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North Idaho College faces critical visit as accreditation concerns continue

The agency that accredits North Idaho College cancelled a visit scheduled for next month, giving the school’s leaders time to improve before a critical evaluation later this year.

In a letter dated March 1, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) said it decided to give the school time to comply with warnings before an on-campus review in October.

The behavior of and decisions rendered by a three-person majority on NIC’s Board of Trustees landed the school in hot water in 2022. Their actions, which included suspending NIC President Nick Swayne for no disciplinary reason, provoked multiple lawsuits and imperiled the accreditation the school has held since the Truman administration.

The college was put on warning status in April 2022. NWCCU identified multiple instances in which the school was out of compliance with accreditation standards and practices, from leadership churn to board dysfunction. Not seeing substantial improvement, a year later the commission placed NIC on “show cause” status, placing the onus on the school to demonstrate why it should keep its academic accreditation.

In its March 1 message, the commission said it recognized the good work of faculty, staff and administrators, but warned NIC that it’s fast approaching the end of a three-year window to fix its governance problems.

“April 1, 2025 is only approximately two evaluation visit cycles away, and the NWCCU Board of Commissioners will be required to take Adverse Action (Denial, Withdrawal, Suspension, Revocation, or Termination of Accreditation) unless NIC demonstrates significant progress towards resolving the issues underlying the Sanctions well before April 1, 2025,” the letter said.

As part of the prep work for the October visit, NIC must complete and submit a “teach out” plan by the end of August. That’s a plan to help students continue their education elsewhere in the event the college loses its accreditation.

The board must also prove that it’s following its own policies, and is working with President Swayne to achieve common goals. The board should function as a professional governing board, NWCCU said, including creating an environment of civil discourse. The trustees must also respond to no-confidence votes rendered by faculty, staff and student government groups, and take steps to reduce faculty, staff and administrative departures.

NWCCU’s October visit will be “highly focused,” the agency said, looking for evidence the college is making progress on addressing its outstanding issues. If the on-site visit this fall finds significant progress, the college will dodge an “adverse action” decision and will be required to submit a plan and a timeline to address the commission’s recommendations before April 1, 2026.

Brandon Hollingsworth is your All Things Considered host. He has served public radio audiences for nearly twenty years, primarily in reporting, hosting and interviewing. His previous ports-of-call were WUOT-FM in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Alabama Public Radio. His work has been heard nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Here and Now and NPR’s top-of-the-hour newscasts.