More than 40 years ago, Brice Harris entered education leadership and vowed never to use money — or lack thereof — as an excuse for the performance of the higher-learning institutions he served. However, he now insists the California Community Colleges System cannot adequately serve the student population without more state funding.
“There is no doubt, this is the most challenging time of my educational career,” Harris says. “What I worry about most is shutting out the students that need us the most.”
When he arrived at the Los Rios Community College District in 1996, enrollment for the regional district was 52,000. In January 2010, enrollment topped 92,000. Now, as we begin 2011, enrollment is down to about 88,000, according to Harris.
“But that’s not for lack of demand. It’s for lack of courses due to lack of funding,” he says.
According to Harris, a culmination of socioeconomic conditions has brought about the overused term perfect storm for the state’s community college system.
“Demand has never been greater. We have the proud responsibility of accepting … 100 percent of every high school graduating class and those who don’t graduate,” he says. “At the same time, funding for the system is at a 20-year low.
“It’s going to be difficult to maintain the capacity to educate the number of people who want an education with the current anemic state funding,” Harris says.
So instead of building a fifth campus, Los Rios is pursuing less expensive educational centers in underserved areas. Already centers have opened in West Sacramento and Natomas. Ground has broken on a center on the UC Davis campus. Future centers are planned for Rancho Cordova and Elk Grove.
“In the case of West Sacramento and Natomas, this power of proximity is really working. When we first opened the doors to the West Sacramento center we had 250 students attending; a year later we had 1,200,” Harris says. “These centers are successfully acting as a gateway to higher education for students whom otherwise may have never entered.”
• Occupation: Harris, 62, has served as chancellor of the Los Rios Community College District since 1996. A 40-year education veteran, he was previously president of Fresno City College and a faculty member and administrator in the Kansas City, Mo., community college system.
• Personal: Harris and his wife, Barbara, reside in Fair Oaks. Barbara is also a lifelong educator and currently teaches fifth grade.
• Community: Dedicated to service, Harris is a member of numerous educational and community boards and organizations. He is president of the board for the Sacramento Area Commerce and Trade Organization. He also serves on the board of Chief Executive Officers of the California Community Colleges.
• Commerce: “In spite of the state of our state and local economy, it’s amazing the attention our region is getting from potential international business relocations,” he says. “Many of these will likely become public in the near future.”
• Breakfast: At the Fox & Goose Pub and Restaurant, Harris enjoys a spinach, mushroom and cheddar omelet with a side of sliced tomatoes and dry rye toast.
For more than 40 years, Brice Harris has sat front row in the nation’s community college system. First as a part-time faculty member at a small campus in Kansas City, later as president of Fresno City College and since 1996 as chancellor of Los Rios Community College District. He has spent his career working within multi-college systems. This month, he retires.
We first introduced readers to Brice Harris in our “New Faces in High Places” section in Dec. of ‘96, when he became chancellor for the Los Rios Community College District. What a ride it’s been.