Jeff Cohen is the president of Sylvan Learning, a leading provider of tutoring services to students of all ages, grades, and skill levels. Before rejoining Sylvan, he served as president of Catapult Learning, which he grew from $65 million to more than $130 million. Prior to joining Catapult Learning, he was the senior vice president for business unit management at Prometric, Inc.
SM: Jeff, can you give me an overview of your background to set the stage?
JC: I have been in my current position of CEO for about 18 months. Previous to that, I worked with Sterling Partners, which is the lead investor in our company. And prior to that, I spent about 10 years working for various companies that were affiliated with Sylvan Learning. [Sylvan was] sister companies first with a business called Prometric, which is a global computerized testing business. I ran Catapult Learning, which provides supplemental instruction to schools throughout the United States. I have been around education businesses for about 13 years. Before getting into education I practiced law and served in the Clinton administration.
SM: What about some background about Sylvan? Where did the company start and how did it evolve?
JC: We started with the recognition that students have various individual needs when it comes to developing and mastering skills throughout their education career. There was recognition at the outset of our business 30 years ago that there was an opportunity to supplement what goes on in the classroom. When a teacher is standing in front of 35 students, there are some who are not following what is going on because they have a different learning style or pace. They can also have a fundamental skill gap that needs specific attention, which a teacher who has a classroom full of students cannot afford to provide.
There was this recognition that we could work with the schools and curricula of the schools and then close the particular gaps in education. Private tutors had been working on this forever. The thesis behind Sylvan was not just to recognize that those gaps exist but that we could put together a program that was scalable and standardized such that students anywhere could avail themselves of the service and be assured that they would get a high-quality supplemental education experience that was scientifically designed to address their individual needs.
SM: Are your customers the schools or the school districts?
JC: Our customers are students and parents. Schools and districts are partners. It is important for us when we are working with families that we try to communicate with schools and the classroom teachers who see our students during the day. We have to ensure that what we are doing is supplementing what the teachers are trying to achieve in the classroom.