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More Minnesota students need remedial work

Of 2005 high school graduates, 38 percent required remedial courses when they enrolled at state public colleges or universities.

The reality for many students at Minnesota's public schools is simple: More and more are paying tuition for courses that don't count toward a degree in order to simply reach the college starting line.

Colleges and universities describe the courses as developmental or remedial. They are classes that teach what colleges believe students should have learned in high school.

Whatever the title, the number of Minnesota high school graduates taking those courses is growing.

According to a study released Wednesday by the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, 38 percent of 2005 graduates that enrolled at an in-state public school had to take at least one remedial course. That's an increase from 36 percent three years ago.

While MnSCU officials said there is a gap in college preparation, the increase in the percentage of students doesn't necessarily mean the K-12 system is doing a poorer job. That's because universities are doing more placement testing of new students and requiring them to take remedial courses before advancing.

Remedial education is expensive and time consuming. And while most students need only one such class -- usually in math -- there are some who take longer to get a degree because of remedial work.

System change needed

Minnesota Education Commissioner Alice Seagren hopes that K-12 curriculum changes requiring students to take more advanced math and science courses will help close the gap. Seagren doesn't believe colleges and universities have overly ambitious expectations.

"They're very connected with the demands of professions and what it takes to be successful," she said.

Kent Pekel, executive director of the college readiness consortium at the University of Minnesota and former administrator with the St. Paul public schools, said that part of the problem is the result of the K-12 and higher education systems not being aligned.

"They really are two very, very different systems," Pekel said. "Historically in the United States we've left it to kids and families to navigate, to make the jump from one to another. That worked pretty well when we only needed 20 percent of our kids to go on to college.

"We can no longer leave it to the students and their families to get on that path to higher education."

The reasons why students end up in remedial courses vary. Some are products of small schools that don't offer a full complement of college prep courses. Others simply didn't take enough challenging high school courses or struggled in placement exams.

Community colleges are big users

The largest numbers of students taking remedial courses are at the state's two-year colleges, schools that admit anyone with a high school diploma.

At two-year colleges, 48 percent of 2005 Minnesota high school graduates took at least one remedial course. That dropped to 29 percent at MnSCU's four-year universities and 7 percent at the University of Minnesota's campuses.

The U's numbers have decreased in recent years almost exclusively because the school has increased its academic profile.

The report also includes data on how many graduates from 2003-06 enrolled in in-state public schools and how many required remedial classes.

Sixty high schools in the state -- a list that includes many charter, alternative and inner-city schools -- had more than 50 percent of its graduates at Minnesota schools requiring remedial work. Thirty-one of those schools had more than 60 percent of their graduates in need of remediation.

Only 11 high schools had less than 20 percent of graduates require remediation. Best in the state was Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley, a small school in west-central Minnesota that had only 13 percent of its students need them.

Wellstone International High School, designed to serve students with little or no ability to speak English, had 96 percent of its graduates require remedial courses.

More than 50 percent of graduates of 18 regular high schools from 2003-06 required remedial courses.

Jeff Shelman 612-673-7478

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