California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris will retire in April, after more than three years leading the sprawling system of 113 colleges and 2.1 million students.
With the strategic plan that he set out at the start of his tenure finishing this academic year, Harris, 67, said in an interview Wednesday that it felt like the right moment for a change in leadership.
“When you look at the work we’ve been doing, the time is really opportune,” he said. “There’s a whole lot of projects that are coming to a close.”
Harris was tapped as chancellor in September 2012, mere weeks after stepping down as president of Sacramento’s Los Rios Community College District, where he served for 16 years.
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He oversaw the system’s recovery from recession-era spending cuts, while launching a major student success initiative to raise completion rates, carrying out a program to smooth transfer to California State University that has since expanded to the University of California, and selecting pilot programs to offer the first bachelor’s degrees at California community colleges.
He also dealt with the fallout of an ugly battle between City College of San Francisco and the regional accrediting commission that saw the school threatened with losing its accreditation before state and federal officials intervened. Legal battles are still ongoing, and a task force recommended last month that California Community Colleges find a new accrediting agency.
Harris said exploring accreditation options will be a major focus before he leaves, and he intends to present a proposal to the governing board in March about how the system should proceed.
“What that change is going to look like, I can’t tell,” he said.
Harris hopes the next chancellor will prioritize developing relationship with industry and gearing community college education to California’s workforce needs. He said he may continue to do some advising in higher education, but for now, his plans for retirement are traveling and his new grandchildren. He will continue to draw the annual pension from the California State Teachers Retirement System that he began receiving in 2012 after his initial retirement from Los Rios, which last year paid $205,978.
“I had two months the last time,” Harris said. “I am looking forward to a little more time with my family and a little more flexibility in my schedule.”