TRAVERSE CITY — A slate of eight search firms was narrowed to four by the Northwestern Michigan College Board of Trustees.

Those firms will be interviewed at a board retreat at noon Jan. 9 at the Hagerty Center. The retreat is open to the public.

The firm is being hired to do a search for a new president for NMC. Tim Nelson, who has been with the college since 2001, in November announced that he would be stepping down in Dec. 2019. Nelson is 66.

Each firm will have about 20 minutes to give a presentation and about another 30 to answer questions. The board could make its decision that day or could wait until its regular meeting on Jan. 14, which trustees last month voted to move up from its scheduled date of Jan. 29.

Any deliberations over which firm to hire must be done in the open.

Trustee Michael Estes said he is not looking for a firm to choose a candidate for the college.

"I'm looking for them to assist me and my fellow trustees in finding that candidate," Estes said.

Trustee Chris Bott agreed.

"We need them to guide us," Bott said.

The board sent out requests for proposals about three weeks ago and got eight responses. The firms that will be interviewed are Pauly Group Inc., of Illinois; Gold Hill Associates, of Mississippi; AGB Search, of Washington, D.C.; and Myers McRae Executive Search and Consulting, of Georgia.

Those eliminated are Greenwood/Asher & Associates Inc., of Florida; ACCT Searches, of Washington, D.C.; Amy Cell Talent, of Ann Arbor; and Rehmann, of Traverse City.

Trustee Rachel Johnson said board members received the proposals on Thursday and she didn't feel like she had enough time to look at each proposal carefully and research the firms.

"There are a lot of good firms here," she said.

Johnson said she would need more time to narrow them down to two or three, but in the end trustees agreed Monday to eliminate four firms and interview the remaining four.

The eight firms had fees ranging from $55,000 to $83,000, though several board members said the fee structure for many of them is confusing. Nelson will ask the four that will be interviewed to clarify their fees.

Trustee Jane T. McNabb said that NMC's rural community is unique and when she was looking through the proposals she was looking for the firms that had done their research on NMC.

Board President Kennard R. Weaver said he has learned that culture is the most important thing when looking for a new president.

"I looked to see in these search firms which had a culture similar to ours," Weaver said.

Trustees said they would also be open to looking at both traditional and non-traditional candidates, saying that Nelson was considered non-traditional because he came from a business background rather than from the educational field.

Weaver has said that a search committee will be appointed that includes members of the community.