Santa Barbara City College officials Monday announced the hiring of Andreea Serban Ph.D. as the successor to President John Romo, who is retiring in June. Serban will be the first female president at SBCC, which was founded in 1909.

Serban is currently a high-ranking official at a community college in Orange County and an immigrant from Romania. The new job is a homecoming of sorts for her; before starting the job in Orange County, she worked as an administrator at SBCC.

At City College, she will make about $215,000 annually, said Sue Ehrlich, vice president of Human Resources & Legal Affairs. Ehrlich added that Romo, who has held the position since 2002, makes about $225,000.

In February 2007, Romo announced his intention to retire, saying, “I plan to be one for whom the expression ‘He’s leaving the job to spend more time with his family’ is actually true.”

Monday’s announcement followed a nationwide search that winnowed the list of candidates to four finalists from up and down the West Coast, including Jack Friedlander, an SBCC executive vice president.

Serban will finish out the school year at South Orange County Community College District in Mission Viejo, where she has been vice chancellor of technology and learning services since 2006.

Reached Monday, Serban, who has held onto the Santa Barbara home she purchased in 2004, said she is thrilled to be returning to town.

“I have to say, the seven years I spent in Santa Barbara were the most rewarding personally and professionally,” she said. “I love the college, I love the people, and the community.”

She added that she could envision serving as the school’s president for as long as 25 years.

During her earlier stint in Santa Barbara, Serban worked as a director for the Information Technology, Research and Planning Department, and eventually was promoted to become that division’s associate vice president.

Serban earned her bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of Bucharest in Romania, and received her doctorate in higher education from the University of Albany in New York.

In Romania, her father was an economist and her mother worked in radiology.

“I had the luck of having tremendous support from my parents, who greatly valued education,” she said.

Depite her own good fortune, at the time Serban was attending college in Romania, the government had a policy of placing limits on the number of students who were eligible to attend institutions of higher learning.

By contrast, Serban said she has long been drawn to the culture of inclusiveness fostered by the California Community Colleges System, which generally accepts nearly all in-state students, and whose tuition rates for in-state students are among the lowest in the nation.

“It’s open for everyone, rather than being a privilege,” she said. “That’s a very generous concept, because it is absolutely crucial in this day and age to have at least some higher education in order to have a chance for a good job and a good life.”

Serban described Santa Barbara City College as an innovative institution, citing examples such as the school’s Center for Sustainability, as well as its professional development courses and adult high school education program.

She also praised the Foundation for Santa Barbara City College, a fund-raising organization that she said has consistently been ranked among the top five community college foundations in the nation.

As of 2004, the school enrolled 17,000 full- and part-time students.

On Tuesday, Desmond O’Neill, president of the college’s seven-member board of directors, said he found Serban to be very bright and capable.

“We think she’s got what it takes,” he said.

He declined to say whether Serban was a unanimous choice, although he did say that none of the trustees voted against hiring her. Asked if any trustees abstained from voting, he again declined to comment.

“(The decision) was not without great difficulty and a lot of discussion,” he said. “All the people we interviewed were highly intelligent, had good social skills and were articulate.”

Another trustee, Morris Jurkowitz, declined to comment on the matter Monday.

— Noozhawk staff writer Rob Kuznia can be reached at