5 On Your Side

College Planning Company Doesn't Deliver Help

A Colorado company promises to help parents of high schoolers navigate through college applications, but it comes with a hefty fee, and customers question whether the company really delivers.

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WHITE OAK, N.C. — A Colorado company promises to help parents of high schoolers navigate through college applications. The assistance comes with a hefty fee, however, and customers question whether the company really delivers on its promises.

College Partnership touts itself as a college and career planning and preparation company. The Better Business Bureau has 100 complaints about it and gives it an "unsatisfactory record." The office of Colorado's attorney general told WRAL the company is "on our radar."

North Carolina's attorney general's office has three complaints against College Partnership.

Margaret Satterwhite, of Bladen County, said College Partnership sent her a book and a couple of tapes for the $1,495 she paid at a company seminar in June 2005.

At the seminar, the company promised a "step-by-step College Action Plan," "financial aid analysis" and, most important to Satterwhite, "unlimited access to (a) Coaching Team for daughter who is in high school."

"We thought in the end, it's going be worth the money, because they may get us a scholarship or they may help us to get financial aid which we don't even know about," Satterwhite said.

Satterwhite started to need the promised coaching during her daughter Courtney's junior year. However, Satterwhite said that when she called College Partnership with a question, she was usually pointed to the book. She could not get a coach on the phone, she said.

"They were passing me from one person to the next. I think I was passed maybe to six different people," Satterwhite said.

When Satterwhite requested a SAT study guide on CD, all that arrived in the mail was an empty envelope. So in April, she asked for a refund and was offered $350.

Satterwhite did not think that amount was fair, and she decided to stick with the program after she was again promised access to a coach. In the following months, a coach spoke to her once – and promised to call monthly, Satterwhite said. That did not happen, so she kept calling and e-mailing.

In October she finally received an e-mail from the company, which read, "I'm sure you can imagine how many voicemails she must have since she is the only coach for hundreds of thousands of customers."

"When I read that, I was like, 'Can you believe they even put that in writing?'" Satterwhite said.

A 5 on Your Side investigation found that College Partnership is in the midst of an involuntary bankruptcy suit, filed on behalf of numerous creditors. The lawsuit accuses company founders Janice Jones and John Grace of refusing to pay employees and creditors, "siphoning" company assets, paying their personal debts out of company accounts and "numerous counts of wire fraud."

A College Partnership spokesman told WRAL that the statement that there is only one coach for hundreds of thousands of customers is "incorrect." He added that coaches respond to "30 to 50 calls per day."

The spokesman said company records show "eight lengthy conversations" with Satterwhite. She said those calls were likely her attempt to get a coach, not conversations with one.

College Partnership is still serving its clients, but not soliciting new ones, a spokesman said. He claimed that the bankruptcy suit is "not going to happen" but would not elaborate.

Satterwhite said the materials she got from College Partnership were not worth the $1,495 she paid.

"If you did your research, you could go online and find out almost anything that's in this book," Satterwhite said.