James T. Harris III, president of Widener University in Chester for the last 13 years, will leave at the end of July to become president of the University of San Diego, effective Aug. 1.

"This decision to leave Widener has not been easy," Harris said in a statement. "I love Widener, and I have been honored to work side by side with such capable and dedicated colleagues on the faculty and staff. … I have particularly enjoyed my annual alternative spring break trips with students to developing nations and the opportunity to see them develop their global citizenship skills."

The board of trustees plans to launch a national search for his replacement.

Harris is known for his interaction with the community and the students. He worked with hospital and investment partners to create University Crossings, a $50 million retail and housing development on Providence Avenue in Chester that includes a bank, police substation, convenience store, loft apartments and a new hotel.

Under his leadership, the university's endowment tripled to $90 million and he launched the largest fundraising campaign in the school's history, university officials said.

The university introduced new doctoral programs, opened a new campus in Exton and started the Widener Partnership Charter School under leadership as well.