Carlos O. Turner Cortez, Ph.D.

San Diego Continuing Education

Carlos O. Turner Cortez, Ph.D., presently serves as the president of San Diego Continuing Education (SDCE), one of the four divisions of the San Diego Community College District, the seventh largest system in the United States. In this capacity, he oversees more than 40,000 students annually at seven campuses and over 200 off-site locations. Turner Cortez is also as adjunct faculty at John Hopkins University, New York University, and the University of California, Berkeley. His research interests center on the role of educators and administrators of color in the historical development of American social welfare and education policy. He is also an expert in the area of promoting equity and access in urban education through literacy and policy initiatives.

Dr. Turner Cortez has taught consistently for the past 23 years. He has served as an administrator for 16 years and as the CEO for 11 years. Prior to SDCE, Turner Cortez most recently 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 at Los Angeles (UCLA). He began his career in education as Teach for America Corps member. His experience spans the public, private, and charter school sectors in Washington DC, Houston, New York City, Los Angeles, Berkeley, and San Diego. Turner Cortez served as principal of New Village Charter School in Los Angeles and as assistant principal of special education services at Grape Street Elementary School. 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, Turner Cortez has elected to work primarily with underserved, ethnically diverse student populations from low income communities and has been a staunch advocate for policy and finance reform as a member of various state and federal level legislative task forces, including his current service on the California League of Community College’s Advisory Committee on Legislation and the Noncredit Coalition. His commitment to social justice drives his passion for urban education reform. Turner Cortez also sits on several regional and national non-profit boards, including the Trevor Project, the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship (NACCE), the San Diego Workforce Partnership’s Workforce Development Board, the Jackie Robinson YMCA, and Goodwill San Diego.

In 2017, Turner Cortez was awarded the Martes Award for Excellence in Research by the Association of California Community College Administrators and was recognized as San Diego Male Leader of the Year by California State Assembly Member Shirley Weber. 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 Community Colleges; and The RP Group Research and Planning Project Award. In 2019, he was awarded the Teach for Innovation McGrory Award for Innovative Alumni Leadership and his organization was awarded the 2019 NACCE Heather Van Sickle Entrepreneurial College of the Year Award. In 2020, Turner Cortez was awarded the San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE) Lighthouse Awards as a Turnaround School Leader. Our Turnaround School Leader and was named a 2020 Top 100 Leaders in Education by the Global Forum for Education and Learning.

Dr. Turner 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 focused on African American feminist political history.

Impacting Change

President Turner Cortez serves on a number of boards and meets regularly with influencers and decision-makers in San Diego to impact change in the community.

  • Board of Directors, Goodwill Industries, 2019-Present
  • Board of Directors, National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship, 2018-Present
  • Board of Directors, The Trevor Project: 2017-2019
  • Board of Directors, San Diego Workforce Partnership Workforce Development Board, 2016-2020
  • Board of Advisors, Jackie Robinson YMCA, 2017-Present
  • Board, Thrive Public Schools Foundation Board: 2016-2020
  • Advisory Board, Teach for America San Diego, 2016-2018
  • Board of Directors, International Cottages, House of Puerto Rico, 2016-2018
  • California Community College Chancellor’s Office, EEO and Diversity Advisory Committee, 2015-2016
  • CEO Member Group, San Diego/Imperial County Community College Association (SDICCCA), 2015-Present
  • Board of Directors, San Diego Continuing Education Foundation, 2015-Present
  • Board of Directors, San Diego Community College District Auxiliary, 2015-Present
  • Advisory Committee on Legislation, Community College League of California. 2014-Present


  • San Diego County of Education 2020 Turnaround School Leader Lighthouse Award
  • Teach for America’s Teach for Innovation 2019 McGrory Award for Innovative Alumni Leadership
  • National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship 2019 Heath Van Sickle Entrepreneurial College of the Year Award
  • Association of Community and Continuing Education (ACCE) Excellence in Continuing Education, 2018
  • League for Innovation in Community Colleges 2018 Innovation of the Year Award
  • The RP Group Research and Planning Project Award, 2018
  • Association of California Community College Administrators (ACCCA) Mertes Award for Research, 2017
  • 79th District, Assembly Member Shirley Distinguished Male Leader Award, 2017

Academic and Professional Affiliations

  • AmeriCorps
  • American Education Research Association (AERA)
  • American Studies Association (ASA)
  • Association of California Community College Administrators (ACCCA)
  • Association of Community and Continuing Education (ACCE)
  • Community College League of California (CCLC)
  • Comparative and International Education Society (CIES)
  • Holmes Partnership Scholar
  • Irvine Fellows Program (IFP)
  • Scholars, Writers and Artists for Social Justice (SWASJ)
  • Teach for America (TFA)
  • University Continuing Educators Association (UCEA)

President's Blog

  • National Pride Month

    June marks National Pride Month, while we usually march together during this time at the annual San Diego Pride Parade, the current climate in America is divided in the face of a global pandemic,...

  • Coretta Scott King Inaugural Benefit

    February marks the celebration of Black History Month to commemorate the significant legacy of African American icons and unsung historical figures who fought tirelessly to achieve equal advances...

  • Honoring #SDCEWomen

    Tomorrow, March 8, 2019 is International Women’s Day. Women around the world are being honored for their accomplishments and contributions to education and society.

    The gender equality...


    The month of February represents Black History Month and four weeks dedicated to educating the community about the triumphs and struggles of African-Americans. The idea of celebrating Black...

Recent Public Speaking Engagements

President Cortez speaking at podium
  • 2020 AACC -American Association of Community Colleges
  • 2020 The League for Innovation for the Community College
  • 2019 NACCE - National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship
  • 2019 Building Workforce Partnerships Conference, California Labor Federation
  • 2019 IICE -Ireland International Conference on Education
  • 2019 The Council for the Study of Community Colleges
  • 2019 ACCE -Association for Community and Continuing Education
  • 2019 The League for Innovation in the Community College
  • 2018 Live Well San Diego, Live Well Advance Conference, San Diego, California
  • 2018 San Diego Workforce Partnership's 2018 Opportunity Summit, San Diego, California
  • 2018 CIES - Comparative and International Education, Mexico City, Mexico
  • 2018 HACU - Hispanic Associate of Colleges and Universities, Atlanta, Georgia
  • 2018 OEC - Open Education Conference, Niagara Falls, New York
  • 2018 ACCT - Association of Community College Trustees, New York New York
  • 2018 CCLC - Community College League of California, Mission Hills, California
  • 2018 LICE - London International Conference on Education, London, United Kingdom
  • 2018 The New World of Noncredit, Building and Expanding Programs in Community Colleges, San Diego, California
Heather Van Sickle Entrepreneurial College of the Year 2019