Howard Community College President Mary Ellen Duncan, who oversaw unprecedented growth during nine years at the once-struggling institution in Columbia, announced her retirement yesterday.

The HCC Board of Trustees said it had chosen the college's executive vice president, Kate Hetherington, to lead the 36-year-old institution after Duncan retires in June from her $196,378-a-year post.

"It's time for a change, to refocus on other aspects of life," said Duncan, 65, adding that she wanted to spend more time with her family. "The presidency is something that takes up all of your time. Otherwise, it just wouldn't work."

Duncan said she expects to assist with the college's fundraising for at least a year after she retires.

The trustees said they decided not to launch a national search, as they did when they hired Duncan in 1998 from Delhi College of Technology in Upstate New York. Instead, they asked Duncan two years ago to prepare an administrative succession plan.

"We don't want to shift directions," said trustee Roger Caplan, a 12-year veteran of the board. "I think it's a tribute to Mary Ellen. There was no institutional candidate last time. With Mary Ellen, we allowed our leader to grow within."

As president, Duncan has pushed the college to keep up with a for-credit student enrollment that grew 33 percent from 2000 to 2005, with about 25 percent of Howard County graduating seniors enrolling at the college. Last fall, more than 7,000 students took classes for credit, and 14,253 students took noncredit continuing-education courses.

The college has spent $80 million for new buildings and renovations and wants to further expand its campus with a $37 million health sciences building. Last year, it concluded a six-year, $12 million private fundraising campaign that helped pay for new facilities, increase the institution's endowment and boost scholarships.

There have been growing pains. The community college's annual tuition and fees, amounting to $3,020 a year for a full-time, in-county student, have risen in recent years and are among the highest for Maryland community colleges. Preservationists remain wary of the college's unfinished plans for Belmont, an 18th-century Elkridge estate that the college's educational foundation purchased in 2004. The college operates a resort and conference center at Belmont and uses it as a lab school for the college's hospitality and culinary management program.

Hetherington, 54, has a doctorate in higher education leadership, but she emphasized her associate of arts degree from the Community College of Philadelphia, where she later was a longtime administrator.

"We believe fully in the community college mission," she said.

Hetherington came to HCC in 1999 as vice president of student services, managed the school's capital campaign in 2004 and became executive vice president in 2005. Hetherington said finding construction dollars to assist with expansion will remain a major challenge for Maryland community colleges.