Apollo Group CEO Todd Nelson resigned Wednesday, leaving a post that made him one of the highest paid chief executives in the Valley.
A company spokeswoman said Nelson left on his own accord to pursue personal investment opportunities. Phoenix-based Apollo is the parent of the University of Phoenix.
The company’s stock price has taken a beating in recent months. It closed at $62.15 Wednesday on the Nasdaq, down nearly 26 percent from its 52-week high of $83.92.
In after-hours trading, the stock continued its tumble. It was $57.26 a share at press time, down more than $4.89, or about 8 percent, from its close during the regular trading session.
Many educational companies have been struggling. Last week a Wall Street analyst predicted slower growth this year and tougher competition.
Harris Nesbitt analyst Jeff Silber downgraded his rating on five companies, including Apollo, which he changed to "underperform" from "neutral." He is concerned "intensifying competition online" will cause further ratings reductions.
Apollo was one of the stellar stocks in Arizona during the 1990s, a local analyst said.
"The stock topped out probably between $85 and $90 around August and I have just been playing it down all the way," said Joe Blankenship, an account manager at Source Capital Group in Scottsdale.
The industry faces accusations of growing its profits by lowering admissions standards, inflating jobplacement statistics, and paying recruiters to land students simply to fill classrooms.
Nelson went to work for Apollo as a faculty member in 1987. He became president in 1998 and was named CEO in 2001. He was promoted to chairman in 2004.
The company on Wednesday appointed Brian Mueller president. John Sperling, founder of Apollo, was appointed interim executive chairman of the board.
"Brian is the right person to lead Apollo Group’s next stage of growth," said Sperling in a statement. "Apollo has excellent momentum today due to the capable and decisive leadership he has demonstrated."
Nelson was listed as the third highest paid CEO in 2004, according to the 2006 Book of Lists compiled by the Business Journal. According to the magazine, he made more than $5.2 million in salary and bonuses, up more than 16 percent from 2003. His salary was $750,000.
Mueller has a 19-year career at Apollo and University of Phoenix, and has broadbased experience in operations, education, sales, finance, marketing, strategy and general management, the company said. He has been CEO of the University of Phoenix Online campus for the past several years.
"Over the past 30 years, University of Phoenix has built a renowned brand," Mueller said in a statement. "It is recognized as an industry leader and has earned respect for its innovative quality model. As we move toward a future with changing demographics and the potential for even greater promise, we will continue to focus on our core strengths and adopt new strategies that ensure greater efficiencies within our operations."
Apollo operates the University of Phoenix, Institute for Professional Development, The College for Financial Planning Institutes and Western International University.
It offers educational programs and services at 95 campuses and 153 learning centers in 39 states, Puerto Rico, Alberta, British Columbia, Netherlands and Mexico.