Twenty-one students are settling in for an afternoon in Rosie DuBose's Reading 90 class at Century College in White Bear Lake.
"Open your textbook to the race and ethnicity chapter, you should be done marking it today, and you're done right? Because I'll be walking around to see if you're done"
Dubose is guiding students through the basics of college level reading comprehension.
"Where did I get that information? At the back of the chapter, hint hint. Remember the back of the chapter gives you lots of information."
Several students in this class are working toward two year technical degrees in law enforcement or the medical field. Others are planning on transferring to a four year college once they've covered the basics at Century.
DuBose spends much of the 75 minute long class working individually with students.
"OK how about you guys," she asks.
"I got to rewrite this because it's too much," a student says.
"It is too much because you can't study from these big sentences that you can't understand," DuBose says. Students end up in the Reading 90 class for a variety of reasons.
Some need extra help in reading comprehension before heading on to college level courses. Others have spent time away from school, and need a refresher on how to deal with a textbook full of information. Others are the children of immigrants, and may not have been prepared for college because their families didn't think it was an option.
Whatever their reason for being here, most students don't want to be in this class, at least not at first.
"About this time of the semester they're so pleased they're here, and they realize what they're learning and how they're going to carry it on and how it's going to help in their other classes," Dubose says.
One student who's realized the importance of this remedial reading course is David Thompson, 18, of Oakdale.
"You know how you get an assignment and (the teachers) tell you to write an essay on it, or just some form of reading. And basically what they do is they teach you ways to break it down and get what's important out of the article."
Twenty-eight percent of Century College's 9,000 plus students are registered for at least one remedial course. That's lower than the statewide average at Minnesota's two-year colleges, where at last check 48 percent of students needed remedial classes. At MnSCU's four-year schools, about 29 percent of students are in remedial courses.
"We would like that number to go down. We would like to see more people coming more prepared," says Linda Baer, MnSCU's senior vice chancellor.
MnSCU is working closely with the state's high schools and even middle schools, to get students ready for college, Baer says.
By Minnesota law, MnSCU's community colleges have to take anyone with a high school diploma. That's not the case at the four-year schools, where entry requirements are more rigorous. At MnSCU's four year schools about 29 percent of students are in remedial courses. A high school diploma is not proof students are ready to do college level work, Baer says.
"We are finding it not to be the case," says Baer. "Because students can go through high school, take courses that don't include the rigorous math and science, and many of them do."
One motivation for colleges to decrease the number of students in remedial classes is cost. MnSCU spends $20 million annually on its remediation programs. Half of that is paid through student tuition and fees, the other half is picked up by the state.
A national study this fall reported that remedial courses cost colleges, parents, students and taxpayers more than $2.3 billion every year.
Remedial courses don't add to the total credits a student needs to graduate, meaning students often spend more time and money in pursuit of a diploma.
While MnSCU would like to see fewer students taking remedial courses, offering the classes is part of the system's mission, Baer says.
"We need to take students where they are and assist them to where they need to be. And if one course, two courses, three courses help them do that, then all the better."
Remedial courses are less of an issue for the University of Minnesota, where students face more stringent entrance requirements. The latest figures show only 7 percent of U of M students need the classes.
Minnesota's private colleges don't offer remedial courses but provide tutors to students who need help getting up to speed.