For two days, members of the Louisiana Board of Regents met with an unknown number of people interested in becoming the state’s next higher education commissioner at the Hilton across from the New Orleans airport.

They weren’t considered “candidates,” “applicants” or “semifinalists” — as far as the board is concerned — so the state higher education arm isn’t revealing their identities.

But after finishing up the last of the so-called “informal conversations” Thursday, the board quickly named three finalists for the job: West Liberty University President Robin Capehart, Community College of Rhode Island President Raymond Di Pasquale and Joseph Rallo, vice chancellor for academic affairs at the Texas Tech University System.

“There have been extensive reviews of each interested individual, many of whom were well-qualified,” Regents Chairman Clinton “Bubba” Rasberry said. “However, we believe that these finalists possess the level of experience, leadership skills and demonstrated success that are essential to lead higher education in this state.”

A potential fourth finalist, who has not been identified, has been given until 5 p.m. Tuesday to decide whether he wants to continue in the process. The board voted to reveal his identity if he does move ahead in the search.

The finalists will go through a second round of interviews Oct. 7-8, and a new commissioner will be named Oct. 9.

It’s not how the board originally set out. Under the initial timeline, which the board still appears to be otherwise sticking to, a group of semifinalists was supposed to be named last month, with the finalists named from that group last week.

Instead, all of the people under consideration remained secret until Thursday’s reveal. At least 25 people expressed interest in the job or were nominated for it. Board members wouldn’t say how many candidates were brought in for meetings, but the state paid for their travel.

The board members met briefly in one conference room, voted to go into executive session, then interviewed the candidates one by one in another conference room.

Higher education leaders said they wanted to ensure some anonymity for potential candidates who were on the fence so both sides would have a chance to feel each other out before things became public.

“Announcing semifinalists in August would have entailed ruling out those individuals who were worthy of consideration but requested to meet with the search committee before they could decide to apply for the job,” Uma Subramanian, deputy commissioner for external and legal affairs for the Board of Regents, told The Advocate this week in response to questions about the confidential nature of the names.

As a state employee who oversees coordination between Louisiana’s college and university systems and state-level policies, the new commissioner likely will be paid about $350,000. The exact salary will be set by the Board of Regents once a finalist is selected.

The finalists who have been identified make up an eclectic group: One has a bachelor’s degree in Russian history and studied European law in Italy; one previously served as a state higher education commissioner for almost three years and has a background in parks and recreation; the other is a noted tax expert and lists on his résumé several television and radio hosting gigs.

Rallo has doctoral and master’s degrees from Syracuse University, a law degree from Western New England University and a bachelor’s degree from Lafayette College. He speaks French and Italian, according to his résumé.

Di Pasquale, the former Rhode Island commissioner, has a master’s degree from Northeastern University in Boston and a bachelor’s degree from Arkansas Tech University.

Capehart has a master’s degree in taxation from Georgetown University, a doctorate from West Virginia University and a bachelor’s degree from West Virginia University.

Candidates up for public higher education jobs increasingly are kept secret, despite the fact that the positions are state jobs. Leaders typically argue that it helps ease the concerns of candidates who wouldn’t want their names out in the public early in the process.

The political nature of the job can be especially dicey. Former Commissioner Jim Purcell didn’t seek a contract renewal following a reported clash with Gov. Bobby Jindal over repeated cutbacks in state funding for higher education.

Rasberry said this week’s meetings were “necessary and helpful” in figuring out who would be considered for the job.

All along, the board has been careful to refer to those being considered as “interested individuals” and said the purpose was to make sure that they wanted to move forward and that the board liked them — echoing another recent search here.

Last year, The Advocate and LSU’s student newspaper filed lawsuits against the LSU Board of Supervisors after it refused to reveal the identities of people considered for its president/chancellor job.

Only F. King Alexander, who was selected, has been identified as being considered for the position.

The LSU board similarly claimed that the candidates for the post weren’t “applicants” — only Alexander was. A judge sided with the newspapers, but the university is in the process of appealing. Meanwhile, the records sought, which would reveal other candidates who were considered, remain under seal with 19th Judicial District Court Judge Janice Clark, of Baton Rouge.

Follow Elizabeth Crisp on Twitter, @elizabethcrisp. For more coverage of the Louisiana Legislature, follow our Politics blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog .