Eloy Ortiz Oakley
Eloy Ortiz Oakley speaks to UCI graduate students at a “Celebrating Graduate Success” event as part of the campus’s 50th anniversary. He was recently appointed chancellor of the California Community Colleges system. Eva Lempert

Eloy Ortiz Oakley, a nationally recognized leader in public education and a University of California, Irvine alumnus, was recently appointed chancellor of California Community Colleges, effective this December.

A UC regent and head of the Long Beach Community College District, he will be the first Latino chancellor of the CCC system, which serves 2.1 million students in 113 colleges across the state.

Oakley himself is a community college success story. After serving four years in the U.S. Army, he enrolled at Golden West College in Huntington Beach and then transferred to UCI, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental analysis & design in 1996 and an MBA from The Paul Merage School of Business in 1999.

He recently shared his vision for the future of higher education during a “Celebration of Graduate Success” event sponsored by UCI’s Graduate Division. Here are some of his thoughts.

What do you expect in the next 10 to 20 years in your field?

There will be greater blurring of lines between the educational institutions in California – between high school and college and university. In the past, the nation decided that a high school diploma was the default to get into the workforce. [Now a college degree is seen as a minimum requirement.] This forces us in higher education to think about how we’re serving Californians – especially since we know that [traditionally underrepresented individuals also] need a postsecondary education to succeed in the workforce and for the state to compete in the global economy. How do we change the current structure to increase participation in higher education? This will be our challenge.

How has your graduate degree affected your professional trajectory?

The MBA gave me a greater perspective on organizations, organizational behavior, creating incentives and how we in education connect the dots between the current mission and the missions we have to serve in the future – which may not align with those we have served in the past. My MBA provided me with the skills needed to think broadly and distill down to influences that affect my organization. And it equipped me to be more nimble in the economy going forward.

What are you personally looking forward to in your professional journey?

I look forward to having a greater role and influencing the direction of the higher education industry in a way that positively impacts my community and state.

Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to current graduate students as they prepare to enter the workforce?

I would tell them to take advantage of opportunities to engage with professionals who have experiences and/or interests in areas different from their own in order to gain greater understanding and perspective. The ability to connect, to build networks and coalitions beyond their own field is very valuable. If I had spent more time understanding the experiences of colleagues in my graduate program and opening up to those outside my own area of interest, I may have learned this lesson earlier.