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A Hispanic to head the country's largest higher education system

Growing up in a home where higher education was not a priority did not prevent Eloy Ortiz Oakley from becoming the first Hispanic to lead California’s community college system.
19 Jul 2016 – 2:02 PM EDT

LOS ANGELES, Ca – Eloy Ortiz Oakley was elected unanimously on Monday as chancellor of California’s community colleges, the largest system of public higher education in the country with 113 campuses serving 2.1 million students.

As someone who grew up in a working class immigrant family, Ortiz Oakley is a firm believer in the role community colleges play as a springboard for further education.

"As a native of California and a product of a community college, I am honored by the opportunity to lead the system's largest and most diverse of the nation's higher education," said Ortiz Oakley, who is the first Latino to be appointed to the position.

He joins another Hispanic - Eduardo Padrón, President of Miami-Dade College which is the largest institution of higher education in the country - as one of the most infuential educators in the United States.

Oakley served four years in the Army and then enrolled at Golden West college before transfering to the University of California, Irvine, where he received a bachelor of arts in environmental analysis and design and a master's in business administration.

“I, like so many people in our great state, grew up in a working-class family, and the opportunity to go to college was not something that we spoke too much about or thought too much about,” he said. “Golden West College opened that door for me and gave me the opportunity to be here today.”

Addressing the community colleges Board of Governors, Oakley emphasized his commitment to the needs of minority students. “We must pay particular attention to African Americans and Latinos in this state. This is the backbone of our workforce,” he said. “Our economy no longer has a spot for those who lack skills …. We need to redouble our efforts as a system to ensure that every student in California has the opportunity to obtain a college credential.”

Ortiz Oakley is currently superintendent of Long Beach Community College and will assume the new position on December 19.

He is recognized for having implemented in Long Beach College Promise program to link students who are leaving high school with instructors and administrators from community colleges and providing free tuition for freshmen students. In 2015, President Obama launched the America’s College Promise initiative that was modeled in part on the Long Beach College Promise.

California's community colleges are still reeling from spending cuts during the recession which shut out more than 500,000 students, the Los Angeles Times reported. The state’s budget agreement for 2016-17 provides funding to increase enrollment by an additional 50,000 students, the paper noted.

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