John Rockett will cross the Pennines for his new role - he is currently executive vice-principal at Blackburn College.
Rotherham has been battered in the past two years by a series of cash crises. Last February a last-ditch recovery plan was launched which involved 90 redundancies.
Mr Rockett takes over an institution rumoured to be a candidate for the first college closure. The Further Education Funding Council is reviewing post-16 provision in Yorkshire and Humberside to examine the effects of any "significant reduction".
Principals will watch how the FEFC will help Rotherham, which, Mr Rockett says, has a deficit of "between Pounds 1 million and Pounds 3m".
Mr Rockett said: "I am convinced that although things are fairly dismal it is not irretrievable."