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Sylvan Learning Multi-Unit Franchisee Shares Why She Reinvested in Leading Education Brand
Hillary and Sean Tilton are spearheading Sylvan Learning’s growth throughout Michigan.

There’s a good chance that no other family has had more of an influence on the Sylvan Learning brand than the Malones.

Beginning with Robert and Mary Malone’s purchase of the original Grand Rapids, Michigan franchise in 1985, the Malone family has been instrumental in establishing Sylvan Learning’s presence in the West Michigan market. These days, Malone’s daughters, Molly Ebers and Hillary Tilton, along with her husband, Sean Tilton, are carrying the torch.

But for Hillary, Sylvan Learning is much more than a business. Her long history with the brand began as a child, when she was a student in the learning center and her mother was the first franchisee in the state of Michigan. Since then, Hillary has been a tutor, a franchisee and now, a multi-unit franchisee. Today, alongside her family, she owns 14 Sylvan Learning locations throughout West Michigan and Minneapolis. And most recently, she was honored as the highest revenue franchisee throughout the 700-unit strong Sylvan Learning system.

“My family has always valued education, and that was a huge part of me eventually joining in as a franchisee. I saw the benefits of Sylvan Learning firsthand, and the difference we could make in a student’s life,” Hillary said. “It’s an incredible moment when you watch that lightbulb go off when a student finally connects and understands a new concept. It has always been a very feel good business in that sense, and that’s what keep us moving every single day and keep us focused on the end goal—and that’s impacting as many lives as possible.”

With nearly 37 years of experience, Sylvan Learning knows what works—and what doesn’t work—when it comes to growing a supplemental education and tutoring business. But over the years, what has truly helped Sylvan Learning stand out is its unique approach to teaching. Sylvan believes that true learning—the kind that makes a child smarter and more motivated—calls for a personal approach.  That’s why Sylvan has developed a personal plan tailored to a child’s needs and creates a learning program unique to each child.

“Sylvan Learning has been a leader in the industry for many years—parents come to us because they know exactly what they’re going to get. We provide quality programs and quality outcomes, and parents are happy with what they receive by enrolling their children,” Hillary said. “We get a lot of referrals—we have students enrolling with us now whose parents and grandparents went to Sylvan. And that says a lot. This is a business that can stand the test of time.”

Hillary recalls one moment in particular when she was working as a center director for one of her family’s locations. There was a student who came to Sylvan who was in the second grade and was recently in a car accident. The traumatic event left the child with retention and memory issues, and she started to fall behind in school. At Sylvan, she worked closely with a tutor on her reading and math, and over time, she eventually regained much of what was lost due to her accident. Today, Hillary is proud to say that this student is back to her old self, and she’s feeling better, more confident and, once again, thriving in schools. She’s been coming back regularly to Sylvan ever since. It’s moments like that, Hillary says, that remind her why she’s dedicated her life to growing the brand.

“If you’re looking for a business that you can feel good about, you will find that with Sylvan. At the end of the day, whether it’s been hard or long, you can know that you made a difference for someone else. The service we provide for people is so important. That’s what keeps us going,” Hillary said.

In the years ahead, Hillary, her husband and her sister Molly are focused on enhancing their existing operations. Her goal is to grow from within—which means that she’d like to boost enrollment and serve more students than ever before.

“The Malones, Tiltons, and Ebers are incredibly passionate about the business, helping children and the academics they provide,” said Sylvan Learning CEO John McAuliffe. “They are the leaders in the franchisee community. People look up to them for guidance, best practices, and what they’re doing right. We’re honored to have a family like them leading our brand forward.”

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