The State Center Community College District has launched a national search to replace Chancellor Tom Crow, who will retire next year.
Crow, 62, formally announced his retirement in September but will stay on until June 30.
He has worked in the district for about 20 years -- serving as chancellor since 2004 after eight months as the district's interim leader.
"It's probably time to do something else," said Crow, who has spent 41 years in education. He said he plans to remain in the community and may continue to work on some educational issues.
Willie Smith, president of State Center's board of trustees, praised Crow as a steady hand -- especially in guiding growth in the district that includes Fresno City and Reedley colleges along with educational centers in northeast Fresno, Clovis, Madera and Oakhurst.
"Dr. Crow has been the rock of Gibraltar from the time he started until now," Smith said.
During Crow's tenure, the district has worked on a variety of construction projects -- some partly financed by a $161 million bond measure approved by voters in 2002. The list includes the Willow International center, which opened in 2007, and renovation of City College's historic Old Administration Building, scheduled to reopen during the campus centennial next year.
Crow said he's proud of that work and of the district's role in preparing students for jobs. He also praised the flexibility of employees and students who have rallied in the face of declining state financial support and growing enrollments.
State Center has posted a record enrollment of about 39,000 students this fall. Crow said dealing with the district's budget has been the toughest part of the job.
"The difficulty we have had over the years is just this roller coaster of a budget," he said. "It's just impossible to plan for five years in this business because of the economy and education funding."
The district likely will continue to face challenges because of the state's rocky finances. Even so, Smith said the chancellor's job has plenty of appeal.
The district has been financially conservative and is in better shape than many of its counterparts in California, Smith said.
Authorities have formed a search committee -- which includes employees, trustees, students and community members -- and plan to hold public forums with finalists next spring.
Smith said the goal is to fill the job by April or May.