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STEVE CHIOTAKIS: Enrollment at community colleges is soaring as unemployed workers head back to class to try and upgrade their skills. Today, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is announcing a $6 million grant to expand a model program in Washington State that promotes remedial education to help more students get their community-college degree. Marketplace's Mitchell Hartman filed this report.


Teacher: If you were going to put this in with a milling machine you could not put a blind if you'd bored a hole through it, and sunk it down.

MITCHELL HARTMAN: Twenty-five students -- mostly middle-aged men -- are packed into a community-college classroom in Longview, Wash., a struggling mill town. They're studying for a certificate in manufacturing processes.

Robert Rondinelli has a high-school diploma. He worked as a cabinet-maker until he was laid off last year.

ROBERT RONDINELLI: In my classes that I'm taking I'm doing very well in most except the math. The math is what I need the most.

Rondinelli's learning remedial math together with trade skills like welding and manufacturing processes. He's part of a program that pairs basic academics and job training in a single class. Most students have to pass English and math before getting job training.

HILARY PENNINGTON: It slows them down, it trips them up, and a great number of them never get out of it.

Hilary Pennington is with the Gates Foundation. She says community-college students in Washington's program complete certificates at four times the rate of other students. The $6-million grant will help expand the program, which Pennington says could become a national model.

Robert Rondinelli is hoping for classroom success and a job.

RONDINELLI: Nowadays they're requiring a lot more skill for entry-level. Otherwise I'd be right at the bottom of the heap.

I'm Mitchell Hartman for Marketplace.

Follow Mitchell Hartman at @entrepreneurguy