19.4 million and $405.9 million for the years ended December 31, 2020 and 2019, respectively. Our cash used in investing activities in 2020 was primarily related to capital expenditures of $29.4 million partially offset by proceeds from the sale of investments of $10.6 million. Funding to GCU for the year ended December 31, 2020 net of repayments totaled nil. Our cash used in investing activities in 2019 was primarily related to the Acquisition, the funding of capital expenditures to GCU, and the liquidation of short-term investments and capital expenditures. We paid $361.2 million, net of cash acquired, to acquire Orbis Education on January 22, 2019. Funding to GCU for capital expenditures during the year ended December 31, 2019 totaled $69.8 million, net of repayments made by GCU of $100.0 million in 2019. Proceeds from investments, net of purchases of short-term investments, was $47.8 million for the year ended December 31, 2019. Capital expenditures were $22.4 million for the year ended December 31, 2019. During the years ended December 31, 2020 and 2019, capital expenditures primarily consisted of leasehold improvements and equipment for new off-campus classroom and laboratory sites, internally developed software, as well as purchases of computer equipment, other internal use software projects and furniture and equipment to support our increasing employee headcount. The increase in capital expenditures year over year is due to the increase in off-campus classrooms and laboratory sites between years. As of December 31, 2020, 30 off-campus classroom and laboratory sites were opened compared to 23 as of December 31, 2019.

Financing Activities. Net cash used in financing activities was $166.3 million for the year ended December 31, 2020. During 2020, $129.0 million was used to purchase treasury stock in accordance with GCE’s share repurchase program and $5.0 million was used to purchase common shares withheld in lieu of income taxes resulting from the vesting of restricted share awards. Principal payments on notes payable totaled $33.1 million, partially offset by proceeds from the exercise of stock options of $0.9 million. Net cash provided by financing activities was $40.1 million for the year ended December 31, 2019. During 2019, $243.8 million of proceeds was drawn on the term loan, and $26.3 million was drawn and repaid on the revolver in 2019, and the term loan balance of the prior credit agreement of $59.9 million was repaid along with the repayment of $101.3 million of principal and revolver payments on the new credit facility. In addition, $2.4 million of debt issuance costs were incurred on the new credit facility and $8.1 million was used to purchase common shares withheld in lieu of income taxes resulting from the vesting of restricted share awards and $35.8 million was used to purchase treasury stock in accordance with GCE’s share repurchase program. Proceeds from the exercise of stock options of $3.8 million were received for the year ended December 31, 2019.

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Contractual Obligations

The following table sets forth, as of December 31, 2020, the aggregate amounts of our significant contractual obligations and commitments with definitive payment terms due in each of the periods presented (in millions):

Payments Due by Period

    

    

Less than

    

    

    

More than

Total

1 Year

2-3 Years

4-5 Years

5 Years

Notes payable(1)

$

107.8

$

33.1

$

66.3

$

8.4

$

Lease liabilities(2)

64.0

7.4

14.3

13.3

29.0

Purchase obligations(3)

 

18.0

 

7.4

 

10.6

 

 

Total contractual obligations

$

189.8

$

47.9

$

91.2

$

21.7

$

29.0

(1)See Note 10, “Notes Payable and Other Noncurrent Liabilities,” to our consolidated financial statements, included in Item 8, Consolidated Financial Statements and Supplementary Data, for a discussion of our notes payable and other obligations.
(2)See Note 9, “Leases,” to our consolidated financial statements, included in Item 8, Consolidated Financial Statements and Supplementary Data, for a discussion of our leases.
(3)Represents unconditional purchase obligations and other obligations.

Off-Balance Sheet Arrangements

We do not have any off-balance sheet arrangements that have had or are reasonably likely to have a material current or future effect on our financial condition, changes in financial condition, revenues or expenses, results of operations, liquidity, capital expenditures, or capital resources.

Adjusted EBITDA (Non-GAAP Financial Measure)

In addition to our GAAP results, we use Adjusted EBITDA as a supplemental measure of our operating performance and as part of our compensation determinations. Adjusted EBITDA is not required by or presented in accordance with GAAP and should not be considered as an alternative to net income, operating income, or any other performance measure derived in accordance with GAAP, or as an alternative to cash flow from operating activities or as a measure of our liquidity.

Adjusted EBITDA is defined as net income plus interest expense, less interest income and other gain (loss) recognized on investments, plus income tax expense, plus depreciation and amortization (EBITDA), as adjusted for (i) contributions to private Arizona school tuition organizations in lieu of the payment of state income taxes; (ii) loss on transaction; (iii) share-based compensation, and (iv) unusual charges or gains, such as litigation and regulatory reserves, impairment charges and asset write-offs, and exit or lease termination costs. We present Adjusted EBITDA, a non-GAAP financial measure, because we consider it to be an important supplemental measure of our operating performance. We also make certain compensation decisions based, in part, on our operating performance, as measured by Adjusted EBITDA, and our credit agreement requires us to comply with covenants that include performance metrics substantially similar to Adjusted EBITDA. All of the adjustments made in our calculation of Adjusted EBITDA are adjustments to items that management does not consider to be reflective of our core operating performance. Management considers our core operating performance to be that which can be affected by our managers in any particular period through their management of the resources that affect our underlying revenue and profit generating operations during that period and does not consider the items for which we make adjustments (as listed above) to be reflective of our core performance.

We believe Adjusted EBITDA allows us to compare our current operating results with corresponding historical periods and with the operational performance of other companies in our industry because it does not give effect to potential differences caused by variations in capital structures (affecting relative interest expense, including the impact of write-offs of deferred financing costs when companies refinance their indebtedness), tax positions (such as the impact

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on periods or companies of changes in effective tax rates or net operating losses), the book amortization of intangibles (affecting relative amortization expense), and other items that we do not consider reflective of underlying operating performance. We also present Adjusted EBITDA because we believe it is frequently used by securities analysts, investors, and other interested parties as a measure of performance.

In evaluating Adjusted EBITDA, investors should be aware that in the future we may incur expenses similar to the adjustments described above. Our presentation of Adjusted EBITDA should not be construed as an inference that our future results will be unaffected by expenses that are unusual, non-routine, or non-recurring. Adjusted EBITDA has limitations as an analytical tool in that, among other things, it does not reflect:

cash expenditures for capital expenditures or contractual commitments;
changes in, or cash requirements for, our working capital requirements;
interest expense, or the cash required to replace assets that are being depreciated or amortized; and
the impact on our reported results of earnings or charges resulting from the items for which we make adjustments to our EBITDA, as described above and set forth in the table below.

In addition, other companies, including other companies in our industry, may calculate these measures differently than we do, limiting the usefulness of Adjusted EBITDA as a comparative measure. Because of these limitations, Adjusted EBITDA should not be considered as a substitute for net income, operating income, or any other performance measure derived in accordance with GAAP, or as an alternative to cash flow from operating activities or as a measure of our liquidity. We compensate for these limitations by relying primarily on our GAAP results and use Adjusted EBITDA only as a supplemental performance measure. For more information, see our consolidated financial statements and the notes to those consolidated financial statements included elsewhere in this Annual Report on Form 10-K.

The following table reconciles net income to Adjusted EBITDA for the periods indicated:

Year Ended December 31,

    

2020

    

2019

    

Net income

$

257,196

$

259,175

Plus: interest expense

 

4,402

 

11,311

Less: interest income on Secured Note

 

(59,190)

 

(59,297)

Less: investment interest and other

 

(915)

 

(4,385)

Plus: income tax expense

 

75,944

 

58,327

Plus: amortization of intangible assets

8,419

8,223

Plus: depreciation and amortization

 

21,233

 

18,696

EBITDA

 

307,089

 

292,050

Plus: contributions in lieu of state income taxes(a)

 

5,000

 

4,003

Plus: loss on transaction(b)

 

 

3,966

Plus: share-based compensation(c)

 

10,663

 

10,300

Plus: estimated litigation and regulatory reserves(d)

1,078

1,023

Adjusted EBITDA

$

323,830

$

311,342

(a)Represents contributions to various private Arizona school tuition organizations to assist with funding for education. In connection with such contributions made, we received a dollar-for-dollar state income tax credit, which resulted in a reduction in our effective income tax rate to 22.8% and 18.4% for the years ended December 31, 2020 and 2019, respectively. Had these contributions not been made, our effective tax rate would have been 23.9% and 19.3% for 2020 and 2019, respectively. Such contributions are viewed by our management to be made in lieu of payments of state income taxes and are therefore excluded from evaluation of our core operating performance.
(b)Represents costs incurred related to the Acquisition, including legal and other third-party costs.
(c)Reflects share-based compensation expense related to GCE employees.
(d)Reflects primarily regulatory litigation as GCE retained responsibility for all liabilities of GCU arising prior to the closing date of the Transaction. See Note 2 – The Transaction in our consolidated financial statements for a full description of the Transaction.

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Recent Accounting Pronouncements

See Note 4 - Summary of Significant Accounting Policies, in Item 8, Consolidated Financial Statements and Supplementary Data.

Item 7A.         Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosures about Market Risk

Impact of inflation. We believe that inflation has not had a material impact on our results of operations for the years ended December 31, 2020, 2019, or 2018. There can be no assurance that future inflation will not have an adverse impact on our operating results and financial condition.

Market risk. As of December 31, 2020, we have no derivative financial instruments or derivative commodity instruments. We invest cash in excess of current operating requirements in short term certificates of deposit and money market instruments, municipal bond portfolios, or municipal mutual funds at multiple financial institutions.

Interest rate risk. We manage interest rate risk by investing excess funds in cash equivalents, BBB or higher rated municipal bonds, municipal mutual funds and commercial paper bearing variable interest rates, which are tied to various market indices or individual bond coupon rates. Our future investment income may fall short of expectations due to changes in interest rates or we may suffer losses in principal if we are forced to sell securities before their maturity date that have declined in market value due to changes in interest rates. At December 31, 2020, a 10% increase or decrease in interest rates would not have a material impact on our future earnings, fair values, or cash flows.

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Item 8.        Consolidated Financial Statements and Supplementary Data

    

Page

Report of Independent Registered Public Accounting Firm

60

Consolidated Balance Sheets as of December 31, 2020 and 2019

62

Consolidated Income Statements for the years ended December 31, 2020, 2019 and 2018

63

Consolidated Statements of Comprehensive Income for the years ended December 31, 2020, 2019 and 2018

64

Consolidated Statements of Stockholders’ Equity for the years ended December 31, 2020, 2019 and 2018

65

Consolidated Statements of Cash Flows for the years ended December 31, 2020, 2019 and 2018

66

Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements

67

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Report of Independent Registered Public Accounting Firm

To the Stockholders and Board of Directors
Grand Canyon Education, Inc.:

Opinion on the Consolidated Financial Statements

We have audited the accompanying consolidated balance sheets of Grand Canyon Education, Inc. and subsidiaries (the Company) as of December 31, 2020 and 2019, the related consolidated statements of income, comprehensive income, stockholders’ equity, and cash flows for each of the years in the three-year period ended December 31, 2020, and the related notes (collectively, the consolidated financial statements). In our opinion, the consolidated financial statements present fairly, in all material respects, the financial position of the Company as of December 31, 2020 and 2019, and the results of its operations and its cash flows for each of the years in the three-year period ended December 31, 2020, in conformity with U.S. generally accepted accounting principles.

We also have audited, in accordance with the standards of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (United States) (PCAOB), the Company’s internal control over financial reporting as of December 31, 2020, based on criteria established in Internal Control – Integrated Framework (2013) issued by the Committee of Sponsoring Organizations of the Treadway Commission, and our report dated February 17, 2021 expressed an unqualified opinion on the effectiveness of the Company’s internal control over financial reporting.

Basis for Opinion

These consolidated financial statements are the responsibility of the Company’s management. Our responsibility is to express an opinion on these consolidated financial statements based on our audits. We are a public accounting firm registered with the PCAOB and are required to be independent with respect to the Company in accordance with the U.S. federal securities laws and the applicable rules and regulations of the Securities and Exchange Commission and the PCAOB.

We conducted our audits in accordance with the standards of the PCAOB. Those standards require that we plan and perform the audit to obtain reasonable assurance about whether the consolidated financial statements are free of material misstatement, whether due to error or fraud. Our audits included performing procedures to assess the risks of material misstatement of the consolidated financial statements, whether due to error or fraud, and performing procedures that respond to those risks. Such procedures included examining, on a test basis, evidence regarding the amounts and disclosures in the consolidated financial statements. Our audits also included evaluating the accounting principles used and significant estimates made by management, as well as evaluating the overall presentation of the consolidated financial statements. We believe that our audits provide a reasonable basis for our opinion.

Critical Audit Matter

The critical audit matter communicated below is a matter arising from the current period audit of the consolidated financial statements that was communicated or required to be communicated to the audit committee and that: (1) relates to accounts or disclosures that are material to the consolidated financial statements and (2) involved our especially challenging, subjective, or complex judgments. The communication of a critical audit matter does not alter in any way our opinion on the consolidated financial statements, taken as a whole, and we are not, by communicating the critical audit matter below, providing a separate opinion on the critical audit matter or on the accounts or disclosures to which it relates.

Evaluation of the sufficiency of audit evidence over service revenue

As discussed in Note 4 to the consolidated financial statements, service revenue is recognized from the delivery of support services to institutions in the post-secondary education sector of the United States (University Partners). The transaction price for support services is based on the Company receiving a contracted percentage of the University Partner’s tuition and fee revenue. The tuition and fee information received varies depending

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on the respective University Partner’s reporting processes and the services provided. The Company recorded $844 million of service revenue for the year ended December 31, 2020.

We identified the evaluation of the sufficiency of audit evidence over service revenue as a critical audit matter. This required especially subjective auditor judgment because service revenue recorded by the Company is dependent on the tuition and fee information of the University Partners. This included determining the nature and extent of procedures to be performed and evaluating the evidence obtained over the tuition and fee information.

The following are the primary procedures we performed to address this critical audit matter. We applied auditor judgment to determine the nature and extent of procedures to be performed over tuition and fee information of the University Partners. We evaluated the design and tested the operating effectiveness of certain internal controls related to service revenue. This included controls related to the accurate recording of amounts dependent on University Partners’ tuition and fee revenue information. For a sample of transactions, we compared the amounts recognized as service revenue for consistency with underlying documentation, including contracts with University Partners and student enrollment documentation.

We evaluated the sufficiency of audit evidence obtained by assessing the results of procedures performed, including the nature of such evidence.

/s/ KPMG LLP

We have served as the Company’s auditor since 2012.

Tempe, Arizona
February 17, 2021

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Table of Contents

Grand Canyon Education, Inc.

Consolidated Balance Sheets

    

As of December 31,

(In thousands, except par value)

2020

2019

ASSETS:

Current assets

 

 

  

Cash and cash equivalents

$

245,769

$

122,272

Restricted cash and cash equivalents

 

 

300

Investments

 

10,840

 

21,601

Accounts receivable, net

 

62,189

 

48,939

Interest receivable on Secured Note

 

5,011

 

5,011

Income tax receivable

 

1,294

 

2,186

Other current assets

 

8,639

 

8,035

Total current assets

 

333,742

 

208,344

Property and equipment, net

 

128,657

 

119,734

Right-of-use assets

61,020

27,770

Secured Note receivable, net

 

964,912

 

969,912

Amortizable intangible assets, net

193,638

202,057

Goodwill

 

160,766

 

160,766

Other assets

 

1,844