Princeton Review Inc., which has seen its share value crash from $4.50 in 2009 to as low as seven cents a share recently, announced that it is selling its test preparation business for $33 million to a private equity group. The offloaded business has struggled recently as customers increasingly opted for less expensive SAT-preparation options.
The test preparation business is being acquired by Charlesbank Capital Partners and the deal is expected to close in just over a month at which point Princeton Review Inc. will also change its name and become a holding company for the Penn Foster online education division.
Commentators have attempted to isolate the cause of Princeton Review Inc.’s dramatic collapse:
After receiving a $60 million infusion from Bain Capital Ventures and another private equity firm in 2007, the company embarked on an ambitious makeover plan, including buying up its regional franchises. While bringing the franchises in-house made sense in a lot of ways, in some ways TPR’s timing couldn’t be worse: The company was doubling-down on its brick-and-mortar business just as more and more test preparation moved to an online delivery format
These online options tended to be much cheaper and were appealing to customers as the education world moved increasingly online. Online companies were also able to innovate and evolve both more quickly, and with greater ease, than the lumbering traditional services. Online content providers could change both curriculum and the method of delivery at a much lower operating cost and on a far quicker timescale than Princeton Review’s brick and mortar business.
The demise of Princeton Review, a highly recognizable brand among college applicants, perhaps highlights the increasing shift in education from traditional classroom formats to what many would considers it natural sphere – an online environment. While technological limitations mean that important examinations are likely to continue to be taken ‘in person’, most educational content, from initial learning through peer discussion to test revision, can be best delivered and consumed online due to inherent advantages of personal customization.