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California Community Colleges Pick Los Rios District's Ex-Leader as New Chancellor


The Chronicle of Higher Education - September 27, 2012

Brice W. Harris, the recently retired chancellor of the Los Rios Community College District, was named on Thursday as the new chancellor of the California Community Colleges system, the nation's largest college system.

Mr. Harris, who will become the 112-campus system's 15th chancellor, will succeed Jack Scott, who held the position for three years.

"I am bullish for California community colleges," Mr. Harris said in a speech after the announcement. "I believe our best days are ahead of us, and I look forward to this challenge."

Increasing access and student success are at the heart of what the system, which enrolls 2.4 million students, must continue to do under his leadership, he said. But he acknowledged that the system faced challenges, not the least of which is a budget already strained by cuts of more than $809-million since 2008-9.

If California voters do not approve a proposal on the November ballot that would increase state taxes, the community-college system stands to lose $338-million more in 2013. If that were to happen, the system, which has already reduced enrollment, could have to cut it again by as many as 100,000 students.

Mr. Scott on Thursday praised his successor's leadership, experience, and financial judgment. Mr. Harris, who started his career in 1972 as a faculty member in the community-college system of Kansas City, Mo., was chancellor of the Los Rios Community College District for 16 years. He retired from that post in August. The district, which serves the region around Sacramento, grew under Mr. Harris, including the founding of a new college and a number of centers.

Mr. Scott, who announced in March that he would retire this month, said that he had encouraged Mr. Harris to apply for the position.

"He's one of the outstanding CEO's in the nation and certainly in the State of California," Mr. Scott said. "He could have chosen not to do this because it will always have difficulties of leadership, but Brice is somebody who has unusual skills."

Mr. Harris cited the way the system has handled the challenges of recent years as a sign of its resiliency. He specifically praised Mr. Scott's task force for success, which has worked to increase transfer, graduation, and certificate-attainment rates. As chancellor, Mr. Scott also helped lead the push for legislation, enacted in 2010, that created a systemwide approach to transferring between the state's community colleges and California State University campuses.

Mr. Harris will replace Erik Skinner, who is serving as acting chancellor, on November 6.

Correction (9/27/2012, 5:58 p.m.): The original version of this article failed to note that Brice W. Harris had recently retired from his position as chancellor of the Los Rios Community College District. He is not still in the post. The error has been corrected.