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NIC’s funding burden shifting to students

North Idaho College President Priscilla Bell addresses lawmakers Tuesday (Betsy Russell)
North Idaho College President Priscilla Bell addresses lawmakers Tuesday (Betsy Russell)

BOISE - North Idaho College has seen its funding burden shift more and more to its students, college President Priscilla Bell told Idaho lawmakers Tuesday, as soaring enrollment and falling state funding have pushed the college to draw more from student tuition and fees than it gets from the state.

“As with most higher education institutions, NIC has experienced significant growth in enrollment over the past four years,” Bell said. NIC’s for-credit student population has increased by 45 percent in four years; professional-technical education enrollment has grown “by a whopping 68 percent,” Bell told the Legislature’s joint budget committee Tuesday.

In 2005, the state provided 45 percent of NIC’s funding, while tuition and fees provided 27 percent, with local property taxes at 18 percent. Now, both student tuition and fees and local property taxes exceed state funding as a portion of NIC’s budget, with all near a third.

“More and more, the funding burden is shifting to our students,” Bell said. “This is also reflected in our students taking on more debt. … We’re very worried about the amount of debt our students are incurring, which on average, over the last few years, has doubled.”

Bell said the typical NIC student now leaves the two-year community college with $3,200 in debt. “It is alarming,” she said.

Her budget pitch to lawmakers Tuesday came as all three of the state’s community colleges made their budget appeals.

Bert Glandon, president of the College of Western Idaho, told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee that the Treasure Valley’s fast-growing community college has connected students with more than $53 million in grants, scholarships and student loans. “Nearly 40 percent of aid applicants reported family income at or below the federal poverty threshold, and 77 percent were eligible for Pell grants,” Glandon said. “Students coming to CWI need an affordable solution that does not turn them away.”

Though Gov. Butch Otter’s proposed budget for the state’s community colleges for next year shows a large percentage increase in state general funds from this year’s reduced level – 19 percent, or $4.4 million - it’s effectively a “no-growth … straight line from fiscal year 2012” for North Idaho College, Bell said. That’s because $1 million of the increase goes to the College of Western Idaho near Boise to cover part of its huge student growth; and $1.4 million goes to CWI and the College of Southern Idaho for occupancy costs for new buildings on those two campuses.

NIC would get $706,900 to cover increased numbers of students next year, under the governor’s recommendation, but nothing to cover the increases that already have occurred; he made the same recommendation regarding enrollment costs at all three community colleges and at the state’s four-year colleges and universities.

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NIC requested funding for three additional items next year; none were recommended for funding by the governor. They include $99,800 to expand dual-enrollment programs with area high schools; $250,000 to restart the college’s physical therapist assistant program, which Bell said is needed to serve North Idaho’s health sector; and a $528,700 request for remodeling to allow student services to be consolidated in a single building.

Bell, who made her final budget presentation to the Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee on Tuesday because she’s retiring in June after heading the Coeur d’Alene college for five years, told lawmakers, “I want to make this clear: We very much appreciate what you do here and how difficult your job is. I only want to point out … this trend. … It’s a good, accurate picture of our funding situation. You can see how, over the years, the funding shift has occurred.”



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