Spokane Journal of Business

Joint Cd’A campus has multiple higher ed choices

While NIC accreditation woes dominate news, other colleges carve niches at Cd’A campus

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Situated along the northern shore of Lake Coeur d’Alene near its confluence with the Spokane River is a joint campus in which four colleges offer students opportunities to earn associate, bachelor’s, and graduate degrees, often in their own backyard.

The decades-old vision for the Lake City’s higher education campus has been to create an alliance of colleges that provide high-quality learning opportunities with joint student services and shared facilities. 

While the ongoing struggles at North Idaho College have put its accreditation in jeopardy and dominated much of the higher-ed park’s spotlight, over the long term, the campus has accomplished that mission, advocates say.

“From the beginning, the goal was to establish a collaborative college-university environment built on strong partnerships,” says veteran Coeur d’Alene City Councilman Dan English, whose involvement with the cooperative campus dates back to the 1990s.

It’s an educational center any community would be proud to offer, he says.

“For a town our size to offer what the higher education (campus) has—from high school dual enrollment to graduate programs—is unique,” English says. “It’s vitally important to have local higher education opportunities, and it has been a work in process since the 1980s.”

The 77-acre higher education campus offers career-orientated undergraduate and graduate programs through the local presence of the North Idaho College main campus and satellites for Moscow-based University of Idaho; Lewiston-based Lewis-Clark State College; and Boise-based Boise State University.

Despite the growing popularity of programs offered by some of the satellite campuses, student numbers at NIC continue to drop due to ongoing accreditation uncertainties at the junior college.

NIC’s chief communications and government relations officer Laura Rumpler says enrollment at the college in 2022 was 4,299, following a consistent downward annual trend from 5,275 students enrolled in 2018.

While many UI and LCSC classes are conducted online, leaders point out the in-person opportunities available to Coeur d’Alene-area students.

“We have consistently and persistently had instructors and faculty that are based in Coeur d’Alene so we can offer face-to-face learning, even if the student is taking their course online,” says LCSC President Cynthia L. Pemberton. “That’s a strength, because we’re able to meet students’ needs in person and help them along their path of career planning and degree acquisition.”

LCSC currently has 525 students from the greater Coeur d’Alene area. Pemberton estimates 90% are studying online.

The number of bachelor’s degrees awarded to LCSC’s Coeur d’Alene-based students continues to rise, according to Logan Fowler, LCSC director of communications and marketing. In 2019, 113 degrees were awarded to Coeur d’Alene-area LCSC students. The following year, that increased to 138, and last year, LCSC awarded 147 undergraduate degrees to students from Coeur d’Alene.

“That makes us the No. 1 bachelor’s granting institution in Coeur d’Alene,” Pemberton says.

LCSC offers 21 degree options, and separate rating systems rank its nursing program at the top in Idaho and among the best in the nation, according to Pemberton.

LCSC officials say enrollment continues to grow though the college’s Coeur d’Alene Center in the 30,000-square-foot DeArmond Building, which opened in 2019 at 901 W. River Avenue.

“The wide mix of courses we make available is resonating with students, whether it’s nursing, business, education, or social work,” she says.

The physical presence of instructors on the Coeur d’Alene campus enhances student engagement and enthusiasm, she adds.

Former LCSC-Coeur d’Alene students like Michelle Gill concur. A registered nurse, Gill studied at the college from 1995 to 1997. While courses were all in-person back then, Gill says the personal instruction she received through the baccalaureate nursing degree program was invaluable.

“I thoroughly loved the program,” says Gill, a registered nurse, who also holds a bachelor’s degree in nursing and works in the cardio-thoracic unit at a regional medical center in Eastern Washington. “Instructors and program nursing administrators were always available to us for personal assistance at any given moment. I never had to wait to go in and speak to one of my instructors.”

While online learning is becoming more popular, there is a high degree of interest in the individual learning experience, and LCSC aims to accommodate those interests, Pemberton says.

“It’s absolutely critical to address the educational needs of Coeur d’Alene students through a physical presence,” she says.

Pemberton says online learning is especially popular among older students, many of whom may have commitments to jobs, children, or both. The average Coeur d’Alene-based LCSC student age is 34 years, she says.

“We’re catering to that adult learner who is coming back to school to do something different, or build on their knowledge base,” she says.

At the University of Idaho Coeur d’Alene, centered at 1031 N. Academic Way, leaders say they are matching programs that complement the community and local employment needs.

Andrew R. Fields, CEO at UI Coeur d’Alene, says the university offers 19 undergraduate and 22 graduate programs via in-person, online, and hybrid courses.

“Our top three programs are industrial robotics, computer science, and elementary education,” says Fields, adding that he sees potential for more higher ed opportunities in North Idaho.

“Providing local educational options is paramount to the University of Idaho Coeur d’Alene,” he says. “We are focused on expanding our learning opportunities and creating a welcoming experience where students feel supported throughout their educational journey.”

Undergraduate degrees awarded to UI Coeur d’Alene students have been trending up with the exception of last year, likely due to COVID, says UI senior communications officer Jodi Walker.

Statistics released by Walker show UI Coeur d’Alene awarded 35 undergraduate degrees in 2019, 46 in 2020, 52 in 2021, and 40 last year.

“Our online Coeur d’Alene executive MBA program was put on hold during the pandemic, resulting in a significant drop,” Walker says.

In 2018, UI Coeur d’Alene awarded 38 graduate degrees. This was followed by 12 graduate degrees in 2019, increasing to 35 in 2020. UI Coeur d’Alene awarded just seven graduate degrees in 2021 and five in 2022.

Overall, enrollment at UI Coeur d’Alene has been decreasing over the past several years, to 105 in 2022 from 165 in 2018.

“We are, however, looking at building online and remote opportunities for students in the Coeur d’Alene area, which should result in enrollment increases overall,” Walker says. “We recognize that serving our (North Idaho-based) students is important, and we are working on new and exciting programming to meet the needs of adult learners statewide.”

NIC has a dual-enrollment program, which provides local students with the opportunity to earn college credits toward an associate degree while still attending high school. Enrollment in that program has edged upward in the last three years to 1,340 students in 2022 from 1,304 students in 2020, although it’s down from its 2019 peak of 1,479 students in 2019.

Councilman English, who served as an adjunct faculty member for LCSC in the early 1990s, says accreditation instability at NIC is a “double-edged sword.”

“Enrollment numbers may be down (at NIC), but on the other hand, if NIC doesn’t keep its accreditation, the community will certainly be looking at the other campus institutions to pick up some of the slack,” he says.

Boise State University, meanwhile, also offers educational opportunities on the higher education campus through its School of Social Work, which offers a graduate-level Master of Social Work program, according to BSU’s website.

BSU’s Advanced Standing MSW Program is designed for students who have earned a baccalaureate degree from an undergraduate social work program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, such as LCSC’s social work program, according to the university’s website.

BSU’s enrollment numbers weren’t immediately available.

  • Keith Erickson

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