Chancellor of California Community College Alloy Ortiz is resigning to take on a new role as head of the Oakley College Future Foundation, a non-profit organization focusing on college completion among low-income and minority students in California.
Oakley announced Thursday that he will resign in August after leading the system for nearly six years. Last year, his five-month term as a senior adviser to US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona was also included.
“Working as Chancellor of the Community College System has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life that has given me the opportunity to succeed in higher education,” Oakley said in a press release. “I’m very proud of what the Chancellor’s Office team has achieved and the amazing students we serve.”
With 116 colleges and more than 2.1 million students, the California community college system is the largest in the country. The broader system includes rural and urban institutions and is considered a bellwether among community college leaders across the country. Oakley, who previously served as superintendent and president of the Long Beach Community College District, drew the attention of system leaders after establishing the Long Beach College Promise, a year-long free college program, including a transition to the city’s Cal State campus. Earlier, these programs were spread across the country.
Oakley is regarded as a leader who thinks about college affordability and equity and is known for raising the profile of the system by working with state legislators to formulate higher education policy. His tenure spanned some difficult times for community colleges, including during Donald Trump’s presidency, who occasionally slashed their prices, and during the COVID-19 epidemic, which spiraled community college enrollments, especially to black and Latino and low-income students. Who made up a large portion of the community college student population.
“Chancellor Oakley has been an incredible leader and champion of higher education, setting community colleges in California on a course for transformational change,” California Governor Gavin Newsom said in a press release. “As we pursue a vision for a more equitable, affordable, and student-centered system of higher education, I look forward to continuing to work with Chancellor Oakley in his new role with strong leadership in the Chancellor’s office and on campus. Across the state. “
Larry Gallegio, president and CEO of the California Community College League, said Oakley used his position to help set a higher education policy agenda for the state that focused on closing the equity gap.
“He’s absolutely focused on statewide dialogue, negotiation and equity,” he said. “Without question, he has significantly changed the focus of discussions, conversations, which we need to do better with color students, underdeveloped students and low-income students, and we need to take action at the state-wide legislature and local level. To better serve color students.”
Galileo hopes campus leaders, “those who really need to implement the law and the education code, those who work with students and the community on campus” will be “closely involved” in the search and appointment process for the next chancellor.
The outgoing chancellor said the timing seemed right for his departure.
“I think we’ve achieved a lot,” Oakley said in an interview. “I just feel like this is the right time for me to step out of this role and give our new voice in the system a chance to lead from here.”
The board of governors plans to meet in July to begin the process of appointing an interim chancellor and replacing Oakley.
Pamela Haynes, president of the system’s board of governors and a member of the Los Rios Community College District Board of Trustees, said she left “big shoes to fill.”
“It’s a big deal,” he said. “We found the right person at Eloy. We need to find the right person to take the agenda forward. ”
Colleagues described Oakley as focusing on student success outcomes, which improved student groups during his tenure. Since the 2015-16 academic year, the number of graduate students with certificates has increased by 32 percent since he began his career. Also, the number of students pursuing associate degrees for associate degree transfers, including guaranteed pathways in the California State University system, has more than doubled.
He sees his new role as building his current mission in the system by allowing him to work with both community colleges and the four-year university system in the state.
“I can continue to focus time and attention on the needs of our least represented students in California and California,” he said. “It’s very much in line with what I like to do and what I want to do.”
Among his proud accomplishments as Chancellor was his vision of success, a strategic plan to close the equity gaps adopted by the system in 2017 and increase transfers and graduation rates.
Haynes said he read the plan to guide his work and re-read it.
“It’s underlined, written in the margins, it’s highlighted,” he said. “Its goals and commitments, personally, as a trustee and as a member of the Board of Governors, are my North Star. It focuses on students, meets them wherever they are, is designed with them, high expectations as well as high support, “and it ensures that students’ voices are” embedded “in the system-wide policy.
He praised Oakley for launching a student-centered funding formula in 2018, which is slated to become fully operational in 2024. The new formula bases state funding on a variety of metrics of student success, including admissions, transfers and completion rates.
At the policy level, Oakley is proud of a lawsuit filed in 2020 against former Education Secretary Betsy Davos to exclude undocumented students from receiving emergency COVID-19 relief grants.
His term was marked by significant reform of remedial education with the passage of Assembly Bill 705, a 2017 state law that removes placement examinations and compulsory remedial math and English courses in California community colleges. Some colleges are reported to be lagging behind in implementing reforms. But in four years, the one-year completion rate in transferable credit-carrying math courses has risen from 26 percent to 50 percent, and in credit-carrying English courses from 49 percent to 67 percent.
“To me, this is a very personal highlight of my time here, and I feel like we’ve crossed the bridge and don’t have to go back to the kind of habits we’ve had in the past,” he said. “I really like the way we’re going from here.”
The faculty association of California Community College, which has raised questions about some of the reforms, has issued a statement wishing Oakley luck in his new endeavor.
“While we have not always agreed with the Chancellor on certain policy issues, each community college should celebrate and continue its legacy of bringing equity to the forefront of policy discussions,” the association said in a press release. “We congratulate her on her new position at the College Future Foundation.”
Oakley acknowledged that his departure comes at a time of change and is probably a concern for California community college leaders, as the epidemic continues and colleges face ongoing enrollment declines, much like community colleges across the country. The student-centered funding source, which met with some hand-wringing and skepticism among campus leaders, is also set to become effective soon.
“I see that administrators and board members are always concerned about transition, but in higher education this is our constant,” he said. “But I also think there is a lot of excitement about that transfer. In the last six years, there has been a lot of uncertainty about this, all over the country, all over the world, and in these six years, we have benefited a lot from the way we think about students, the way we serve students, the way we adapted to very challenging environments. “
Oakley noted that colleges have made significant and lasting changes to the system during the epidemic. For example, they have created their online offers, which have benefited working adult students who need flexible course options. He acknowledged that the system was in good hands with the Board of Governors and its executive, and noted that he was leaving at a time when California community colleges were facing “the biggest budget the system has ever seen.”
While he is waiting for his new role, he said he will miss aspects of his work in the system, especially involving student leaders.
“They never fail to surprise me,” he said. “Our student leaders come from some of the most challenging backgrounds you can think of, and they’ve overcome more obstacles in one year than most people in their entire lives. And yet they are still engaged in leadership and committed to improving their lives, the lives of their colleagues. What I miss most is interacting with the student leaders I’ve had the opportunity to work with over the years. “