Recently, Jim Tolbert sat down for an interview with the hosts of “The Next Level Show.” Currently the chief executive officer of Education Futures Group dba Vista College, Tolbert shared his thoughts about miracles along with insights into how he became involved in his line of work, the challenges that lie ahead for Vista College, and his plans to overcome them.
Tolbert on Miracles and Luck
Near the start of Tolbert’s gripping interview, he was asked to explain his interpretation of a quote by Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion. Ben-Gurion once said, “If you don’t believe in miracles, you are not a realist.” In response to Ben-Gurion’s quote, Tolbert said, “To do anything of extraordinary accomplishment, it takes a few miracles along the way.”
Tolbert further explained that luck plays a part in business. More specifically, Tolbert clarified that he believes luck is a direct contributor to a person’s success or lack of success in business.
How Tolbert Got Started
When asked how he got started on his career path, Tolbert often says it began when he was just 8 or 9 years old. Tolbert attributes his interest in the for-profit, post-secondary education space to his father. After serving in Vietnam, Tolbert’s father retired from the United States Air Force, bought an educational franchise, and rebranded it. Tolbert said he recalled nights spent around the dining room table with his parents, who ran three locations in the Baltimore area with Tolbert’s help.
After he graduated from college, Tolbert worked as an investment banker at Morgan Stanley before he returned to school to earn his MBA. When he completed his studies, Tolbert joined the ranks of McKinsey and Co. While employed there, Tolbert’s entrepreneurial spirit was rekindled. He left McKinsey and Co. in 1996 and started a company that provided funding for students whose educational costs weren’t fully covered by federal funds through Title IV.
The Challenges Ahead
When asked, “How do you start a college?” Tolbert explained that his group acquired one and then expanded to form what has become Vista College. Today, Vista College includes multiple campuses in several states. The school has more than 3,000 students and employs over 800 people.
While Vista College is wildly successful, Tolbert sees challenges on the horizon. The three biggest challenges include student debt, the counter-cyclical nature of the post-secondary education vertical, and the dwindling number of 18- to-24 year-olds in the population, a demographic that peaked back in 2011.
To combat these challenges, Tolbert has a two-part plan. It involves increasing Vista College’s top line by creating new ways of communicating with students and prospects, and decreasing expenses by rethinking the school’s cost structure. While Tolbert’s plan will require some work, he remains optimistic about Vista College’s future. Likening the post-secondary education niche to the troubled state of the airline industry years ago, Tolbert foresees a bright future for Vista College as a survivor of challenging times.
To hear Tolbert’s full interview, watch “The Next Level Show” now.