Making progress when ‘business’ is slumping

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North Idaho College’s enrollment plummeted after the recession, and it isn’t roaring back. NIC has lost more than a quarter of its full-time enrollment since 2011.

Its default rate — the percentage of students who default on their federal student loans — is 23.02 percent, according to Student Loan Report (studentloans.net). SLR says that’s the highest default rate in Idaho.

NIC also is keeping an eye on the upcoming vote that would create another community college, this one in eastern Idaho. The state’s funding pie will either have to grow or NIC will have to fight harder for its fair share if the new college is approved by voters in May.

So if you’re NIC, a key piece of your income is at best uncertain, your customer base is dwindling and too many of your customers leave the store ill-equipped for the future; the very investment they supposedly were making in the first place. That’s enough to turn school administrators’ hair gray — or lose it altogether.

But you won’t hear the clacking crescendo of worry beads on NIC’s gorgeous campus. You’ll hear voices of reason explain why the North Idaho sky isn’t falling on our community college.

First, NIC is far from alone in seeing students staying away in droves. Community colleges in particular are hit hard when the economy improves. Many people attend community college to make themselves employable, but when they can get a decent job without that educational investment, a lot of them do. (And many will be back when the economy sours, which it inevitably will.)

NIC also learned from some of the recession’s hard lessons, which is what you like to see from an education facility. Perhaps the biggest lesson was that many of the students who signed up during hard times should never have been there in the first place. Graydon Stanley, an NIC vice president, told The Press a lot of those recession-era students received loans to pay bills, not to advance their educations. Rather than going all-out on recruiting, the college is now wisely focused on retaining students and ensuring they’re getting the best education possible, be it in their work toward a two-year degree or a valuable technical or professional certificate.

Because your tax dollars help support North Idaho College, you have a right to demand the institution is being run responsibly. NIC’s board of trustees and administration are doing some good things despite increasing health care costs and other factors it can’t control. The college has reduced staffing by 24 full-time equivalents since the enrollment decline impact hit, and made cuts in travel and other operational expenses.

What’s the long-term solution? Another recession? We sure hope not. Continuing to deliver what today’s market demands and what tomorrow’s market will want remains a high priority. NIC is also putting increased emphasis on its dual enrollment program, which allows high school students to take college classes at a reduced rate. That helps get students on a healthy post-secondary track, accumulating college credits and removing some of the fear factor of going on in their educational quest. And it packs the pipeline for potential full-time students just a little further down the road, which is music to NIC’s ears, and money in its bank.

Sorry, Rick

Sunday’s editorial listed six distinguished Kootenai County residents serving on two governor-appointed, education-related task forces.

A seventh was inadvertently omitted: North Idaho College President Rick MacLennan, who’s one of 36 statewide members of the Higher Education Task Force.

The editor of The Press apologizes for that embarrassing oversight.

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