Colorado Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia speaks after taking the oath of office to begin his second term during inauguration ceremony on the west steps of the Colorado State Capitol, Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2015, in Denver. 

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Colorado Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia will resign his position to take a new job as president of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, the governor's office announced Tuesday.

"This was a difficult decision but education has always been my passion. I look forward to carrying the message of opportunity, college completion and workforce development throughout the West," Garcia said in a statement.

Garcia has worked in higher education for much of his career. He's served as president of CSU-Pueblo and president of Pikes Peak Community College. He will also resign from his role as executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education.

Garcia said he’s grateful to Gov. John Hickenlooper for involving him in education policy during his time as lieutenant governor.

"[He was] very open to me deciding whether I want to pursue elected office further or go do something else. And when I talked to him about this, he was very supportive," Garcia said.

Garcia will take over at Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education sometime before July of next year. That Boulder-based organization helps governments and higher education systems share data and promote higher education in the region. 

It now falls to Hickenlooper to nominate a successor for Garcia.

“Joe will be nearly impossible to replace,” said Hickenlooper. “He has been an exceptional lieutenant governor and in leading education efforts for Colorado."

Hickenlooper’s selection to replace Garcia will be closely watched, since whoever that is will have a leg up if they decide to enter the 2018 governor’s race.

Both houses of the Legislature must approve Hickenlooper's nominee. Garcia will stay in his current role until that's complete, a spokeswoman said.

CPR News' Megan Verlee contributed to this report.