The next statewide chancellor of the 113-campus California community college system will be Eloy Ortiz Oakley, who currently heads the Long Beach Community College District and has been a strong voice in smoothing students’ paths to graduation and transfers, officials announced Monday.
The Board of Governors of the California Community Colleges announced the selection at their meeting in Sacramento after what they described as a national search. Oakley is scheduled to become statewide chancellor Dec. 19.
Geoffrey L. Baum, president of the board of governors, said Oakley was the unanimous choice because the community colleges sought “a leader who was relentless in the pursuit of success for all our students, someone who is results oriented and not afraid to take strategic risks.”
“It should be no surprise that Eloy Oakley emerged as the leader California needs to lead our community college system,” Baum said.
Oakley, the superintendent-president of Long Beach Community College District since 2007, has gained statewide and some national prominence as a strong proponent of removing institutional roadblocks that make it difficult for students to progress from high school to community colleges to four-year institutions.
Oakley, 51, would become head of a loosely affiliated system that serves 2.1 million part-time and full-time students. It is the largest higher education system in the United States. His annual pay will be $295,000.
In his statement of thanks at the meeting, Oakley acknowledged the opportunity that attending Golden West College, a community college in Orange County, gave him after he finished military service. Oakley, who then went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees at UC Irvine, said he will concentrate on making sure that more state residents have a “first chance, second chance, third chance” at education and “the opportunity to realize what California is all about.”
Oakley, who is Mexican-American and the first Latino to become statewide community college chancellor, said that one of his important tasks will be to help Latino and African-American students succeed. “We really must be intentional and unrelenting in addressing the needs of our students, all of our students, and in doing so pay particular attention to those students who have been historically underrepresented in our higher education system and our workforce,” he said
He also spoke of the income inequalities and the racial tensions that have been roiling the nation. Education leading to good jobs are among the best ways to improve the future, he said. And the emphasis should be on what he said are “guided pathways” that lead students course by course from high school to community college and then transferring to earn a bachelor’s degree. “We’ve done a wonderful job in building guided pathways to the prison system. For our students, we need to exert just as much effort, if not more, to building pathways to a college education because that’s what they deserve,” he said.
Unlike the heads of the University of California or Cal State systems, the state community college chancellor has little executive control over campuses and operates more as a purveyor of ideas and policies. Individual campuses are governed by elected boards of trustees, in contrast to UC’s board of regents and CSU’s board of trustees. The majority of members of both UC and CSU governing boards are appointed by the governor and oversee their respective systems rather than individual campuses.
In 2014, Gov. Jerry Brown appointed Oakley to the UC Board of Regents, putting him in a position to promote a greater collaboration between the two systems. His UC regent term is scheduled to last until 2024 and Oakley said Monday that he intends to remain on the UC board.
In a statement released Monday, Brown said: “Eloy Oakley knows California’s community colleges inside and out and has served at every level in the system – from teaching in the classroom to running a campus as superintendent. California’s 113 community colleges– and the 2.1 million students they serve – are in good hands.”
As chancellor, Oakley will succeed Brice Harris, who stepped down in April after serving since September 2012. Since then, Erik Skinner, a deputy chancellor, has served as interim chancellor while a national search for a permanent replacement was conducted. Like Oakley, Harris served as president of a California community college before becoming chancellor of the system.
Oakley won attention for helping to forge what is called the Long Beach College Promise. Under that plan, students in Long Beach Unified high schools are guaranteed a year’s tuition at Long Beach City College and then given preferential admission to Cal State Long Beach if they successfully complete the required transfer courses.
However, all apparently was not always tranquil in Long Beach, a college district that enrolls about 25,000 students. Last year Oakley warned the Long Beach City College trustees that he might leave his job there if that board did not stop what he described as disruptive actions that threatened his leadership, according to media reports at the time. Oakley apparently was being wooed by other districts but he eventually got his Long Beach contract renewed through 2019.
Oakley earned his bachelor’s degree in environmental analysis and design and a master’s in business administration. He had administrative jobs at other community colleges before joining Long Beach in 2002 as assistant superintendent/executive vice president of administrative services.
In one controversial experiment, state legislation authorized six community colleges, including Long Beach, to charge higher tuition in summer and winter for some hard-to-obtain classes. That garnered some criticism but Oakley defended it as a way for some students to gain access to courses while keeping other tuition rates low.