There’s no shortage of tutoring services in the metro Augusta these days. But it wasn’t that way back in May 1987 when Misty Gleason and her husband opened their Sylvan Learning Center franchise.
“We bought this franchise and started from ground zero,” Gleason recalled. “It took a long time for people to get to know who we were. It took us probably five years to get up to 70 students.”
Thirty years later, tutoring – known as the “supplemental education” industry – has become a $7 billion a year business in the United States as parents increasingly seek to give their children a competitive edge for college admissions or become better prepared for tests under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
But most parents seeking the services are simply trying to help a child overcome a stumbling block; the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development estimates 15 to 20 percent of Americans have reading or language-based learning problems.
“Not all kids learn at the same time the same way,” Gleason said. “That’s where we fit in.”
In addition to services offered by individuals and nonprofit organizations, several of the major national providers have a presence in Augusta, such as Huntingdon Learning Center, Kumon and Mathnasium.
Gleason said about 70 percent of her students are enrolled in reading and math programs. While her center doesn’t specifically address conditions such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, she notes many students enrolled in her programs have trouble staying focused in school.
“About 60 percent of the people who walk in our door say, ‘The teacher says if he could just pay attention, he could be OK,’ ” she said.
Gleason and her husband, Dan, both of whom have education degrees from Ohio Wesleyan University, decided to open the franchise in Augusta because it had no Sylvan franchise. Gleason recalled the only other tutoring service in town was Reading Success Inc., a company that now operates as A+ Reading Inc.
Sylvan’s 4,000-square-foot space in Furys Ferry Station on Furys Ferry Road was preceded by locations on Wheeler and Pleasant Home roads. The larger space was partly necessitated by the boom in business from the No Child Left Behind Act, which mandated free tutoring services to eligible students.
Tutoring fees vary based on the student’s individualized program, but some start at $99 for two hours a week and have zero-percent interest payment plans. Gleason said her 250 students come from all over the metro region – from as far west as Sandersville and as far east as Barnwell, S.C. – and typically belong to middle-class families.
“You would expect this would just be for high-income people,” she said. “But we have a very, very middle-class enrollment for the most part. Just families very concerned about their childrens’ future.”
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