Industry Leader: Education

Three-Year Growth: 6,794.1%

The appeal of Internet-based education is undeniable: It's inexpensive and convenient, especially for older students working regular jobs, which is why the field is growing rapidly. Still, plenty of students crave the traditional joys of autumn football games and faux-existential midnight discussions. Andrew Clark offers both virtual and ivy-covered experiences through Bridgepoint Education.

My mother was a teacher and my father a banker, so I was born at the nexus of education and business. After college, I was an admissions adviser for the University of Phoenix, then worked for businesses dedicated to affordable education -- notably the Career Education Corporation (NASDAQ:CECO). Tuition in this country runs as much as 40 percent above inflation; it incensed me that people academically prepared for higher education were priced out of it. So, in 2002, I wrote a business plan for a company that would offer inexpensive, high-quality degree programs. The idea was to combine online instruction, which makes college affordable, with the campus experience, which makes it so rich.

I started knocking on the doors of investors and soon forged a relationship with Warburg Pincus. We recapitalized a company called Charter Learning and renamed it Bridgepoint. We offered programs through Charter but decided that wasn't the best way to scale up. We ended that arrangement in 2006.

Meanwhile, we decided we needed our own established, brick-and-mortar institution -- ideally several. So for eight months in 2004, I visited small liberal arts colleges. Many of these schools are struggling, because they lack the endowments of small private universities and the resources of large public ones. Still, they're hard to find: They don't put For Sale signs in the front yard for fear that parents will pull out their kids. But there's usually a little whispering campaign when a board of trustees is contemplating a sale. I did a lot of networking among college presidents and others.

Eventually, I heard about Ashford University in Clinton, Iowa. It was a very nice campus: about 300 students, dormitories, sports teams -- everything you'd want from a small college. We acquired it in March 2005 and kept the name, as well as the faculty and the undergraduate and graduate programs. But we've added money and management expertise. Now Ashford has 600 students on campus. And we've built out the online program from 20 students to 12,600.

The plan is to continue acquiring colleges, ultimately reaching about 40,000 students. Every year, two or three small colleges recognize that in order to survive, they have to become part of a public institution or be purchased by someone like Bridgepoint. Last year, we bought the Colorado School of Professional Psychology, in Colorado Springs, and renamed it University of the Rockies. With our resources behind them, colleges like this can stop raising tuition -- in some cases, they may be able to lower it. We also want to expand internationally. We are shopping for colleges in places such as London, India, and China. In each instance, we'll let the college retain its own brand and approach. There is no Bridgepoint brand of education.