Tim Nelson Gets Down to Business: NMC’s president talks big picture, big plans and his big salary

You might say that Tim Nelson-president of Northwestern Michigan College since 2001-was born a businessman. His first venture? As a third grader, he went door to door, selling vegetables from his grandparents' Berrien County farm. By the seventh grade, Nelson had earned enough to buy his first truck-a 1927 one-ton Model-T Ford truck. Nelson went on to attend Grand Valley State University, and then put his entrepreneurial skills to work in private business. But in 1988, he shifted his career path from industry to academia. Nelson joined Olivet College, eventually serving as vice president, and in 2001 he signed on as president of NMC. TCBN checked in with Nelson to find out how a business-minded man sees the college's place in the community, the changing economy and the world.

AP: Are you satisfied with the way NMC prepares students for the workplace?

TN: We do a lot of data research to help us continuously improve. And our data tells us that employers are satisfied and that students are satisfied-both with about 90 percent approvals.

AP: What's the most satisfying change you've brought to NMC?

TN: It's not really change, but one of the most satisfying things for me is the way our faculty continues to make our curriculum relevant to today's world, especially through programs like water and energy. Also, it's satisfying that we're relatively fiscally sound during a rough period in the state.

AP: How has the weakened Michigan economy impacted NMC?

TN: Our students are usually the 18- to 20-year-olds and the over-36-year-olds. I would guess than many of our [age 36+] students are retraining or learning new skills to re-enter the economy. They often come to a community college, rather than a university, because of the cost. For example, students can come to NMC for two years for about $5,600 tuition-not counting fees and books. That compares to about $8,300 for one year at a university.

AP: What about the uncertainty about the state's commitment to the Michigan Promise scholarship program?

TN: There's real uncertainty. Lawmakers have to the end of September to pass the budget, but we'll go ahead and award the funds to students. Our funding requests are up over 1,000, while summer enrollment is up 18 percent, and our fall enrollment is budgeted to be up 6.5 percent. It's tough to plan during tough times, but it's even more difficult to respond to uncertainty.