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NIC receives show cause letter from accrediting agency

by KAYE THORNBRUGH
Staff Writer | February 10, 2023 1:07 AM

North Idaho College received an action letter of “show cause” Thursday from its accrediting organization, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

NIC has until March 13 to submit a report explaining why its accreditation should not be terminated.

"College leadership will meet tomorrow to discuss how NIC will respond to the expectations outlined by the NWCCU Board of Commissioners," said an email sent Thursday evening to NIC employees.

The letter, addressed to Board Chair Greg McKenzie and Interim President Greg South, and signed by NWCCU President Sonny Ramaswamy, says the commissioners met Jan. 26 and reviewed responses from NIC to the accrediting organization along with other documents related to events at NIC going back to 2019.

“Convinced that the NIC Board of Trustees has not shown sufficient responsiveness to previous Commission action and, thus, fails to sufficiently appreciate the jeopardy it is placing the institution in with respect to the welfare and viability of the institution — much less its membership status with NWCCU — the Commission at its most recent regular meeting voted to issue NIC a Sanction of Show Cause as to why the institution’s accreditation should not be withdrawn,” the letter said.

The letter comes nearly two months after the NWCCU issued a prior warning to NIC, which the college was required to respond to early last month.

The college's response to the Dec. 17 letter, "combined with recent and continuing public actions of the NIC Board of Trustees, fail to adequately demonstrate that the institution is in compliance with a number of NWCCU Eligibility Requirements and Standards for Accreditation," the latest letter said.

Last month, Interim President Greg South told Idaho legislators that it’s “premature” to consider that NIC might lose accreditation and maintained that the college is committed to addressing the concerns outlined by the NWCCU.

“As long as we demonstrate that we’re working in that direction, we’ll work through it,” South told the Idaho Senate education committee in January. “It’s very serious. Things could go wrong, but it won’t happen that fast.”

The Feb. 9 NWCCU letter includes a timeline of recent events and actions at NIC leading up to the show cause action, beginning with the firing of NIC President Rick MacLennan without cause in September 2021 and continuing through Jan. 10 of this year, when South was named in a lawsuit against NIC, three trustees and the college’s legal counsel.

A section of the letter with the heading “Institutional Risks” states the college’s January response to the Dec. 17 letter is not the sole basis for the commission’s action.

“Numerous complaints from members of the NIC and Coeur d’Alene communities have continued to be received by NWCCU; ongoing actions of the NIC Board – some documented in the press – continue to place the institution at risk for viability,” the letter said.

The letter details the following list of risks:

  • Three lawsuits, one settled and two active.
  • Frequent changes in leadership with little to no input from relevant stakeholders, without following institutional policies and procedures.
  • Uncertainty as to who is the Chief Executive Officer at North Idaho College, with a regular president placed on administrative leave (Swayne) and an interim president (South) appointed concurrent with the regular president.
  • Declining enrollments, including termination of partnership with STEM Charter Academy, with concomitant reduction in tuition revenue.
  • Continued exodus of faculty, staff, and senior administrators.
  • Decision with little to no input to expand athletics program and to change athletics conference with potential added costs.
  • Multiple No Confidence Resolutions from the Associated Students of NIC, NIC Faculty Assembly, and NIC Staff Assembly.
  • Risk of significant financial stress, including but not limited to:
  • Expanded payroll for two presidents, interim provost, and special assistant to the interim president, along with moving expenses, and other contracted charges and/or obligations.
  • Significantly increased insurance costs with higher deductibles.
  • Moody’s Bond Rating review for potential downgrade.
  • Declining donor support.

The letter highlights a section from the NWCCU’s accreditation actions policy, which states the organization may place an institution in show cause status when it does not appear to be in compliance with accreditation standards, eligibility requirements or applicable federal regulations, and “there is evidence the non-compliance is sufficiently egregious such that it raises concerns the institution: has not made sufficient progress toward achieving compliance; does not appear to demonstrate capacity to comply with Standards for Accreditation, Eligibility Requirements, Policies, or applicable federal regulations under a timeframe set by the Commission...; is in imminent danger of closing; has demonstrated a lack of integrity, truthfulness, or responsibility, and the Commission determines students may be harmed; or information from monitoring activities suggests serious concerns related to student achievement, viability and capacity, or financial health.”

This is followed by a lengthy list of eligibility requirements and standards for accreditation that NIC must address.

NIC’s show cause report, due in roughly one month, must include a "teach-out plan," as well as evidence that NIC has made all necessary improvements.

A peer review team will visit NIC April 17 and 18 to verify the information in NIC’s show cause report and teach-out plan.

Read the full letter at cdapress.com.

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