BOISE – Gov. Butch Otter is recommending that North Idaho College get state funding next year to expand its Sandpoint Outreach Center to offer more classes, both credit and non-credit, now being requested by residents in the area.
The $226,700 recommendation is part of a 9 percent increase in community college funding Otter is recommending next year, but much of the $2.8 million increase would go to cover enrollment increases at the fast-growing College of Western Idaho and occupancy costs for new buildings at both CWI and the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls.
Still, NIC President Joe Dunlap welcomed the additional funding, which he said was “our only piece” of the increase. “We serve over 600 students in Sandpoint,” he said. “The Sandpoint community has been extremely supportive, and helped us raise $150,000 to put in a science lab.” As of this fall, the center now provides a full associate’s degree program, without leaving Sandpoint; that wasn’t possible before the addition of the science lab.
If lawmakers go along with the governor’s recommendation, possible new programs at the Sandpoint center in the future could include classes in outdoor pursuits, medical assisting, physical therapy assisting and more, Dunlap said.
“The city of Sandpoint helps offset our lease in our facility by $40,000 per year,” Dunlap told lawmakers. “We are extremely grateful for their assistance and support. We hope you’ll see your way clear to support that as well.”
NIC serves the five northernmost counties in the state, Kootenai, Bonner, Boundary, Benewah and Shoshone. In addition to the Sandpoint center, the Coeur d’Alene-based college has outreach centers in the Silver Valley and Bonners Ferry.
The governor’s proposal also calls for funding for a new Idaho Falls outreach center for CSI, at $143,600; and increased funding for nursing programs at CWI, which are transitioning from a professional-technical program to a full associate degree program, at $302,900. CWI, located west of Boise, is the state’s newest and fastest-growing community college, established in 2007.
North Idaho College is Idaho’s oldest, established in 1933. “This year we are celebrating our 80th anniversary,” Dunlap said.
NIC gets only 22.5 percent of its funding from the state general fund; 34 percent comes from tuition and fees, 31 percent from local property taxes; 9 percent from the state’s professional-technical education fund; and small fractions come from state liquor taxes and other sources.
“Consistent with national trends, our enrollment has peaked and begun to decline,” Dunlap told the Legislature’s joint budget committee on Monday morning. This year, enrollment at NIC is down 11 percent. As a result, the college has cut $840,000 from its budget, largely by holding positions open and reducing travel and professional development. Dunlap said student access to classes didn’t suffer, and the largest enrollment drops were in workforce training classes.
“Our enrollment traditionally is inversely proportional to what is happening in the economy,” Dunlap said. That’s why it rose during the recession, and now is starting to drop again as the economy recovers.
One North Idaho College proposal that didn’t get the governor’s nod in his proposed budget for next year: Establishing a new center to support veterans returning to school at NIC. The Coeur d’Alene college proposed hiring an advisor to staff the center and help student vets access benefits and ease their transition back to school and civilian life.
“We have a growing population of veterans, and we need to be able to serve them well,” Dunlap said; he said there’s no other funding source for the proposed center, so without state funding, NIC won’t be able to set it up next year. “We won’t be able to provide the full array of services,” he said.
Dunlap told lawmakers, “The need for this is crucial as that population continues to grow and has unique issues that need to be served.”
Several lawmakers on the committee expressed concern about the issue. Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston, said with increasing numbers of returning veterans, all the state’s colleges and universities will need to address that.
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