Learning Center Closes Leaving Some Without Refunds

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) —  A well-known tutoring center has suddenly shut down, possibly leaving Minnesota parents out thousands of dollars.

“I think families need to be aware. They’re not doing business with Sylvan. They’re doing business with the person that owns the franchise,” said Michelle Rietveld.

Her daughter used the Sylvan Learning Center in Albertville, Minn., just north of the Twin Cities, and she had some luck.

Her daughter reversed her tough time in class and is now getting better grades and excelling in her subjects.

Unfortunately, Rietveld learned her own valuable lesson, a financial one. She lost $500 the day the Albertville center closed for good on Dec. 9, 2010.

She says she knows of another family that lost $5,000, money they prepaid for future tutoring.

“And although the tutoring helped, it’s costing us more money. It’s taking money from us that we can’t afford,” Rietveld said.

The franchise owner, Allen Stock, signed a letter and posted it on his door, saying that because of circumstances beyond his control, he had to shut down the business.

Sylvan’s Corporate Office insists that Stock’s legally obligated to pay-back the families based on a license agreement he has with the corporation. The corporate headquarters doesn’t give refunds in situations like this.

“It’s sad. It’s disheartening,” said Kelli Abar who owns seven other Sylvan franchises in the Twin Cities.

She is offering those families who lost-out in Albertville a chance to use their pre-paid credit hours at her locations, and they can do it for free.

“I came to work at Sylvan to change lives, to help kids, and if we don’t service these students, we are not doing our job,” she said.

But Rietveld won’t take the offer. She simply wants her money back.

“I know it’s legal what they’re doing, but it’s wrong,” said Rietveld.

She said she’s not sure just how she can fight this because no one can reach Stock.

WCCO tried to reach Stock on Friday but couldn’t, and the spokesperson at Sylvan’s home office in Maryland said company officials have had a hard time reaching him too.

The Better Business Bureau in Minnesota has had no complaints against that franchise. It said paying up-front for any services beyond just a month is always risky.

WCCO-TV’s James Schugel Reports

  • Molly Perry

    This scenario is playing out all over the country to the high overhead costs of the learning centers. Struggling students and disappointed parents have very few options when a learning center closes its doors.

    Displaced Sylvan clients in the STMA area may want to look at Academic All Star Tutoring, which offers one-on-one in home tutoring. It is affordable and requires no contracts, unlike Sylvan.

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  • Peggy M.

    This makes no sense. I understand why this parent is upset, however, she states that Sylvan has helped her child, and in the same breadth, she’s refusing to stand behind her investment to continue helping her child when other Sylvan’s are offering the service for free. It’s obvious that the supposed parent who’s ‘out’ $5,000 is continuing to support thier child. It is an unfortunate situation, but a godsend that there are other supportive people and centers to continue helping the kids. In my opinion, this mother has a bad attitude.

    • michelle

      What was not mentioned in the story is that our daughter had finished her tutoring almost a year ago and we have been trying to get a refund for the last 3 months. As recent as October the owner was encouraging us to leave the money in the account in case she needed tutoring in the future. Unfortunately, the “free tutoring” that they are offering is really not an option as the closest location is 45 min’s away ,one way. The family that lost $5000 lives even farther away than we do and is unable to go to the new location. Sorry that the story was not able to convey the entire scenario, you might have a bad additude too if you had lost $500.

    • Molly

      It is not as though there is another Sylvan in the same town. The nearest one would be another 20 minutes away, when this mom was already driving 20 minutes to Albertville. When the families enroll in Sylvan they enroll for that particular center, not any Sylvan. It is unrealistic to have a family drive 40-50 minutes, have an hour of support and drive another 40-50 minutes home–all on a weeknight. The child’s grades would probably drop from fatigue.

      Bottom line is the Sylvan owner in Albertville is 100% responsible for the situation for failing to abide by the contract signed with the family.

  • Johnson

    It should be known that there are several families that lost thousands of dollars. Here is how to find Allen Stock.


    Assessment Services Manager
    Allen Stock, L.P. is a Licensed Psychologist with over 23 years experience providing educational and psychological services. Allen has worked in a broad range of academic and clinical settings which served children, adolescents and adults. Allen’s particular area of expertise is assessing the barriers that interfere with learning and helping students of all ages maximize their learning potential. For assessment questions, please call (952) 582-6020.

    • Michelle

      Thank you for this information!!

  • Michael

    I think the other centers are doing the right thing by offering their services without additional costs, which I believe they would have to pick up if the student decides to attend. We should praise the kindness of people such as Kelli Abar not complain. When we are talking about our kid’s future I don’t think an extra 40 minutes of commute time is all that much to ask for. We all have to make sacrifices and if it means leaving earlier for work to drive your kid to one of these centers, then that’s what you do. If you show your kid you are willing to go that extra mile (my feeling is it is your parental responsibility not an extra mile) then I am sure they will reciprocate in the school setting.

    • J.Johnson

      Obviously the other centers are very generous in their offerings, but that is not what these parents signed up for. Allen Stock violated a trust. Most families had THOUSANDS of dollars in their accounts at the time of his abrupt closing. Why weren’t refunds made? Why is there no record of him filing bankruptcy? I don’t think that it is in any child’s best interest to drive 60-90 minutes ONE WAY to continue these services with another center. Think about it, These families need their money back so they can invest it in an alternate program close to home. Michael either you don’t have kids, you don’t live in the area to know that another hour in traffic down here can actually add up to another 2 or MORE, or you haven’t seen gas prices lately. Give me a break! Most of these families had to take out loans to pay for this and now you expect them to shrug it off and say that’s ok I’ll just dump more money into this. And obviously SYLVAN failed by allowing Allen Stock to do this.

    • Michelle

      Michael do you even have kids? I don’t care about driving 40 min’s ! It’s not about my time. Did you read my earlier post? My daughter does not need the tutoring any longer, she is doing fine. Should I punish her by making her spend 4 hours (between driving & tutoring time) just to get MY money. I am an adult I can handle 45 min’s one way in the car, my daughter is 8. I am not going to put my daughter through it. Don’t talk to me about sacrafices. . Do you understand that the point of the story was that these centers can close with no advance notice and parents can be left without any leverage to get the money back.

  • Chris

    We got taken by this guy as well……same thing. Keep the money in the account for future needs. Now, we are out a lot of money. Kindness by the other owners shouldn’t confuse what needs to be done with Allen Stock. He is a criminal and needs to be treated as such.

  • John

    There is blame to be shared by EVERYONE. (#1) Allen Stock should give the money back (#2) Slyvan needs a better corporate policy in place to protect the customer (#3) Pre-paying $5,000 sounds ridiculous. No one wants to lose $5,000, but lesson learned I hope. I’m guessing a lawsuit is pending? At least it appears the owner of some other centers has agreed to offer credit, albeit creating a commuting dilema. Has the person out the $$ contacted other centers for suggestions (such as home tutoring)? Maybe there is an instructor that lives close to Albertville?

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