NIC makes room for virtual learning

by Aly De Angelus
Staff Writer | June 23, 2020 2:43 PM

SANDPOINT — North Idaho College’s Silver Valley and Bonners Ferry centers will cease operation at the end of the year, leaving Sandpoint as the only satellite center for NIC.

According to North Idaho College President Richard MacLennan and Vice President Lita Burns, factors unrelated to COVID-19 were considered prior to finalizing their decision to close the Silver Valley and Bonners Ferry Centers. The main reason for this transition is cost effectiveness, the pair said.

“It’s not just COVID-19,” MacLennan said. “The cost of operating the two outreach centers that are in question truly did not have the enrollment to support their operation for many years.”

The statewide budget cuts for education, MacLennan said, will soon cost NIC over $1 million due to the two percent holdback announced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“While North Idaho College is moving away from a center in Bonners Ferry we are not moving away from our commitment to serve Bonners Ferry,” he said. “In many ways we think we may be able to serve Bonners Ferry even better than we have in the past. There is a lot of work for us to do to get there but that is our commitment.”

NIC’s Bonners Ferry center was established in 2006 and has provided services to the community beyond college courses such as GED testing and adult education. MacLennan and Burns are in the process of obtaining a facility that will allow these services to continue.

“The community uses the center in a variety of ways and that is what we believe will have the biggest impact of closure,” MacLennan. “We know we can provide the education courses, classes online or in a variety of ways but we want to make sure that the additional services we provide will continue in the future.”

Not only will North Idaho College close two of their three satellite campuses by December, but they anticipate a number of departments to permanently function as a virtual resource post COVID-19.

Over the past few months NIC have provided a 100 percent virtual experience for academic advising, financial aid advising, tutoring, teaching and counseling services. MacLennan and Burns are hopeful that a larger focus on digital learning platforms will meet a broader and higher level need for people outside of Bonner County as well.

“Almost every day I find myself doing something in a new or different way than I did pre-COVID-19 and wondering if I ever really need to go back and do it the way I did before,” MacLennan said. “There’s been some real tools that we’ve all picked up in how to operate and one of the big successes for (North) Idaho College and the communities that we serve is the virtualization of everything outside of the classroom.”

Despite mixed feedback from students, MacLennan and Burns remain optimistic in the transition.

“For some of our students being in a face-to-face environment means everything to them,” MacLennan said. “For some students they just went dark. We called them, we texted them, we emailed them and you know, people are dealing with the pandemic, too.”

“Students by and large were very appreciative for all the efforts to ensure the learning continued, but it was challenging,” Burns said.

NIC’s main campus located in Coeur d’Alene, along with their aerospace center in Hayden, workforce training center in Post Falls and career technical training center in Rathdrum will continue to function as approved by Gov. Brad Little’s orders and health advising from the Panhandle Health District for their summer semester. The science lab in Coeur d’Alene is opening this week as well, with a requirement to wear a mask and report any symptoms prior to entering the facility.

Aly De Angelus can be reached by email at adeangelus@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow her on Twitter @AlyDailyBee.