Capitol Alert

Eloy Ortiz Oakley tapped as California community colleges chancellor

Eloy Ortiz Oakley talks to reporters after he was named chancellor of the California Community Colleges on July 18, 2016, in Sacramento.
Eloy Ortiz Oakley talks to reporters after he was named chancellor of the California Community Colleges on July 18, 2016, in Sacramento. The Associated Press

Long Beach Community College District head Eloy Ortiz Oakley will take over as chancellor for California’s 2.1 million-student community college system in December, its governing board announced Monday.

Serving as superintendent-president of the district since 2007, Oakley is best known as one of the architects of the Long Beach College Promise, a partnership with the city and local schools to provide early outreach, a free year at Long Beach City College and guaranteed admission to Long Beach State for students. It has been credited with raising college attendance in the area and was a model for a similar national program proposed by President Barack Obama.

Oakley’s appointment follows a nationwide search to replace Brice Harris, who retired in April after three-and-a-half years leading the system. A California native, Oakley attended Golden West College in Huntington Beach after a stint in the Army and ultimately graduated from UC Irvine.

“It’s amazing to think that one generation ago, there wasn’t much thought about going to college” in my family, Oakley said at the announcement Monday. “And now, there is nothing but the thought of going to college. That is the magic of our community colleges.”

He hinted at scaling up the Long Beach College Promise to a statewide level and noted workforce development and creating guided pathways to college as other priorities for his tenure.

Oakley will also be the first Latino chancellor of the California community college system, where nearly one-half of students are Latino. He emphasized a need to raise completion rates for students who have been “historically left behind” in higher education, including Latinos and African Americans.

“This is the backbone of our workforce and we must lead the entire state higher education system in addressing their needs and lifting them all,” he said.

Praise for Oakley rolled in from higher education and political leaders, including Ted Mitchell, undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Education, and Gov. Jerry Brown, who said in a statement that the state’s 113 community colleges “are in good hands.”

In November 2014, Brown appointed Oakley as a regent on the University of California’s governing board. Oakley said Monday that he would continue in the role to “build bridges” between the systems.

Geoffrey Baum, president of the California Community Colleges Board of Directors, said the relationship with Brown was a major selling point for Oakley, who will advocate for additional funding in California budget negotiations and in Washington, D.C.

“We were looking for an individual who has strong relationships in the Capitol,” Baum said. “There was nobody that we saw who was better positioned to work effectively with the governor and the state Legislature.”

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff