Two North Idaho College trustees ask the right questions as tuition goes up again

Wayne Hoffman Articles

Kudos are in order for two elected officials: Todd Banducci and Ron Nilson, trustees at North Idaho College in Coeur d’Alene. The two voted against a community college budget that proposed increasing tuition by $5 per credit hour ($8 per credit hour for non-Kootenai County residents). This tuition increase of nearly 4 percent won the support of the NIC board on a 3-2 vote last week, with the aforementioned trustees objecting. The new $44.2 million budget also includes $550,000 more in salaries and benefits.

The Coeur d’Alene Press reports that Banducci and Nilson wanted alternatives and a better understanding of countervailing issues: How will enrollment, already down 10 percent, be impacted? What other colleges doing for compensation? What’s happening with employee benefits?

Banducci said the tuition increases were avoidable by halving the proposed two-step pay hike.

“How do we consider passing a budget without having wage comparisons against other community college in the same state that we reside in and Spokane?” Nilson asked, according to the newspaper. Nilson prodded: Salaries and benefits have to be on the table. Instead, “we’re talking about raising tuition for an 18-year-old kid that wants to get an education.”

Nilson is correct: The college has to look under every rock before raising tuition. That often doesn’t occur, because, frankly, students have bought into the idea that they shouldn’t worry about tuition because that’s a problem they’ll confront in what seems like a lifetime from now—after graduation. I’ve seen students lobby for higher fees, thinking that it will improve the quality of the schooling they receive. It doesn’t, but it does increase the size of their student debt. Columnist George Will is even more critical of student tuition increases, student debt and the quality of education, generally, being delivered at the nation’s colleges and universities.

Keep in mind the same board approved just weeks ago a new recreation center for the campus, which will eventually add $87 per semester to students’ costs. That’s an additional $174 per year for a superfluous project.

College tuition, universally, should be going down, not up. That’s because for the first time, college and university system are competing against one another for students in ways they never have been able to before. Students in Idaho can take classes in Arizona, Florida and Massachusetts, without ever leaving their homes. Technology should revolutionize how higher education delivers services. Instead, much of academia seems to be stuck in a rigid pattern of building buildings and recruiting students to attend lectures on a campus when the new model for education is something more robust. Maybe NIC, like other schools, needs to have to have a long, thoughtful conversation about the future. That future, when smartly executed, ought to result in a less expensive education experience with a broader range of opportunities.