State Board letter: Accreditation issue places NIC in peril

(UPDATED, 5:58 p.m., with comment from North Idaho College.)

A loss of accreditation could cause irreparable harm to North Idaho College and its students, and trustees need to “set aside parochial or partisan interests” for the good of the college, State Board of Education leaders said Friday.

The strongly worded letter comes as the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities has received written complaints about college trustees. The NWCCU, the region’s accrediting body, has directed the college to address accreditation issues in an addendum to its annual report, which is due on Aug. 1.

“Action or inaction by the college’s board of trustees that places accreditation at risk would result in long-term injury to the very students you were elected to serve,” State Board President Kurt Liebich and Executive Director Matt Freeman wrote in a letter to the five trustees. “It would also significantly impair the college’s ability to recruit and retain students, faculty and staff. Indeed, the very viability of the college itself could hang in the balance.”

If the Coeur d’Alene-based college loses its accreditation, the effects could be far-reaching:

  • A degree from a non-accredited school would be a liability, not an asset, for graduates seeking to transfer. “Perhaps only an unscrupulous and predatory diploma mill would recognize credits from an unaccredited institution,” Liebich and Freeman wrote.
  • NIC’s dual-credit courses would no longer transfer to accredited state schools.
  • NIC students would be ineligible for Idaho’s Opportunity Scholarship.
  • Most employers consider work credentials only from accredited schools. “Loss of accreditation would negatively impact the ability of many northern Idaho businesses and industries (e.g., aerospace, forestry, heavy equipment manufacturing) to meet their workforce needs,” Liebich and Freeman wrote.

The State Board plans to discuss NIC accreditation issues during its Dec. 15 meeting in Boise. In their letter, Liebich and Freeman noted the board has statutory authority over Idaho’s two-year schools.

“While the State Board respects the local governance of community colleges, it also has a legal and moral interest in the health of the colleges,” they wrote.

On Monday afternoon, Interim President Michael Sebaaly said he hasn’t had the chance to discuss the letter with Freeman. But in a statement to the NIC community, Sebaaly said he will try to facilitate conversations between State Board staff and elected college trustees.

“It’s imperative that we listen to one another and work in partnership, putting our students first in all decision-making,” Sebaaly said.

In a letter last week, the NWCCU said the college’s ability to comply with federal regulations and accreditation guidelines was “of concern.” Hannah Neff of the Coeur d’Alene Press reported Saturday on the NWCCU letter.

These are serious allegations that NIC will not take lightly,” Sebaaly said last week. “While our accreditation is solid today, we cannot take that for granted and as you will read in the NWCCU letter, the tone of concern is real.”

Through a college spokesperson, board chairman Todd Banducci said he is urging colleagues to put their differences aside when NWCCU officials come to campus for a January site visit.

“When the board meets with representatives from the commission, I’ll take their fact-finding mission with serious credence,” Banducci said, according to the Press.

The accreditation complaints — directed at Banducci and his allies — come as NIC and its board are in turmoil.

Trustees voted 3-2 to fire President Rick MacLennan. Banducci, Greg McKenzie and Michael Barnes offered no explanation for the move. Trustees Ken Howard and Christie Wood opposed the ouster.

Five NIC leadership jobs, including the president’s post and its three vice president posts, are now open or will soon be vacant, NIC spokeswoman Laura Rumpler said Monday evening.

Wood blamed the accreditation problem on Banducci, McKenzie and Barnes.

“Their Wild West approach of ignoring standards for their own partisan agendas has put our students and our taxpayers at great risk,” Wood said Monday.



Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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