Carlos Osvaldo Cortez, Ph.D.

President
San Diego Continuing Education

Carlos O. 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 community college system in the United States. SDCE is the eleventh largest institution in the California Community College system, out of 116 by headcount. In this capacity, he oversees more than 40,000 students annually at seven campuses and over 200 off-site locations. Cortez is also an 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. Cortez is also an expert in the area of promoting equity and access in urban education through literacy and policy initiatives.

Dr. Cortez has taught consistently for the past 23 years. He has served as an administrator for 16 years and as CEO for 11 years. Prior to leading SDCE, 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 a 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. 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, Cortez has elected to work primarily with underserved, ethnically diverse student populations from low income communities. He 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. Cortez serves 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, Inc. San Diego.

In 2017, 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 named the 2019 NACCE Heather Van Sickle Entrepreneurial College of the Year. In 2020, Cortez was awarded the San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE) Lighthouse Awards as a Turnaround School Leader and was named a 2020 Top 100 Leaders in Education by the Global Forum for Education and Learning.

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.

Impacting Change

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

  • Governance Steering Committee, UNMUDL, 2020-Present
  • Board of Directors, Goodwill, Inc., San Diego, 2019-Present
  • Board of Directors, National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship, 2019-Present
  • Board of Managers, Jackie Robinson YMCA, 2017-Present
  • Board of Directors, The Trevor Project, 2017-2019
  • Board of Directors, San Diego Workforce Partnership Workforce Development Board, 2016-2020
  • Board of Directors, Thrive Charter School Foundation, 2016-2020
  • Advisory Board, Teach for America San Diego, 2016-2018
  • Board of Directors, International Cottages, House of Puerto Rico, 2016-2018
  • Board of Directors, San Diego Continuing Education Foundation, 2015-Present
  • Advisory Committee on Legislation, Community College League of California, 2014-Present
  • Member, California State Select Task Force on Autism Spectrum Disorder, 2010-2013
  • Board of Directors, Green Ambassadors, 2010-2013
  • Board of Directors, Environmental Charter Schools, 2010-2013
  • Chair, Grape Street Watts Beautification Committee, 2006-2007
  • AmeriCorp Member, 1999-2001
  • Corps Member, Teach for America, 1999-2001

Recent Academic Research

  • Binational Adult Noncredit Learner Experience on the Mexicali Border
  • The Past, Present, and Future of Adult Noncredit Education in California, 1856-2018
  • The Past, Present, and Future of Adult Noncredit Education in California, 1856-2017
  • The Past, Present, and Future of Adult Noncredit Education in California, 1856-2016
  • FIPSE Federal Research Grant, Principal Investigator 2010-2013
  • TPSID Federal Research Grant, Principal Investigator 2010-2015
  • Dissertation, Crusaders for social justice: black female educator-activists in social welfare reform in Los Angeles during the golden age of the black power movement, 1966-1975

Awards and Honors

  • Global Forum for Education and Learning’s 2020 Top 100 Leaders in Education
  • San Diego County of Education 2020 Turnaround School Leader Lighthouse Award
  • National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship 2019 Heath Van Sickle Entrepreneurial College of the Year Award
  • Teach for America’s Teach for Innovation 2019 McGrory Award for Innovative Alumni Leadership
  • Association of Community and Continuing Education (ACCE) Excellence in Continuing Education, 2018
  • League for Innovation in Community Colleges Innovation of the Year Award, 2018
  • 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 Weber Distinguished Male Leader Award, 2017
  • Berkeley City College, Employee of the Year Award, 2015

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

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
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Heather Van Sickle Entrepreneurial College of the Year 2019