Chancellor Carlos O. Turner Cortez, Ph.D., took over on July 1 as chief executive officer of the San Diego Community College District (SDCCD), the district’s first new chancellor in 17 years.
Having most recently served as president of the San Diego College of Continuing Education (SDCCE), the largest noncredit adult education institution in the nation, Dr. Cortez brings both continuity and fresh perspectives to a district that is well established in the region as an engine of economic opportunity and social change.
The SDCCD Board of Trustees announced the selection of Cortez in March, following a national search. He succeeds former SDCCD Chancellor Constance M. Carroll, Ph.D., who retired June 30. Including Continuing Education, the SDCCD serves 100,000 students annually at San Diego City College, Mesa College, and Miramar College, making it San Diego’s largest institution of higher education.
“Chancellor Carroll has established the SDCCD as a national leader in student equity and outcomes. I am committed to working with our student leaders, faculty, classified professionals, and administrators to move the district to the next level of success,” Cortez said.
Cortez will now oversee the region’s largest provider of workforce training and higher education with a $4.1 billion annual economic impact across eight campuses and a district office. He will lean heavily on his experience as a faculty member and administrator as the SDCCD transitions toward normalcy — or what passes for normal — in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. After operating remotely for nearly 18 months, the SDCCD is expanding its in-person class offerings this fall in anticipation of a full reopening in January 2022. Other immediate priorities include boosting student enrollment, addressing college affordability, and expanding equity and access in a district where a growing number of students are fighting hunger and battling housing insecurities.
During his six years leading SDCCE, Cortez established an ongoing partnership with the San Diego Rescue Mission, transitioning homeless adults into the workforce and out of poverty, and led the way in implementing the San Diego Gateway to College and Career program that offers paid internships, accelerated instruction, and a clear pathway to good-paying jobs for teens and young adults who are neither in school nor working. He also launched the Interactive Competency-based Online Microcredentialing (ICOM) Academy, an online curriculum providing adult learners with job training in 11 career education options that can take just five to 10 months to complete.
Before arriving at the SDCCE in 2015, Cortez served as acting vice president of Instruction and dean of Academic Pathways, Workforce Development, and Student Success at Berkeley City College; director of Education Extension at UCLA; and as a teacher and administrator in public schools in New York and Los Angeles. He also serves as an adjunct faculty member at Johns Hopkins University, New York University, and the University of California, Berkeley.
Cortez has a bachelor’s degree in history and sociology from Georgetown University, a master’s degree in race and gender politics from New York University, and a Ph.D. in education policy and administration from the University of Southern California.
“Chancellor Cortez is an innovative, entrepreneurial, energetic, and proven leader who is committed to participatory governance,” said SDCCD Board of Trustees President Maria Nieto Senour. “He clearly understands the dynamics of a large, multi-college district as well as the dynamics of the community the SDCCD serves.”
As one of the largest of California’s 73 community college districts, the San Diego Community College District serves approximately 100,000 students annually through three two-year colleges and the San Diego College of Continuing Education. San Diego City College, San Diego Mesa College, and San Diego Miramar College, offer associate degrees and certificates in occupational programs that prepare students for transfer to four-year colleges and entry-level jobs. Mesa College also offers a bachelor’s degree in Health Information Management. The San Diego College of Continuing Education offers noncredit adult education at seven campuses throughout San Diego.