North Idaho College has made some progress addressing the problems that have placed the college’s accreditation in peril, according to a site review report this week.
But the report says many of NIC’s pressing issues linger: a precipitous drop in enrollment, staff turnover, turmoil in top management, and an environment of “distrust, poor communication (and) conspiracy.”
The 26-page Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities report doesn’t tip the commission’s hand. Sometime this summer, NWCCU is expected to issue an accreditation decision that could have a dramatic impact on the 90-year-old community college and its 4,000 students.
But Ron Larson, an NWCCU senior vice president, notes some “initial improvement” in the college’s crisis response — and the hard work ahead.
“The college president and board of trustees, individually and collectively, bear the great and vitally important responsibility of figuring out how to work together in a spirit of peace and unity to govern the college effectively,” Larson wrote. “The future of North Idaho College and its students hinges upon their willingness and ability to do so.”
The report, released Thursday, comes three weeks after an NWCCU site visit to the Coeur d’Alene campus.
Some new wrinkles from the site visit, and the report:
- Larson commended NIC board Chairman Greg McKenzie for pledging to take student, staff and faculty concerns seriously — after a string of 13 votes of no confidence over two years. But Larson noted that McKenzie’s pledge came the week of the site visit — prompting some skeptics to suggest McKenzie was “pandering” to accreditors. “Sustained action is paramount,” Larson wrote.
- NIC’s enrollment has declined for a decade, and this year’s enrollment drop translates to a $500,000 revenue loss. A similar shortfall is likely next year. However, Larson noted, “Not all members of the board of trustees consider addressing the enrollment decline as a strategic initiative that NIC should pursue.”
- The report also cast a harsh light on staff turnover. NIC has 471 full-time positions, but 29 are vacant, 21 will be held dark to bankroll pay raises, and the college hasn’t decided what to do about an additional 23 vacancies. “The number of individuals leaving the college peaked at 102 in fiscal year 2022,” Larson wrote. “The rate of employee departures in the current fiscal year will rival the number from last year.”
- Larson criticized college leadership for failing to engage trustees in the writing of a crucial report in March — in which the college presented its case for accreditation to the NWCCU. Some trustees said they had little time to review the report beforehand, and said the college downplayed or dismissed their comments. “This lack of coordination … highlights the governance challenges facing North Idaho College.”