It’s the season for college entrance exams again.
In the past few years, getting into the country’s top-rated colleges and universities has become even tougher as rising affluence has made it possible for more families to afford quality tertiary education.
Before the onset of the K-12 program in 2015, which temporarily depressed the number of college freshmen because it extended high school for two extra years, takers of the University of the Philippines College Admission Test (UPCAT), for example, reached a peak of 81,500.
That’s according to an article in the Philippine Collegian, UP’s official student newspaper, citing UP Office of Admissions statistics. It marked a 16.4-percent increase compared to 70,000 who took the UPCAT in 2011, according to GMA News Online.
To ensure that their children improved their chances of passing college entrance exams, parents enrolled them in review centers, paying fees ranging from Php5,000 to over Php10,000, depending on the number of hours and review packages. Students who enroll in review centers get a grasp of what college entrance exams are like and how they can better prepare for it.
In Metro Manila, there are two major review centers that immediately come to mind because of their wide presence and impressive passing rates—MSA Group Inc. and AHEAD Learning Systems Inc.
MSA was founded by Merle S. Alferez, who used to teach in exclusive schools before she started offering one-on-one tutorial lessons in her home, according to MSA’s official website. The first MSA center was established in 1988.
AHEAD, on the other hand, was established in 1995 by Rossana Ladaga Llenado, a former student leader from the University of the Philippines. According to its official website, Llenado started offering tutorial services at the UP Hostel, Development Academy of the Philippines and Ayala Alabang.
MSA started seven years earlier than AHEAD, which may explain the gap in their branch count. MSA has 14 branches in Luzon and Visayas, while AHEAD has only eight in Luzon, both as of October 2017. The two review centers have their main offices along Katipunan Avenue in Quezon City, near two of the country’s biggest universities, UP and Ateneo de Manila University.
MSA has more review centers in the Greater Manila Area (NCR and neighboring regions) and has one branch in Cebu. Despite MSA’s lead, AHEAD is slowly catching up, at least in branch count.
Though it has yet to expand to the Visayas and Mindanao, AHEAD has been more aggressive in building branches in Luzon outside the Greater Manila Area, as the company has put up a branch each in Tuguegarao and Baguio City.
The companies’ financial statements tell a similar story. In the latest available financial data, MSA reported revenues of Php41.4 million, which is slightly lower than the previous year’s level of Php46 million. That may reflect the decline in high school graduates owing to the implementation of the K-12 program. In contrast, AHEAD’s revenues reached only Php9 million in 2013, the latest year on which it filed financial statement to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). MSA reported a net income of Php1.4 million in 2015 while AHEAD said its profits stood only at Php191,523 in 2013.
Apart from offering review sessions, MSA also publishes textbooks, reviewers, competition books and reference books, which may help explain why its revenues are markedly higher than AHEAD’s.
Pauline Macaraeg is Entrepreneur PH's data journalist. Follow her on Twitter @paulinemacaraeg