COEUR d'ALENE - About 80 people from all walks of life attended North Idaho College's three-part forum on the expansion of its professional technical education program.
Mark Browning, vice president of community relations and marketing, moderated the event and set the stage for what essentially became a community dialogue over the importance of where the facility is located, and how that will impact the students of those programs.
Browning said the NIC Board of Trustees will eventually have to make a decision based primarily of the size of the facility, where it will be located and the skills that will be taught there.
"Let's face it, we are running machines through computer chips now," he said. "And those computer skills are important along with the traditional technical skills."
Gayne Clifford, chairman of the business and professional program at NIC, made it clear that he feels the facility should be located on campus.
"These are my programs and these are not just the trades," he said. "Nobody is talking about where my programs will go."
Clifford said the PTE programs include a variety of classes, including computer technologies and other soft skills that cross over into the academic programs.
"It's important to keep all of the professional technical skills together," Clifford said, adding that classrooms will have to be built at either location and having that extra space on campus would be useful. "The technical programs will only be using the class space for a limited amount of time, and on campus we could combine uses of that space."
Jim Tippett, of Bay Shore Systems, has a different view as an employer. He said there is economic development value to locating the new facility near the KTEC campus on the Rathdrum Prairie.
"We experienced 120 percent growth last year, and we expect 30 percent more growth this year," he said, adding he will need everything from welders to engineers. "If the economy keeps doing what it's doing, we are going to need a facility like this."
He agrees with the sentiments expressed by many who advocate for keeping the soft skills integrated with the hard skills that are currently taught on campus, but he hopes the trustees will not overlook the potential they have for locating out on the prairie.
"Having one place for an employer to go and recruit employees would be a powerful recruitment tool for attracting other businesses to this area," he said after the meeting.
Clifford on the other hand, questioned the expected synergy between KTEC high school program and the technical program at NIC.
He explained that currently 16- to 19-year-old students account for only 12 percent of the PTE students at NIC, and that 14 percent of the PTE students are older than 45. The largest demographic - 23 percent of the PTE students - Clifford said was the 20- to 25-year-old age group.
"These student aren't coming out of high school and into the technical programs," he said. "These are students who are coming back to school after being in the workforce for awhile."
Students also had differing opinions of the location of the facility and how it might affect the education they receive. Many of the students in the PTE program said they preferred the campus location because many of the programs have academic requirements as part of their course work.
Loren Buchert is one of those students. He is currently enrolled in the collision repair program at the college, but he is also enrolled in academic classes and is a member of the NIC chapter of Phi Theta Kappa.
"Right now I can walk from my collision repair class and go to a Phi Theta Kappa meeting across campus," he said, adding he wouldn't have that opportunity if the program were moved.
Buchert has started a petition to gather student signatures favoring the campus location.
Kelly Nolan, a PTE student adviser at NIC, explained how moving the campus would complicate the education of most PTE students.
She said many of her students wind up taking their core academic requirements while waiting to get into specific PTE programs.
"This is not just the hard skills we are talking about, but the soft skills too," she said. "There is not black and white line, it's very much a gray line that is integrated."
Mark Magill, who teaches the automotive program, told the trustees that the automotive repair industry is one of those industries that has crossed that gray line.
"My program is a comprehensive two-year program," he said. "There are other core classes that have to be completed outside of the shop."
The future of his industry, he said, is automotive computer programming and makes sense to house his program where the students will have direct access to the academic classes offered on campus.
Sammi Caldwell, who is enrolled in NIC's graphic design program, said her classes are currently split between the NIC campus and the Workforce Training Center. She has a different take on the situation.
"I have to drive between this campus and the Post Falls campus, and I don't really mind. It's actually easier," she said. "I don't feel left out or segregated at all."
She said she would rather attend her classes in Post Falls because the parking is easier. She said she favors the KTEC location.
Robert Ketchum, who started NIC's Workforce Training Center in Post Falls, said the discussion is much the same as it was back when NIC decided to build the Post Falls campus.
"None of the faculty wanted to come out there back then," he said, adding that he took 10 full-time staff and a 100 part-time staff to open the facility. "And we moved 7,000 to 10,000 students year after year through there."
Ketchum said he doesn't think the site location will be an issue at all.
"To say that teaching and training are site dependent, or student services are site dependent is just wrong," he said. "Those can be delivered anywhere. Distance learning is the way of the world.
"And I think industry will go whereever they can park."
The meeting went 40 minutes over the expected adjournment time, but NIC trustee Ken Howard insisted on staying to hear what everyone had to say.
"We only have one more meeting and the trustees want to hear from the all parts of the community," he said, encouraging everyone to ask their friends and family to come out and give their input. "This is not going to be any easy decision, and we want to hear from you."
The last forum will be held on May 6 in the Edminster Student Union Building at NIC at 7 to 8 p.m. in the Driftwood Room. Others can comment online as well at www.nic.edu/feedback.