Special Reports

Young mother’s efforts to better herself end in disappointment

Toni Cornell was 17 years old, single and pregnant with her third child when she enrolled at Business Computer Training Institute’s Tacoma campus in 2002. She was working nights at Jack in the Box and needed food stamps and medical coupons to get by.

But she wanted more for herself and her children.

“I’m not trying to be one of those teen moms who sit around and do nothing,” she said recently. “I want something.”

So Cornell was receptive when a BCTI recruiter approached her at a Department of Social and Health Services parking lot in Tacoma. Later, a BCTI saleswoman told her she could earn nearly $20 an hour after graduation, she said.

Cornell signed a disclaimer that BCTI did not guarantee employment or wages. But she said the saleswoman told her not to pay attention to it, because that was for people who didn’t work hard.

“She told me if you were here every day and worked hard, you’d get a good-paying job,” Cornell said.

Once enrolled, Cornell found BCTI classes to be poorly taught. She said some were so overcrowded – as many as 40 to 50 people to one instructor – that it was difficult to get help from her teacher.

When she graduated, Cornell applied for numerous clerical jobs, without success. She got a job as a warehouse janitor, making $9.50 an hour. Later, she earned even less at Diane’s Foods in Fife and at Macy’s.

Recently she got a job as an office assistant at Western State Hospital, making $11.80 an hour. She’s finally off welfare, but owes more than $8,000 in student loans and interest.

“I improved (my situation) because of myself, not because of BCTI,” said Cornell, who has joined a class-action lawsuit against the school.

David Wickert, The News Tribune