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North Idaho College contends with accreditation warning, calls for board chair’s resignation may lead to eroded community trust

UPDATED: Wed., April 6, 2022

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 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)

North Idaho College is an accredited institution.

That’s the message college leaders are hoping the community understands amid an ongoing inquiry into NIC’s accreditation status.

While NIC remains accredited through the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, the commission has issued a warning to the college, to meet certain accreditation eligibility requirements by spring 2023 or face further consequences, including possible probation.

After a year of the resulting attention – March 2021 was when four area human rights groups filed an initial complaint concerning NIC’s accreditation eligibility – public confidence in the school has apparently eroded.

“If we do get a sanction, sometimes up to 10% of your enrollment is lost as a result of that,” Interim President Michael Sebaaly told members of the college Board of Trustees during a March 23 meeting, “and with the publicity that we are getting, we may start seeing that this fall.

“There are in-roads being made by (University of Idaho), in Post Falls and in the Coeur d’Alene school district, and guidance counselors are recommending other places to those students,” he continued. “To give you an idea, a 1% drop in enrollment is about $100,000, approximately, in tuition revenue.”

As an accredited institution, NIC is eligible for federal financial aid and allows more opportunities for a student’s credits to transfer to another institution. Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities has accredited NIC since 1950.

The commission’s warning comes after an investigation into complaints over the conduct of the Board of Trustees and the its chairman, Todd Banducci.

Sebaaly said he heard about guidance counselors pointing students elsewhere from several parents of high school students. NIC spokeswoman Laura Rumpler said there was apparently confusion with one high school college and career adviser in the Coeur d’Alene School District that has been resolved.

Post Falls Superintendent Dena Nacarrato said she is unaware of any guidance counselors deterring students from attending NIC.

“Certainly NIC’s accreditation status is a concern for all of us, as we value our local community college greatly,” she said in an email.

Likewise, the Coeur d’Alene School District has not changed course from promoting opportunities at NIC to students, such as dual-enrollment courses, said Superintendent Shon Hocker, who noted that he could not speak to individual conversations Sebaaly may have had on the subject.

As of August , 1,492 Coeur d’Alene district graduates were attending NIC, representing 22% of the college’s enrollment, according to the school district. In order for credits from NIC earned by Coeur d’Alene School District dual-enrollment students to transfer, the college must remain an accredited institution, Hocker said.

Hocker said the district remains optimistic the college can resolve its accreditation issues.

“I suspect that for any university in the whole country, they absolutely rely very heavily on those local partnerships with their local high schools,” he said, “and if they were to ever be in jeopardy of not being accredited, then those local districts would have no choice if they want to continue to provide some sort of dual-credit or postsecondary opportunities; they would probably look for those elsewhere.”

The investigation into NIC’s accreditation eligibility found the college in compliance in all operational and instructional areas.

The commission has found the college out of compliance with eligibility requirements and standards concerning governance, governing board and institutional integrity.

Rectifying the situation will require the 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 a letter of action to the college. The board is also required to have at least five members.

Trustees are scheduled to interview candidates vying to replace Michael Barnes, who resigned in January, during a public meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday. Sebaaly said trustees may also make a decision that night.

Sebaaly said the commission has set forth “a simple message” for NIC to reach a resolution, such as hiring for key leadership positions, including a full-time president, and addressing “comments and concerns from different constituent groups.”

“It’s coming in every day and demonstrating our commitment to meeting those responsibilities,” Sebaaly said.

Banducci has faced repeated calls to step down, both as board chair and as a trustee altogether.

He was recently accused of assault by Coeur d’Alene Councilman Dan Gookin, who claimed Banducci confronted him on St. Patrick’s Day during a Kootenai County Republican Central Committee meeting at the Altar Church in Coeur d’Alene.

Gookin said he and Banducci had a heated exchange about a flap over seat reservations at a different Central Committee event in February. He claims Banducci followed him into the church parking lot in an aggressive and harassing manner, while Gookin said he called the police the following Monday after receiving a text from Banducci.

Banducci, speaking to the Coeur d’Alene Press, denied the allegations.

Meanwhile, the college’s faculty and staff assemblies each passed resolutions last month declaring votes of no confidence in Banducci’s leadership.

Molly Michaud, chair of NIC’s Faculty Assembly, said “college faculty are hopeful the board, ‘in good faith,’ will take the necessary steps to maintain accreditation and remove the warning sanction as outlined by the commission.

“That is not my responsibility,” Sebaaly said. “The board needs to answer to those votes of no confidence, and I can’t speak for the board.”

Banducci, who did not respond to a request for comment, spoke to those calls for his resignation toward the end of the March 23 meeting.

“I do not intend to resign,” he said, “so either we can all start working together and move forward positively for the sake of the college or I guess we continue this public food fight, and that’s unfortunate too.”

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