The Sacramento region has had remarkable stability and progress in its community college system, despite years of state funding cuts.
That's in large part due to the leadership of Brice Harris, the 16-year chancellor of Los Rios Community College District, the second largest in California. His tenure, the longest in the district's history, is unusual by national and California standards and the region has benefited from it.
Harris retires at the end of next week. As he noted Wednesday at a celebration honoring him, 678,444 students have gone through the four colleges during his 16 years a generation of students, touching one in three people in the region.
These colleges Sacramento City, American River, Cosumnes River and Folsom Lake produce the firefighters, nurses, bookkeepers, welders and mechanics of the future. They transfer more students to California State University and University of California campuses than any other community college district except Los Angeles, which is twice its size.
Harris leaves behind a college system that has good relations with faculty and staff, no small feat. He leaves behind a culture of innovation for example the plan for regional education centers minicampuses of 3,500 to 5,000 students, each attached to a parent community college, each within walking distance of light rail.
Under Harris' leadership, voters in 2002 and 2008 approved bonds to modernize and expand the four colleges and build centers in Davis (the first community college center built on a UC campus), West Sacramento, Rancho Cordova, North Natomas and Elk Grove.
Harris has been a persistent booster in the community for training California's future workforce following regional economic trends closely. He launched TechForce, to triple the number of graduates in computer information science, electronics and engineering; HealthForce, a partnership with Sutter Health, to expand nursing graduates; and GreenForce, to train students in clean technology fields.
With a background as a theater professor, Harris also has understood the importance of the arts as a force for economic development. He oversaw the building of Folsom Lake College and its regional performing arts center, Three Stages now renamed the Harris Center for the Arts.
Brice and Barbara Harris, who is an art teacher, raised $175,000 for a Fine and Performing Arts Fund. That fund also was appropriately renamed this week as the Brice and Barbara Harris Fund.
A strong community college system draws talent and produces talent. Harris has said he's staying in Sacramento and wants to stay involved in community colleges, a plus for Sacramento and California. His strong legacy puts the Los Rios board in good position to attract another high-quality chancellor to serve the region.