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Free summer classes prep Minnesota students for college

ST. PAUL—A free, four-week summer program has enabled hundreds of underprepared students to get their remedial classes out of the way before starting college.

The Minnesota State system created its Summer Scholars Academy last year with a $1 million donation from Richard Fink, former head of the uniform company G & K Services, and his wife, Beverly.

Around 12 percent of new Minnesota State students are required to take remedial classes, which cost money but don't award credit toward graduation. Students who take development courses are far less likely to graduate than their peers.

The summer program is offered at eight Twin Cities two-year schools, including St. Paul College and Century College. It condenses semester-long remedial classes in math, reading or writing into 16 hours of class time over four weeks.

Besides brushing up on skills forgotten or never learned, students get wraparound support and a chance to get acclimated to their campus.

"They get lunch, they get a little bit of gas money to come, and when they hit the ground in the fall with their regular courses, they know where to go and who to get in touch with," said Matt Gardner, a math faculty member at North Hennepin Community College.

Emily Zilke, 22, struggled in math at Champlin Park High School and took fours years off before starting college at North Hennepin this fall. But after a four-week summer math class, she was able to enroll in college-level algebra last month instead of spending nearly $1,000 on remedial work.

"It definitely bridged the gap to get me to where I needed to be," she said.

Minnesota State says that out of the 143 participating students in summer 2017, 100 went on to enroll in higher-level, credit-bearing classes in at least one subject that fall, saving around $101,500 in tuition.

A study found summer academy students performed about as well in subsequent college classes as students who had taken full developmental courses during the regular school year. And 80 percent still were enrolled in the spring semester.

Minnesota State has paid special attention to underprepared students in recent years.

Schools have looked beyond the Accuplacer to other markers of college readiness, such as the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments taken during the 10th and 11th grades. They also have pared back some remedial courses from two semesters to one, and the system has made sure students don't have to retake remedial courses when they change schools.

The 12 percent of new students enrolled in development classes in 2015-16 was down from 18 percent in 2011-12.

The Finks' gift will pay for four years of Summer Scholars Academy. Minnesota State is working on a plan to keep the program going beyond 2020.

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