Small cut proposed in NIC funding

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BOISE — North Idaho College President Rick MacLennan presented NIC’s budget request to the Idaho State Legislature Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee Monday, asking for a more than $1 million increase in state funding.

However, NIC’s requests, along with those of the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls and the College of Western Idaho near Boise, were not the governor’s priorities this year.

“He wanted those resources to be targeted toward those task force recommendations instead, so that was the emphasis, and that’s the reason why,” said David Hahn, one of Otter’s senior financial management analysts in the Division of Financial Management, when lawmakers asked why the governor didn’t recommend funding on multiple items.

Otter’s higher education task force has proposed, among other things, the creation of a chief education officer at the state level who would streamline business office functions on Idaho college and university campuses to save administrative costs.

Otter’s budget calls for a 15 percent overall increase in funding for the state’s community colleges, although much of that would go toward the new College of Eastern Idaho.

NIC’s state funds would decrease by 3.2 percent over last year’s funding, according to Otter’s proposal.

In his pitch Monday, MacLennan talked primarily about expanding the college’s computer science program and adding a “pathfinders” program.

The budget proposal also included a $302,900 “summer completion initiative” that would allow 2,000 students to earn three credits tuition-free in 2018, and a $174,500 program aimed at supporting at-risk students.

“We’re looking future-forward at North Idaho College,” MacLennan said.

“We’re in the thick of an integrated institution-, community- wide planning process that is aligning all of our plans so all of the work we do is strategic and comprehensive as we make decisions about how we’re going to walk into the future to best serve our communities.”

The part of that walk into the future that most interested lawmakers was the expansion of the computer science program, which would cost $300,000. That would pay for additional hardware and another teacher, MacLennan said.

The legislators mentioned the importance of STEM programs and “employable degrees” multiple times throughout the presentations.

“I definitely see a demand,” said JFAC member Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene. “It’s probably the No. 1 issue that I hear. Obviously education is the No. 1 issue I hear from employers, but specifically having trained computer professionals.”

He said that demand is not exclusive to technology companies, but applies to all industries.

MacLennan also addressed the “pathfinders” program, a program that would station counselors in regional high schools. He said students often think of college as an “either-or” proposition. Either they go on to a four-year college, or they don’t go at all. He said this means they are missing out on other higher education possibilities.

“People are missing real opportunities, and we really can’t afford to leave anybody on the bench,” he said. “We truly need everyone in the game.”

Legislative budget writers will start setting budgets for agencies, including colleges, in mid-February.

Nina Rydalch is covering the Idaho Legislature for the University of Idaho’s McClure Center and JAMM News Service.

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