Carlos O. Turner Cortez, Ph.D.
Carlos O. Turner Cortez, Ph.D., leads a legacy deeply rooted in equity, inclusion, and social justice. On July 1, 2021, he became Chancellor of the San Diego Community College District (SDCCD), which includes San Diego City College, San Diego Mesa College, San Diego Miramar College, and the San Diego College of Continuing Education, the SDCCD’s noncredit college. With an annual enrollment of 100,000 students, the SDCCD is one of the largest community college districts in California, and it is San Diego’s largest provider of workforce training and education.
Prior to his appointment as Chancellor, Dr. Cortez served six years as President of the San Diego College of Continuing Education (SDCCE), from 2015-2021, and established himself as a leader in noncredit education. He co-authored “The Past, Present and Future of Noncredit Education in California,” a report that provided direction for noncredit program growth at California’s community colleges. During his tenure as President, Dr. Cortez introduced the Gateway to College and Career model to the SDCCE, which offers Opportunity Youth experiential learning with paid work experience; an ongoing partnership with the San Diego Rescue Mission; an accelerated apprenticeship readiness program that creates equal access for minority populations; and launched the ICOM (Interactive Competency-based Online Micro-credentialing) Academy, a fully online educational program.
In addition to his accomplishments in higher education, Dr. Cortez advocates for inclusion of ethnic and minority groups that are often not truly represented. He has championed efforts to have City of San Diego and state officials designate the SDCCE’s flagship campus, the Educational Cultural Complex (ECC) as a civil rights landmark and proposed a $35 million renovation of the ECC in order to restore and preserve one of southeastern San Diego’s only centers for education and arts. To raise funds for the proposed project, in early 2020 Dr. Cortez held the Coretta Scott King Inaugural Benefit at the ECC. Additionally, in support of the LGBTQ+ community, he has hosted a National Coming Out Day Speaker Series with SDCCE, and proudly continues to support, through San Diego Pride, scholarships for trans and non-binary youth.
Before coming to San Diego, Dr. Cortez began his career in education as a Teach for America Corps member where he witnessed firsthand the rich-poor divide in academia. Since then, he has held several positions that have allowed him to create true change, to fight social injustices, and to foster urban education reform. His experience spans the public, private, and charter school sectors in Washington, D.C., Houston, New York City, Los Angeles, Berkeley, and San Diego.
Dr. Cortez has taught consistently since 1998. He has served as an administrator for 16 years and as CEO for 11 years. Prior to leading the SDCCE, he worked as the Acting Vice President of Instruction at Berkeley City College (BCC). Before BCC, he served as Director of Education Extension at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Dr. Cortez served as Principal of New Village Charter School, and as Assistant Principal of Special Education Services at Grape Street Elementary School, both of which are in Los Angeles. In these positions, he was known for his dedication to teachers and students, the development of innovative programs and services, astute fundraising, and sound fiscal management.
Throughout his career, Dr. Cortez has elected to work primarily with underserved, ethnically diverse student populations from low-income communities. He has been a constant advocate for policy and finance reform as a member of various state and federal legislative task forces, including his current service on the Community College League of California’s (CCLC) Advisory Committee on Legislation and the Campaign for College Opportunity. Dr. Cortez serves on several regional and national nonprofit boards, including the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship (NACCE), the Continuum of Care Advisory Board, the Jackie Robinson YMCA, and Goodwill Industries of San Diego County.
Carlos Turner Cortez, Ph.D., has amassed numerous awards and recognitions in the course of his career. In 2020, he was recognized by the San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE) Lighthouse Awards as a Turnaround School Leader, and was named one of the 2020 Top 100 Leaders in Education by the Global Forum for Education and Learning. In 2019, Dr. Cortez was awarded the Teach for Innovation McGrory Award for Innovative Alumni Leadership, and the San Diego College of Continuing Education, under his leadership, was named the 2019 NACCE Heather Van Sickle Entrepreneurial College of the Year. In 2018, he received the Excellence in Continuing Education Award from the Association of Community and Continuing Education (ACCE); the 2018 Innovation of the Year Award by League for Innovation in the Community College; and The RP Group Research and Planning Project award. Dr. Cortez was awarded the 2017 Mertes Award for Excellence in Community College Research by the Association of California Community College Administrators (ACCCA), and that same year was recognized as San Diego Male Leader of the Year by California State Assemblymember Shirley Weber.
Dr. Cortez’s educational background includes a bachelor’s degree in History and Sociology from Georgetown University; a master’s degree in Race and Gender Politics from New York University; and a Doctor of Philosophy in Education Policy and Administration from the University of Southern California. All three degrees focus on African American feminist political history.