Key Planning Factors and Limitations
Academic Year 2012-2013
Fall semester student headcount 4,525
Fall full-time equivalent enrollment 3,097
The college employed:
The Idaho State Board of Education has directed the higher education institutions under its supervision to double the proportion and number of Idahoans (25 to 34 year old cohort) with a college certificate or degree by 2020. At the time of writing this plan, LCSC had not yet been assigned a specific numerical target by the Board within its overall system-wide goal, but the following factors will affect LCSC’s output:
LCSC is essentially an open-access institution—reducing admission standards likely would not generate significant numbers of new students. As LCSC reaches out to encourage college participation by underserved segments in Idaho’s population, the average level of college-preparedness of the student body is likely to decrease, and the level of support needed for students is likely to increase.
The current demographic trends in Idaho foretell low to modest growth in the number of secondary students and good, but flat, high school graduation rates. It is therefore not likely that the output of the K-12 pipeline would lead to a dramatic increase in enrollment at LCSC during the five-year planning window.
While a dramatic increase in Idaho’s high-school graduation rates is not foreseen during the five-year planning window, LCSC may be able to increase the number of high school graduates who elect to enroll in college, taking into account that Idaho’s current participation rate, less than 50%, is one of the lowest in the nation.
Although the national and Idaho 60% goals have been based on the premise that 60% of jobs in 2020 will require some degree of college education, the current and projected proportion of college educated employees within the Idaho workforce seems to be at a market clearing level of 36%, according to the report of the Idaho Legislature Office of Performance Evaluations. Currently, unemployment in Idaho is low compared to many states in the region. Strategically, this means it is unlikely that systemic structural unemployment rates will be a major driver of additional students applying to LCSC before the end of the five-year planning horizon. In fact, improving employment rates in Idaho would likely reduce the applicant pool as workers enter or re-enter the work force as the effects of the recession ease.
Currently-available facilities, or a modest expansion thereof, are sufficient to support an increase in on-campus students proportionate to LCSC’s share of the State Board of Education’s 60% goal. Classroom and laboratory utilization rates have sufficient slack time throughout the day and week to absorb an estimated 50% or more increase in student enrollment. Within the course of the five-year planning window, the college, if necessary, could increase faculty and staff office space and parking. While expansion on such a scale is theoretically possible, it is unlikely to be necessary given headcount enrollment trends, currently averaging 3% per year. If the combined impact of LCSC action strategies to increase enrollment, improve retention, and increase program completion rates were to double the historical rate to 6% per year, the main campus student population would increase 50 percent by 2020—a level which, with good planning, could be accommodated by the current physical infrastructure.
Unlike the situation on the Normal Hill campus, infrastructure is a major limiting factor for LCSC’s Coeur d’Alene operations. A strategic initiative is underway to provide a joint facility to serve LCSC, North Idaho College (NIC), and University of Idaho students and staff on the NIC campus. The new facility would not likely be opened until the end of the current five-year planning window, and efforts are underway to find additional facility options to support LCSC operations at Coeur d’Alene in the interim. Infrastructure at the other LCSC outreach centers is estimated to be sufficient to support operations over the next five years.
Deferred maintenance needs over the course of the five-year planning window are estimated at roughly $25 million for alteration and repair of existing facilities. Recent momentum in addressing HVAC and roof repairs needs to be sustained, but will depend primarily on availability of Permanent Building Fund dollars.
Over the past decade several major capital projects to expand facilities on the main campus have been completed (e.g., Activity Center, Sacajawea Hall, new parking lots, upgrades of Meriwether Lewis Hall and Thomas Jefferson Hall). For the main campus, LCSC’s strategy for the five-year planning window is to focus on upgrades of existing facilities rather than erecting major new facilities.
Classroom capacity is sufficient to sustain current and projected enrollment levels for brick-and-mortar classes. Increased enrollment will necessitate scheduling adjustments that spread classes throughout day, evening, and weekend hours. Utility costs of extended class hours would increase marginally, but overall efficiency of facility operations would increase with the reduction of slack hours.
Recent efforts have increased the number of classroom seats and modernized classrooms and labs. Nevertheless, continued efforts are needed to modernize the classroom and lab infrastructure (teaching technology, lighting, furniture, acoustical treatments, and flooring).
Available student housing units are not currently at maximum capacity. A study is underway (Presidential Guidance-50) on possible strategies to add bed spaces. If projected trends warrant, it would be feasible to add new student housing by the end of the five-year strategic planning window and to convert some older housing units in the LCSC inventory to other uses, including office space.
On-campus and neighborhood parking is adequate to sustain employee and student operations through the remainder of FY 2013. The college has acquired property on the perimeter of the Normal Hill campus to accommodate additional parking (or facility construction) when needed. Parking options for LCSC’s downtown facilities are more limited and cooperation with the city and local merchants will be needed if main street operations continue to expand.
Recent office space modernization efforts need to continue over the five-year planning window. In the event of growth of faculty and staff beyond current levels, additional office space could be provided through conversion of rental housing units and/or conversion of older residential hall space into modern offices.
A major vulnerability is the lack of redundant capabilities for heating and cooling of major buildings—almost every major structure is dependent upon a single source of HVAC. The main campus needs a loop to interconnect multiple facilities and provide a backup in the event of single-point failure. Use of energy-saving incentive dollars and cooperative projects with external entities could help fund these improvements.
While the current physical infrastructure of LCSC (with the exception of the Coeur d’Alene Center) is sufficient to support the increased output envisioned by the Idaho State Board of Education, this is not the case with respect to faculty and staff. Although class sizes could be increased in some upper division courses, many lower division courses and some professional courses are already up against faculty-student ratio limits imposed by specialized accreditation agencies and could not significantly expand without concomitant expansion of faculty and supporting staff. Faculty and staff workload levels at LCSC are high compared to other higher education institutions. An expanded LCSC student population will require ratios at least as low as current levels. Based on peak hiring periods over the past decade, funding an expansion spread over the next five years is technically feasible, but would require careful planning and coordination.
While increased utilization of distance learning technology could alleviate stress on the physical infrastructure, it is not the critical factor limiting expansion. While in some cases learning technology may enhance the effectiveness of course delivery and student success, it does not reduce the need for student-faculty interaction or significantly increase the desirable maximum ratio of students to faculty members. The current student to faculty ratios for academic and professional courses (14.3 to one, and 12.5 to one, respectively) may not be at a maximum level; the course delivery mode, however, is probably not the primary factor in establishing the ideal balance as we seek to maintain high levels of faculty-student engagement and interaction.
Many factors and trends will have a major impact on LCSC strategies to achieve its goals and objectives over the five-year planning window.
Funding for higher education has been used as a rainy day reserve to support other state operations, most notably K-12, during economic downturns and the prolonged recent recession. There has been limited enthusiasm among Idaho policy makers to restore pre-crisis levels of funding to higher education.
Since FY 2009, the state has not provided sufficient funding to cover maintenance of current operation costs (inflation, replacement of capital items, and employee salaries), nor has it funded LCSC line-item budget requests to support increased enrollment, including LCSC’s Complete College Idaho request that directly supports State Board of Education goals.
Employee salary levels at LCSC are significantly lower than those at peer institutions. Only one increase in employee compensation has been funded during the past four years and half of the cost of that increase was transferred by state policymakers to student tuition.
There has been significant political support for funding community college operations in the Treasure Valley, though little interest, as yet, in equalizing tuition rates among the three Idaho community colleges and no interest in providing funding to support the State Board-assigned community college function for LCSC and ISU. There has been strong political support to expand concurrent enrollment programs to enable completion of college-level coursework while students are still in high school; however, there has been no support for funding directed to higher education for this purpose. The dual impacts of community college expansion and in-high school programs erode for LCSC the probability of future revenues for lower-division courses.
The relative financial burden borne by students for college costs has dramatically shifted, with student tuition and fees now nearly equal to the general fund appropriation. Notwithstanding the facts that reduced state support has necessitated tuition increases to sustain higher education operations and that Idaho tuition rates remain well below regional and national averages, state policymakers are reluctant to support additional tuition increases.
Students in Idaho and across the nation have become more dependent upon federal financial aid to pay for college, and increased student debt load and default rates have caused consternation among policymakers. Federal funding available for higher education has been reduced in some cases and new policy restrictions aimed at curbing operations of for-profit higher education enterprises have inflicted collateral damage on public college operations.
Costs for employee and State Board of Education mandated student healthcare plans are ballooning and threaten to have a significant impact on college access for students. Increased tax rates and sluggish economic growth may further reduce college enrollment.
Economic and population growth within LCSC’s local operating area, Region II, has been flat. The highest growth rates in the state have been focused in southern Idaho and the northern panhandle. LCSC is increasingly reliant on a statewide market.
The college cannot depend upon major infusions of state-appropriated dollars to fund growth and new initiatives during the next five years. The primary sources of funding for strategic initiatives will be reallocation of current funds and utilization of student tuition and fee dollars. The primary engine for funding growth is increased tuition from students as a result of increased enrollment (higher accessions, increased retention) with tuition rate increases likely to be restricted by policymakers.
LCSC needs to continue to build its grassroots support within the region and throughout the state to increase awareness of its unique strengths and its support of the values of Idaho’s citizens. Strong support of students, parents, alumni, community members, and businesses is essential to undergird the tangible support provided to LCSC by Idaho policymakers.