With population booming, North Idaho’s three colleges are jockeying for lead position in a three-way courtship of students.
The University of Idaho, a graduate research school; Lewis-Clark State College, a four-year degree school; and North Idaho College, a two-year community college, all are trying to expand yet get along in Kootenai County.
“It would be political suicide to even appear to be competitive,” said Lewis-Clark State College President Jim Hottois. “The taxpayers don’t want public institutions spending their funds competitively. They want public institutions to find ways to cooperate, and frankly, it only makes sense.”
So the three schools have commenced a careful waltz - progressing hand in hand while trying not to step on one other’s interests.
LCSC, which has strong nursing and business programs in Coeur d’Alene, is considering bringing its psychology program here. The UI’s expansion has quickened, too. To help prepare NIC students for fouryear programs, UI will offer transition courses in mechanical and electrical engineering, geology, geography and geographic information systems.
The colleges of engineering, business, mines, art and architecture and forestry all plan a presence in the new Kaniksu building, scheduled to open next month in the Riverbend Commerce Park at Post Falls.
Engineering Dean Richard Jacobsen and Associate Dean David Woodall are spending two days a week in Coeur d’Alene forging industry connections.
“This is lightning speed for a university, to decide to have an engineering school here and then do it,” said Research Park Director Doug McQueen.
Since the UI undergraduate engineering presence was squeezed out of Boise last year, the college has turned its focus north. Jacobsen and Woodall are determining what classes and degree programs to develop. Last week, 32 students came to a meeting to show interest in more courses.
“A room with 30 students in it is a definite immediate need,” Jacobsen said. “You can’t escape that when you walk in and see that number.”
Athol resident Gina Epling, 39, and 27-year-old Todd Kinsey of Coeur d’Alene, were among them.
Both own homes in Coeur d’Alene and work in the engineering field.
Epling, an electronics technician, had some basic credits from years ago. She wanted to add engineering classes to help her progress to the next echelon in her career. Women weren’t encouraged to pursue engineering 20 or 30 years ago, Epling said, and now homeownership hinders her mobility.
“Moscow is just far enough away to make it inconvenient to drive there every day,” Epling said. “Having a university extension program up here would help a lot of women who do have kids and don’t want to be torn away from their roots and family.”
The Kaniksu building also will house offices for the UI’s water resources and microelectronics research centers, McQueen said, as well as The Institute for Molecular, Agricultural and Genetic Engineering.
Two companies - Ednetics, a computer software consulting firm, and LCF Enterprises, an aircraft amplifier designer - have signed on as tenants.
The College of Art and Architecture is considering offering landscape and interior design next year, and a proposal to offer a joint UI-WSU master’s of landscape architecture is in the works.
“We anticipate a tremendous increase in the number of design professionals that will be working in North Idaho,” Dean Paul Windley said. “We hope they hire our graduates.”
As the only mining school in the Pacific Northwest, the College of Mines is hoping Washington legislators embrace a proposal to break down state tuition barriers in Kootenai, Bonner and Spokane counties.
“We have been salivating at the thought of recruiting across state lines with in-state tuition,” College of Mines Dean Earl Bennett said. “We want to have a solid program in place if that happens.”
Though some faculty say they’ll move to Coeur d’Alene for full-time positions, it may be years before programs require that level of staffing. Until then, professors must make do with so-called distance teaching, making weekly trips down narrow U.S. Highway 95.
UI President Bob Hoover’s strategic plan is still under construction in Moscow, but there’s no doubt it will include a renewed emphasis on outreach in Kootenai County, said UI Institutional Planner Larry Branen.
A $400,000 government grant will help defray costs to departments expanding in Coeur d’Alene, but additional dollars are likely to shift north as demand increases.
“Those colleges and departments that choose to take on that role may be reallocating internally,” Branen said.
Despite the recent furor over a local legislator’s suggestion that the two schools merge, NIC engineering professor Kurt Nelson said few fear the sound of UI’s footsteps approaching.
“This is not a takeover by any means. We are excited for our students because it isn’t easy for them to move their families and jobs,” Nelson said. “We are working cooperatively. There’s no animosity in any of the discussions so far.”
According to a demographics study released this week, population bulges are expected in three areas: traditional college age students in high school now, middle-aged adults like Epling returning for education and retired seniors.
“The growth is so substantial there’s plenty of enrollment for all,” said NIC Interim President Ron Bell. “We will just have to figure out who does what.”
And there’s the rub. UI and LCSC both offer many of the same four-year degrees.
The turf battles must be managed at the top, said UI Provost Brian Pitcher. For example, to avoid duplication last year, LCSC agreed to pull its teacher education program if UI would stop offering business classes in Coeur d’Alene.
“We are going to have to look at the strengths of each institution and build on that and that is going to take some hard work,” Hottois said.
“Maybe we’ll just flip a coin.”