North Idaho Slow Growth
The "Managed Decline" of NIC
Jan 24, 2023
Anyone who viewed the January NIC Trustee meeting saw this slide, showing a steady decline in enrollment at NIC over the last ten years. Between 2013 and 2022, the total number of students enrolled at NIC declined by 1750 students, or about 29%.
During this same period, according to census records, the population of Kootenai County increased by 33,000 or 24%. Had NIC enrollment merely kept up with population, its 2022 enrollment would have been 7,484. So NIC’s effective enrollment decline over 10 years, if corrected for population, is 52%.
THE DECLINE OF A WONDERFUL COLLEGE
We at NISGR are notorious critics of out-of-control growth, and we are not advocating for rapid or uninterrupted growth. Slow, gradual growth is the healthiest for any community and occasional declines are expected.
But the continual drop in enrollment in NIC over ten years, while Kootenai County underwent record growth is inexcusable. NIC was a wonderful college with everything going for it! Everything a college could possibly need to succeed:
A spectacularly beautiful setting. An attractive and spacious campus center. Generous financial support from Kootenai property owners. A steadily growing population. “Dual Credit” opportunities with area high schools. A new Technology Education Center. A well-regarded nursing program. No competing junior colleges within 35 miles. An active homeschool community A good sports program, and an enthusiastic Alumni Association.
What is there not to love? How could a college so fortunately positioned fail to thrive?
And NIC’s performance is even worse when compared to other Idaho Community Colleges that were less favorably endowed. NIC growth rates, when compared to both College of Southern Idaho (CSI), and College of Western Idaho (CWI), look pitiful. Although all three Idaho junior colleges began the decade with similar enrollments, between 2011 and 2019, both CSI and CWI thrived while NIC declined.
For most of this article we will be using FTE numbers to compare enrollment. There are many ways to count enrollment because community college students are often part-time, not-for-credit, or dual credit. But FTE gives the best indication of what the teaching load of a college is, so it provides the best apples-to-apples comparison.
Another thing to notice is that we are focusing mainly on the years 2011 to 2019. We start at 2011 because the precipitous decline in enrollment started in 2012. We stop at 2019 so that COVID related enrollment drops are excluded. It is also important to note that during this entire period of decline, NIC was entirely under the control of the “Friends of NIC” board of trustees. The “conservative” trustees, who are now attempting to address the disaster, had nothing to do with creating the problem.
So who exactly was responsible for NIC’s precipitous decline? The following graph makes it crystal clear.
NIC was growing at a healthy rate up until 2012, when the whole trajectory inexplicably reversed. The new college leadership not only failed to attract new students between 2012 and 2020—the fastest growing period in Kootenai History—they actually managed to actually shrink enrollment. This is beyond incompetence; it is sabotage.
And instead of holding the leadership accountable, the ISBE, the Board of Trustees, and the NIC Foundation all cooperated in the decline and covered for the failing leadership. Why is this?
WHERE DOES NIC GET ITS MONEY?
We are now going to start digging into NIC Finances. What we want to find out is, why NIC has so much money, even though it has been continuously losing students for over ten years.
In order to do this research we are using data from the Idaho Legislative Board Book, over the years 2010 to 2020. A complete data set is provided at the bottom of the article, so that anyone who wants to check our analysis or do further research can do so.
The following chart shows how NIC has not only maintained, but greatly increased its revenues in spite of ten years of declining enrollments. It seems for the entire last decade, NIC Administrators have had full coffers, millions of dollars to spend, and no incentive whatsoever to focus on improving academics or increasing enrollment at the college. Why is this?
As it turns out, many of the sources of NIC Funding do not take enrollment into account. The funding mechanisms are based on a model that assumes that enrollment will continue to grow and that declines are temporary. Therefore, while NIC deprioritizes academics and the student population dwindles, money continues to pour into the administration’s coffers.
No wonder members of the previous administration preferred things the way they were. Lots of money and few responsibilities!!!
WHY LOSING STUDENTS DOESN'T HURT THE BOTTOM LINE
Why Does NIC have so much Money when it is Losing Students every Year? Let’s look at how funding from state, local, and federal sources responds to declining enrollment.
STATE FUNDING: NIC’s allocation of money from the state’s General Fund rose by 22%, between 2011 and 2019, even as enrollment (FTE) declined by 17%. Money from the state's General Fund is based on the previous year’s budget, with adjustments. The state does make adjustments for enrollment, but the penalty for losing students is only half of the increase for gaining them. This generous budgeting method was intended to stablize staffing during short-term declines but in the case of NIC it is subsidizing a long-term decline.
LIQUOR FUND: This is a fixed amount of money distributed to Idaho colleges regardless of enrollment.
PROPERTY TAXES: Over 35% of NIC’s revenues come from property taxes. NIC’s share of property taxes rises when the tax basis rises, but does not decline when enrollment falls. In theory, both property taxes and enrollment should grow as the population grows, but NIC appears to have gamed the system. NIC also receives twice the relative funding from property taxes that either CSI or CWI receive.
TUITION & FEES: Due to increases in the amount of tuition cost NIC tuition income has risen by 32% over ten years, while its FTE enrollment declined by 17%.
The fact that very few of NIC’s funding sources are sensitive to enrollment declines explains why NIC is financially secure, and has plenty of money to spend on building projects, administrators, and property acquisition even as it educates fewer and fewer students.
WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN?
NIC’s enrollment decline between 2012 and 2020, if unintentional, was inexcusable, and if intentional, was diabolical.
In either case, we want to make absolutely clear where the fault lies. Overly generous funding formulas failed to address the problem of NIC's declining enrollment, but the source of the problem was the misplaced priorities of NIC's blundering leadership. All blame lies on previous administrations.
Based on the administrations utter failure to maintain enrollment, it appears that the 2021 firing of the previous NIC President was justified. Yet now that a new board is in place, working to fix the disaster, the boards, foundations, and agencies that gave NIC a free pass while it floundered, are threatening to pull the plug on accreditation. Instead of supporting the new trustees, the same “Friends of NIC” that twiddled their thumbs while NIC tanked, are freaking out and demanding a return to the old, failed administration.
We’d like to know exactly what is going on here. Why are all the boards, foundations, agencies, and administrators who guided NIC during this disastrous decade so opposed to new leadership? Why were they silent and supportive as the previous leadership drove NIC enrollment off a cliff? And what changed in 2012, that NIC enrollment went from years of steady growth to years of continuous decline?
There are still many missing puzzle pieces. We have seen the decline. We have seen how NIC finances covered for the decline. But we still don’t understand why no one, not the ISBE, not the NIC Foundation, not the CDA Press, not the College Attorney, and not the administration and faculty members who are leading the charge against the new trustees, sounded the alarm or made serious efforts to turn around the enrollment crisis.
But we have our suspicions. TBC.
APPENDIX: Community College Funding & Enrollment Data.
The following data, derived from Idaho's Legislative Budget Books, may be useful to anyone who wants to check our work, or investigate funding or enrollment matters more thoroughly. It was used as a basis for most of the statistics cited in this article.
Dee Cravney says (Feb 4, 2023):
What is NIC? North Idaho College?
Fran says (Feb 4, 2023):
Could it be that the 32% increase in tuition has something to do with the decline in enrollment? If NIC finances have increased it would make sense to lower tuition fees, not raise them. Many of the students at NIC have to work to help pay for their education. That is OK, but with the cost of everything else also increasing it is harder for these students to continue their education.
Thomas Breazeal says (Feb 5, 2023):
Great research and very interesting points. The truth certainly needs to come to light. We need some Project Veritas type stuff from the culprits you mentioned :)
Diana says (Feb 6, 2023):
Once again thank you for your deep dive into the local issues. You are a true Idaho gem.
Fuck Todd says (Feb 10, 2023):
Typical right wing blame game. Good timing as the letter just came out threatening NIC losing Accreditation. Always on top of real news and ready to combat spreading lies, conspiracies and bullshit to take away from the real failures of who the KCRCC put in power. So what are the 'leaders' doing now to fix things? Tell me? What is their plan? If it were someone elses fault, who of the 3 dunces will step up and fix and save NIC? Anyone answer that? No, you can't because you are the reason we are here in the first place. Chaos, incompetence, all at the cost of the tax dollars dime. Fuck you , fuck the KCRCC, Fuck Todd and fuck the 3 time bar failing attorney and all California transplants that moved here and voted for these trashy assholes.
Another fake web page is that you Summer? says (Feb 10, 2023):
Screenshots with no context, posted on next door by some brainwashed fucking California transplants. All to deflect and confuse the gullible sheep that vote lock step with what the KCRCC tells you to vote for on their little cute little voting card. Fuck you
NISGR says (Feb 11, 2023):
NISGR is reposting a comment that was sent to the NISGR contact page because it provides many helpful insights and context. The range of insight among those who read these articles appears to be vast. "I have been following this story for some time, and yours is by far the most coherent analysis of the situation. I've worked in higher education data analysis for over a decade. The ten-year decline in enrollment is a nationwide trend, though it is striking that NIC is the only Idaho school with consistent and significant declines. The 2012 jump in enrollment was also a nationwide trend, largely due to the economic crash of 2008 and a subsequent increase in workers seeking to gain new skills in the trades industries. NIC responded with Parker Tech. Ed. Center. While Kootenai County did increase in population in recent years, a disproportionate number of new individuals were retirees. Community colleges have an opportunity to quickly adjust their program offerings as appropriate to community needs, with many offering adult education programs for this population."
John McTear says (Feb 11, 2023):
So increasing the budget for athletics is the Regan Gang's solution? This "article" takes a few "facts" and weaves a web of deception.
Kristy Reed Johnson says (Feb 11, 2023):
This is a completely distorted use of information, because, as presented, they are actually lies. NIC is STILL a wonderful Community College if Banducci & Co. don't destroy it. Correct, follow the money. Do they really just want the land? Forget the College?
Donna Williams says (Feb 13, 2023):
Who authored this? Am I missing the person's name?