California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice W. Harris announced Tuesday that he will retire in April, after leading the system through a crucial period of academic reform and controversies over accreditation.
In a message to leaders of the 113-college system, Harris said the timing of his departure coincided with the conclusion of several initiatives over which he presided and the next stage of strategic planning.
“Representing 113 colleges and more than 2 million students has been a dream job,” Harris, 67, said in a statement. “No matter where I went as your chancellor I was greeted by people who sang your praises.... No one ever said they received anything other than a great education at one of our colleges.”
Harris became chancellor in 2012, during a tumultuous time of funding cuts and steep enrollment declines, replacing educator and former legislator Jack Scott, who had retired.
More draconian cuts to the two-year system were avoided when voters approved Proposition 30, a tax increase measure on the November ballot that year.
Under Harris, community colleges launched online tools that provide campus performance data as well as salaries of students in different degree programs who’ve entered the workforce.
Harris also helped to implement an ambitious and controversial reform agenda begun under Scott to improve transfer and graduation rates.
More recently, Harris helped to push through legislation that allows some two-year campuses to offer four-year bachelor’s degrees. But the community college system has also been embroiled in a dispute with an accrediting agency over its moves to revoke the accreditation of City College of San Francisco, the state’s largest junior college.
Some college supporters criticized Harris for moving too slowly to oppose the action, which is now on hold.
But he was lauded for his strong relationship with faculty and students and close working ties with UC President Janet Napolitano and Cal State Chancellor Timothy P. White.
“His integrity and passion for students and the advancement of our college system is unparalleled,” Geoffrey L. Baum, president of the community colleges Board of Governors, said in a statement.
Ted Mitchell, undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Education, said Harris “has been an extraordinary leader of the California community colleges at a particularly challenging time. He’s been a tireless advocate for the system and for the power of community colleges in general to change individual lives and the lives of communities.”
Harris previously served as chancellor of the Los Rios Community College District in Sacramento. He received a doctorate in education from Nova Southeastern University.
As chancellor, Harris earned $208,548 annually. The community colleges governing board will select a search committee to look for Harris’ successor during its next meeting in November, officials said.