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After 2 Decades, School Is Still ‘Best-Kept Secret’

Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles Urban League’s Data Processing Training Center is “the best-kept secret” in the city. Just ask Karon Gordon, who manages the center.

Gordon is a little biased toward the computer school, a point she admits. Then again, the privately funded computer school does offer something hard to find: free job training for unemployed minorities. And, yet, the center is still trying to fill classes that start next week.

Part of the challenge is just “trying to get the word out” that such a program exists, Gordon said. Also, the center is choosy, accepting only 10% of the applicants.

The center at 7226 S. Figueroa St. marks its 20th anniversary this month and held graduation ceremonies Monday for 30 computer programmers and operators. Students, faculty and friends of the school all sang its praises.

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“This 20-year experience has been something awesome,” John W. Mack, president of the Los Angeles Urban League, told the graduates and an audience of about 200. “We’re on the cutting edge of training and opportunity.”

The center’s first class enrolled 17 key-punch operators, Gordon said. Since then computers have become many times more powerful, and the center has “gotten lots of competition” from other schools devoted to computer training. But the Los Angeles school remains one of the few privately funded schools in the country to offer free classes to all its students, she said.

Applicants must pass an aptitude test and personal interview. “We don’t make any bones about the fact that this is a tough program,” Mack said.

About 80% of those who enroll make it through the course, Gordon said. More than 90% of those who complete the program find jobs after they graduate. She said the center holds five graduations a year for between 30 and 45 students. There are more than 2,600 graduates.

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The program’s operating costs, which Gordon estimated at “somewhere close to half a million dollars a year,” are met through grants of manpower, materials and funding from the Los Angeles Urban League and eight corporate sponsors.

In addition to computer training, the school also teaches job skills and motivation to its students. Lita Wood, computer operations supervisor for Hughes Aircraft, recalled that she was “doing absolutely nothing” when she decided to enroll in the program in 1979.

The computer training course “has been the most important factor in my life,” she added.


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