‘No additional chances:’ NIC faces another threat to accreditation

(UPDATED, 8:13 p.m., with details on meeting between NIC officials and accreditors, and comments from interim President Gregory South.)

Regional accreditors and North Idaho College trustees met Friday to discuss the college’s tenuous future.

And after the meeting, interim President Gregory South had a blunt message for the campus community.

“The most important step is occurring right now – the recognition by the board and the NIC community that there are no additional chances,” South said in an email to staff and students.

The meeting — and the candid assessment — came a day after accreditors put NIC on the clock. The embattled Coeur d’Alene community college will have to make a written case explaining why it should remain accredited. This letter, due March 13, will be NIC’s second formal response to accreditors in two months.

The demand from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities is the latest chapter in an accreditation saga that has been unfolding for more than a year. The outcome could have immediate and profound effects on NIC’s 5,711 students. If NIC loses its accreditation, students would not be able to transfer their credits to another school, and students would be ineligible for state scholarships.

In a letter to NIC officials Thursday, the accreditation commission’s head also minced no words, blasting trustees’ approach to the college’s ongoing accreditation issues.

“(The board of trustees) fails to sufficiently appreciate the jeopardy it is placing the institution in with respect to the welfare and viability of the institution,” commission President Sonny Ramaswamy wrote.

In the blistering eight-page letter, Ramaswamy recapped a litany of problems facing the college, including trustees’ decision to place President Nick Swayne on paid administrative leave, while bringing in South as interim president; a continued decline in enrollment; declining donor support; and a “continued exodus of faculty, staff and senior administrators.”

In official parlance, the commission’s letter is a “sanction of show cause.” That means  NIC must explain why it believes it should remain accredited. Accreditors expect NIC’s response to address 10 specific concerns, including:

  • Questions of “short-term financial health and long-term financial sustainability.”
  • Whether NIC has “sufficient” administrative staffing.
  • Whether the current board of trustees is a “functioning” governing body.
  • Whether ethical standards are applied to all of NIC’s “academic programs, operations, and relationships.”
North Idaho College interim President Gregory South

After NIC responds in writing, the commission will send a five-person peer review team to the campus for a site visit, scheduled for April 17-18.

Speaking to legislative budget-writers in January, South said NIC would have adequate time to address accreditation questions, downplaying the immediate threat to students.

“They don’t want to pull a school’s accreditation,” he said. “They could move quickly, but we would have time to sort through it.”

In an email to staff Thursday, college officials again sought to reassure staff and students. “Please communicate with students and others that throughout this process, NIC remains accredited.”

The response to the latest accreditation threat will fall to a divided board of trustees — which has been split on a number of key decisions, including the moves to put Swayne on leave and hire South to take his place.

On Friday, South emphasized that trustees must set aside their differences, and employees and the community also need to pull together for the good of the college.

“It is the responsibility of this seated board of five duly elected trustees, the current employees of the college, and the community NIC serves to take ownership and be part of the solution to maintain NIC’s accreditation status, an honor proudly held since 1947,” South said in his email. “Working together, I am confident we will resolve these issues.”

More coverage of Thursday’s commission letter, from Kaye Thornbrugh of the Coeur d’Alene Press.

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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