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The Great Franchisee: Vanessa and Phillip Ross, Sylvan Learning, Springfield, IL

How the new franchisees saved their local Sylvan Learning center.

When the previous owner of Springfield’s Sylvan Learning* passed away, the owner’s husband considered closing the center’s doors for good. But the Foppe-Ross family, who have grown to love the brand after sending their son there, stepped in to ensure every student had access to the educational support they needed amid virtual learning obstacles. 

Phillip and Vanessa Ross, along with Vanessa’s mother, Donna Foppe, didn’t want to accept that the center might have to close its doors after all the progress their son — and many other students — had made. Together, they decided to save their local Sylvan center by taking over ownership.

1851 Franchise: Tell us your story – what did you do before franchising?

Vanessa Ross: Prior to getting involved with Sylvan Learning, I worked —and currently still work — as a project manager at AT&T building cell sites. My mother, Donna Foppe, is the third co-owner and center director at Sylvan in Springfield, Illinois. She previously worked as a teacher and in the call center space.

Phillip Ross: I also still work at AT&T as an engineer and am in charge of monitoring the performance of the cellular network in Illinois. 

1851: How did you initially find out about franchising? 

Phillip and Vanessa: Our son has been attending the Springfield Sylvan Learning location since March, right when COVID-19 hit. At the time, Donna received a raise and part of the raise allowed our seven-year-old son to attend Sylvan for free. Two months later, the previous owner passed away, and her husband was thinking of closing up shop. We saw the value that Sylvan Learning provided to our son and others and didn’t want to let that happen, so we submitted an inquiry to corporate. We didn’t know anything about franchising until this opportunity presented itself. However, we were passionate about the brand and saw its success with our son as he progressed a whole grade level since starting at Sylvan due to the fantastic teachers’ help. 

1851: Why did you choose franchising over starting your own business?

Phillip and Vanessa: Starting our own business never really crossed our minds. The opportunity presented itself, so we quickly learned the ins and the outs of franchising with Sylvan to prepare for ownership. 

1851: What other types of brands did you look at?

Phillip and Vanessa: We didn’t look at any other brands to start a franchise with, but we did search for other tutoring services for our son about a year and a half prior to choosing Sylvan. We looked at Kumon and other competitors, and nothing really stood out to us. Had we known about Sylvan Learning earlier, we would’ve enrolled our son much sooner.

1851: Why did you choose Sylvan Learning? What excited you most about the potential?

Phillip and Vanessa: Based on the historical numbers we’ve seen, the business has been doing well while helping a lot of students. We see a lot of potential in expanding the business and helping these kids who are currently struggling with virtual learning. Presently, we have at least four school districts represented at our location in addition to some private school students we are serving as well.

1851: What are your dreams with the business? What does the future look like?

Phillip and Vanessa: We are looking into eventually owning the Champaign location as well. We’re definitely on board for expanding in the future once we are settled with the Springfield location and can find someone we trust, like Donna, to be the center director and run the center independently.

1851: What value do you see your business providing to Springfield, especially now during COVID-19?

Phillip and Vanessa: Right now, we’re exclusively offering virtual assistance for students. Our teachers prioritize helping students with their current homework assignments at school first, and then, if there’s time left in the session, they’ll cover the Sylvan curriculum as well. Instead of the 3:1 student to teacher ratio, we’re now offering a 2:1 ratio in order to support students and give them the undivided attention they need. We’ve seen the success in providing students with additional virtual assistance and hope to open our doors for in-person assistance in the near future.

1851: What advice would you have for others looking at buying a franchise?

Phillip and Vanessa: We went from zero locations to owning our own rather quickly. We recommend potential franchisees do their homework and allow enough time to get everything set up. There’s a lot that goes into assuming ownership, so making sure you can budget your time is key.

1851: What do you do in your personal time?

Phillip and Vanessa: Before the pandemic, we loved traveling and would go on four trips a year with our seven-year-old and two-year-old sons. We often visit Kansas City, as we have some family out there. For now, we love getting out and exploring as much as we can. From pumpkin patches to farms, we just love getting out and spending time together.



With more than 40 years of experience and more than 750 points of presence throughout North America, Sylvan Learning is the leading provider of personal learning for students in grades K-12. Sylvan is transforming how students learn, inspiring them to succeed in school and in life. Sylvan’s proven tutoring approach blends amazing teachers with SylvanSync™ technology on the iPad® for an engaging learning experience. Sylvan also leads the way with Sylvan EDGE—STEM and accelerated courses and Sylvan Prep —college and test prep courses. Sylvan supports families through every stage of the academic journey. For more information, visit or

*This brand is a paid partner of 1851 Franchise. For more information on paid partnerships please click here.