University of Phoenix parent acquires South African education company

The Apollo Education Group has acquired a South African University , another sign the Phoenix-based business is looking outside the U.S. for growth.

The deal to buy an 81 percent stake in Milpark Education (Pty) Ltd. will cost Apollo $25.6 million, the company announced Tuesday. It follows the December purchase of an Australian online education company for at least $99 million. In both cases, the purchases were made by Apollo Global Inc., a subsidiary of Apollo.

The international buying binge has happened even as the parent company of the University of Phoenix has continued cutting its U.S. work force amid dwindling enrollment, growing competition and a regulatory climate in Washington seen as threatening to the for-profit education industry.

Curt Uehlein, president of Apollo Global, said international expansion remains a top five priority for the company.

“Additional assets, either through partnerships or acquisition, is a very, very important part of our strategy going forward,” he said.

Apollo Global brought in about $276 million of Apollo Education’s $3.7 billion in revenues last year, according to the company’s latest annual report.

Milpark Education began in 1997 and claims to be one of the first private providers of management education in South Africa. The company has tailored its offerings to adult learners, suggesting its business model is similar to Apollo’s.

It offers classroom and online courses in business, commerce, investment, banking, financial planning, insurance, and government and public management.

“We have set our sights on certain geographies where we feel education is growing and our solutions can help improve lives,” Uehlein said. “We felt all of Africa would be a place to do that, and we thought getting a beach-head in one of the countries, South Africa, was a good strategy.”

In December, Apollo bought a 70 percent stake in Open Colleges Australia, another company with operations similar to Apollo’s. Apollo has previously expanded its services into Mexico, Chile, the United Kingdom and India.

In a statement, Apollo CEO Greg Cappelli said the latest move broadens the company’s reach.

“Aligned with our diversification strategy, Milpark Education brings tremendous value, academic content and expertise serving adult learners,” Capelli said. “Expanding into South Africa allows us to broaden our network of global educational institutions. We look forward to exploring other opportunities to serve students on the continent of Africa, which hosts seven of the fastest growing economies in the world.”

The moves in Australia and South Africa come after Cappelli told investors in October the company would expand its foreign operations.

At the same time, the company announced it was laying off 500 workers. That came a year after it laid off 800 workers in 2012.

Apollo’s stock fell 16 cents to $29.44 Tuesday. That’s up from about $26 per share six months ago, but down from its recent high of $35 per share in April.

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University of Phoenix parent acquires South African education company

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