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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

North Idaho College, found out of compliance by accreditation agency, receives warning

The entrance of North Idaho College is photographed on Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021. The college will not be put on probation, but has come under a warning from its accredidation commission to fix problems at the governance level.   (kathy plonka)

The agency that accredits North Idaho College did not put the college on probation and instead has issued a warning requiring NIC to resolve issues with the institution’s accreditation eligibility by spring 2023.

The issues arose from two complaints filed last year by human rights groups in four different counties to the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, which has accredited the Coeur d’Alene community college since 1950. The complaints outlined concerns with the conduct of NIC’s board of trustees, particularly the board’s majority led by Chair Todd Banducci.

The warning comes after an investigatory panel appointed by the commission conducted a virtual site visit in January to NIC, finding the college noncompliant with several standards needed for accreditation.

In a letter of action to NIC, dated Friday, the commission indicated the college is out of compliance with eligibility requirements and standards concerning governance, governing board and institutional integrity.

NIC trustees made a joint statement in May committing the board to several corrective actions in response to the initial complaint.

Commission President Sonny Ramaswamy, however, wrote in the letter of action that the board’s actions to date “do not provide assurance that the Board has or will follow through with the steps agreed to in the May 28, 2021, Board Statement to restore effective governance at North Idaho College.”

Failure to resolve these issues could result in probation or an order to show cause, the latter of which would require college officials to show why NIC’s accreditation status should continue.

The commission has made two requirements of NIC to resolve prior to an on-site evaluation next year.

The first calls for the college’s board of trustees to return to at least five members. The board – deadlocked with four members since the January resignation of Trustee Michael Barnes, who stepped down amid concerns with his residency – has been described by accreditation investigators and trustees alike as dysfunctional.

The second calls for the college board to review, affirm and adhere to institutional and board policies, “particularly those pertaining to appropriate roles and responsibilities, expectations, professional conduct and ethics, and grievance procedures,” according to the letter.

Beyond the warning, the commission will also monitor college board meetings and enrollment levels now until the spring 2023 visit.

The shadow of the accreditation investigation has loomed over North Idaho College.

A report issued by the investigatory panel last month indicated issues surrounding the board of trustees have resulted in the loss of approximately $4.1 million in legacy gifts and an estimated $343,000 in major gifts to the North Idaho College Foundation.

Meanwhile, the resulting publicity could affect enrollment this fall, as guidance counselors at Coeur d’Alene Public Schools and the Post Falls School District are recommending other schools to college-bound students, Interim President Michael Sebaaly said during a board meeting March 23. As of August, 22% of the college’s enrollment was composed of Coeur d’Alene Public Schools graduates, according to the school district.

“While this has been a tumultuous time for our college, I’m so proud that our faculty and staff have continued to deliver for our students and I’m gratified that the NWCCU review recognized their dedication,” Sebaaly said in a statement Monday. “While there is much work to be done on supporting our board in fulfilling its governance role, the NWCCU’s action speaks to how solid the college is in providing quality educational opportunities for our community.”

Accreditation makes North Idaho College eligible for federal financial aid and allows more opportunities for a student’s credits to transfer to another institution.

The letter of action helps ensure that, at least until next year, the college’s accreditation status is maintained.

“The NWCCU has identified specific areas of focus and improvement and I am personally committed to making sure we succeed because NIC plays a critical role in our region, for our students and for our local economy,” Banducci said in a statement.

The complaints against NIC were filed by the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations as well as the human rights task forces in Spokane, Bonner and Boundary counties.

NIC Trustee Christie Wood, who is president of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations, has said she recused herself from the complaints due to conflict of interest.

“We believe this ‘Letter of Action’ from the (Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities) to North Idaho College confirms many of our findings as well as our concerns,” the task forces said in a joint statement.

Prior to Friday’s letter of action, the college was required to submit a report by August as a result of the first complaint to show how actions by trustees and administrators meet certain accreditation eligibility requirements. That report is no longer required.

Instead, the commission has required the college to submit reports on a prescribed basis until the spring 2023 visit.

One set of reports, due within seven days of each board meeting, must include that meeting’s agenda, draft minutes, links to video recordings from the meeting, public comments and any changes in board membership. The reports must include updates on the progress to fill vacant leadership positions.

A national search is underway to find a full-time replacement for former President Rick MacLennan, who was fired without cause by the board in September. Meanwhile, the college’s vice president of instruction, vice president for student services, vice president for finance and business affairs and dean of instruction, workforce education, all left the college at the start of the year. At least two of those departures were motivated by their feelings toward the board .

The other report, which must include full-time-equivalent student enrollment data, is due immediately after the census date for each academic term. The census date is when student enrollments are finalized.

The Northwest Commission indicated the spring 2023 visit will determine whether to continue or remove the warning sanction.

“Lack of demonstrable evidence of progress to address the issues raised above could result in a sanction of Probation or Show Cause,” Northwest Commission president Sonny Ramaswamy wrote.