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NIC may build $14.5 million rec center after decade of tuition surges

NIC may build $14.5 million rec center after decade of tuition surges

Dustin Hurst
February 20, 2015
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February 20, 2015

A plan to build a recreation center on the North Idaho College campus in Coeur d’Alene would come with a steep price tag for students, further adding to fee and tuition surges of the past few years.

The plan, which the Coeur d’Alene Press first reported this week, would cost $14.5 million through a 30-year bond, including $7.7 million in construction and facility costs.

The money would secure students a 30,000 square-foot facility that might include weights, cardio equipment, locker rooms and a rock climbing wall.

Tom Green, NIC’s communication coordinator, told IdahoReporter.com the center would add $100 to student fees per semester. Those fees would not be optional.

That increase would hike NIC’s fees from $407 each semester to $507, a 24 percent boost. Greene said voluntary staff fees would also help fund the facility, which has been in talks for more than a decade.

One of the men behind the project, NIC Outdoor Pursuit Coordinator Jon Totten, told the newspaper the per-semester fee would start this fall, but construction would begin in 2016. That means some students would pay for a facility they would never use.

“There are some who will have paid into this and moved on by the time it opens, but there's no way to do this without collecting fees before it's built,” Totten said.

The proposal comes forward after years of hardship for Idaho’s higher education budgets, constrained by low revenues after recession doldrums.

NIC President Joe Dunlap told Idaho’s budget-writers last month that poor funding puts students and others in a tough spot.

“The consequence is that the burden of funding has fallen on the backs of students and in-district taxpayers,” Dunlap said, as reported by the Spokesman Review.

Indeed, the cost increases at NIC have been staggering. In the past decade, the college hiked tuition for in-district students carrying 15 credits by 105 percent, from $916 in 2005 to $1,886 in 2015. The college dropped 64 percent tuition hikes on students with 12 credits through the same time frame.

Those figures include only tuition and not housing, food, books and student fees. The $407 per-semester fees include $28 for student government, $36 for athletics, $38 for recreation and $93 to cover debt incurred when the school built a student union building.

One member of Idaho’s budget committee, Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, said his local college should be very cautious when adding costs to the higher education bill.

“I understand the need for good facilities is imperative to a quality academic environment,” Malek said Thursday. “While the decision to use student fees this way is not legislative at all, making sure that cost is not a barrier to education is a responsibility of all stakeholders. I urge caution ‎in creating any barriers to affordable education.”

Higher education watchdogs have long lobbed criticism at institutions of higher learning for seeking to become something closer to a five-star resort than a top-notch school.

In a 2011 report, two Heartland Institute researchers suggested colleges and universities keep costs down by focusing on their core missions: educating students and advancing human knowledge.

“These ventures have very little to do with the twin goals of any university: the dissemination (teaching) and production (research) of knowledge,” co-authors Richard Vedder and Matthew Denhart wrote.

“Costs will continue to rise until frivolous activities subside in favor of a tighter focus on undergraduate instruction.”

The situation could be worse at NIC, a college with its primary campus just steps away from Lake Coeur d’Alene. The New York Times detailed something of a recreation “arms race” at some of the country’s biggest schools, a contest featuring lazy rivers, Zumba, yoga, hot tubs and, of course, “dive-in” movies.

Another state lawmaker, freshman Rep. Ron Mendive, a fellow Republican from Coeur d’Alene, said he might support the project if the center’s fees were entirely voluntary.

“If it’s mandatory, I would have a serious problem with that,” Mendive said.

Even if the fees were voluntary, he added, the school would still have a leg up because NIC doesn’t pay property taxes and private gyms do. “They (NIC) would have an unfair advantage,” he said.

The Coeur d’Alene Press said NIC’s oversight board could make a decision on the project in the next two months.

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