A workforce-education expert has been named chancellor of the San Diego Community College District, which is experiencing the sort of big enrollment drops that have been plaguing many of the state’s public, two-year colleges.
Carlos O. Cortez will move into the new post on July 1, succeeding Constance M. Carroll, who is retiring after serving in that post for almost 20 years.
Cortez, 46, is currently president of the San Diego College of Continuing Education, a job he has held since 2015.
He will oversee a district that is composed of three for-credit schools — San Diego City College, Mesa College and Miramar College — as well as the continuing education college.
Cortez was chosen to handle challenges that “include safely reopening the district’s campuses and engaging students to increase enrollment as we move beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, which has deeply affected each of the district’s students and employees,” Maria Nieto Senour, the chairman of the board of trustees, said in a statement.
“He is exactly the type of leader that is needed at this moment in the district’s history.”
Since 2008, enrollment at the state’s 116 community colleges has dropped by more than 525,000, to the 2.1 million level, according to the Chancellor of the California Community Colleges.
The decline has been very steep in the SDCCD. In 2002, enrollment peaked at 85,618. Last fall, it stood at 51,268. The pandemic heavily factored into the 13,558 student drop the district experienced over the past year.
Educators say that many factors are responsible for the long-term decline in community college enrollment, including an ongoing shortage of academic counselors, troubled transfer programs, and a decline in state funding.
Cortez’s career has heavily focused on serving low-income, under-represented students, which make up a lot of the enrollment in the state’s community colleges. There’s also been a big emphasis on equity and inclusion.
The SDCCD says he earned a bachelor’s degree in history and sociology from Georgetown University, a master’s in race and gender politics at New York University, and a doctorate in education policy and administration from the University of Southern California. Each of the degrees concentrated on African American feminist political history.
He went on to hold a variety of education posts, including service as director of educational extension at UCLA and as acting vice president of instruction at Berkeley City College.
“I love this district and I am honored to be appointed as Chancellor,” Cortez said Tuesday in a statement.