Century College instructor Jennifer Jakubic is putting her students to work. Their assignment today is to break down the Preamble to the Constitution.
You know, "We the People of the United States, to form a more perfect union..." and turn it into something that's easier for them to understand.
Most of the 22 students in this reading class are recent immigrants to the U.S. They've got ambitious goals. They want to be engineers, nurses and dental assistants.
But before they begin studying for those careers, they need to become more proficient in English.
The students take classes throughout the day in reading, conversation and writing, for one full year, to help them toward their goal of starting a career.
"The basic idea is to prepare them for college reading, and to be prepared to deal with vocabulary issues," said Jakubic. "Because that's going to be a big roadblock for these students."
But some at Century College say cuts to the state's higher education budget will slow down the students' progress toward becoming taxpaying members of society. Kathy Matel works with Century College students whose primary language is not English.
“There isn't any excess. I've wracked my brain thinking, 'What could we cut?' and I haven't come up with anything.”Kathy Matel, Century College
"If we didn't have these classes for these students, they couldn't access higher education," Matel said. "They're not ready."
Budget cuts could result in fewer classes for the students, Matel says. She's also worried the department will need to lay off instructors or computer lab assistants.
"There isn't a lot of excess," Matel said. "There isn't any excess. I've wracked my brain thinking, 'What could we cut?' and I haven't come up with anything," said Matel.
Other Century College officials echo that frustration.
"If there were cuts that we could make that were going to have minimum consequences, we probably made them already, and now they're all just -- it seems like they're really hard," said John O'Brien, acting president of Century College.
Century trimmed the fat from its budget in 2003 when the MnSCU system was handed a 15 percent reduction in funding, which amounted to more than $191 million dollars, O'Brien says.
Currently the college is trimming another $500,000 from its $50 million-a-year budget. That's because the governor unalloted those funds to settle this year's budget shortfall.
O'Brien knows more cuts are coming as the state deals with its two-year, $5 billion deficit. But like others in Minnesota's higher education community, he's reluctant to offer up thoughts on what might be on the way.
MnSCU officials, along with their peers at the University of Minnesota, were asked to do just that recently at the Minnesota State Capitol.
MnSCU chief financial officer Laura King answered a tough question from the State Senate's Higher Education Committee: What will happen if your budget is cut by 20 percent?
King's answer: It will hurt the mission of MnSCU.
According to King, if MnSCU chooses to deal with a 20 percent funding cut by raising tuition, that increase would be 20 percent or more.
MnSCU officials say they're not likely to handle cuts solely through a tuition hike, but rather with a mix of cost-cutting measures and a tuition increase.
For one student at Century College in White Bear Lake, where students now pay about $4,500 a year to attend, even the mention of a tuition increase brings strong reaction.
"Sucks," says Corey Anorve-Andress. "I don't like that thought at all."
Anorve-Andress is taking general courses at Century College, and plans to get a four-year law enforcement degree at St. Paul's Metropolitan State University. With the help of loans and grants, he's working his way through college.
"I worked all summer, over 40 hours every week and saved my money up. And now I'm working at school," said Anorve-Andress.
Students worried about tuition increases may take some comfort in comments Gov. Tim Pawlenty made in his recent State of the State address.
The governor proposed a cap on tuition increases at MnSCU and the University of Minnesota, to keep colleges from passing the pain of budget cuts to students and their parents.
Higher education officials at MnSCU say they have only two sources of revenue, state support and tuition. Each amounts to about 50 percent of their revenue.
A decrease in state support may translate directly to an increase in tuition. If that's not an option, the result could be cuts at colleges across the state, including Century College.