Under Earl's direction, the system has won national recognition for several programs that increased the number of students who finished their college degrees.

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Charlie Earl, the executive director of the state community- and technical-college system, announced Tuesday he will retire in July.

Earl, 65, has been executive director of the state Board of Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC) for six years. Under his direction, the system has won national recognition for several programs that increased the number of students who finished their college degrees.

Sharon Fairchild, board chairwoman, praised Earl as a visionary leader who has “led us through some very significant major initiatives.”

One such program is called I-BEST, for Integrated Basic Education Skills Training; it’s been cited several times by President Obama in speeches about innovations in community colleges. The program integrates basic, or remedial, classes with college-level classes.

“The way I characterize it, for two times the money we get three to nine times the learning outcomes,” Earl said of I-BEST.

The program costs twice as much because two instructors teach each class, but the program greatly increases the chance a student will complete his or her college education, he said.

Earl also helped develop the Student Achievement Initiative, which rewards colleges with extra money when they improve on certain measures, such as getting more students to finish college-level math, or completing their first full quarter of college-level work.

During Earl’s tenure, state-funded enrollment at the 34 colleges has grown from 250,000 to 330,000 students.

But in the past four years, the Legislature cut funding to community and technical colleges, and Earl has warned that the cuts would reduce enrollment — either because students couldn’t pay the rising tuition, or because so many classes would be eliminated that students couldn’t craft a class schedule that made sense.

This year, the 34 community and technical colleges saw state-funded enrollments drop by about 16,000, or 5 percent, which is what the SBCTC had predicted, he said.

Earl previously was president of Everett Community College. Although he won praise from the board of trustees there, he was censured by the faculty in 2004 after he reassigned a popular vice president without notifying the faculty.

Before that, he worked as a deputy to then-King County Executive Gary Locke and as the general manager of the Snohomish Public Utility District.

Katherine Long: 206-464-2219 or klong@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @katherinelong.