Sonya Christian Named Chancellor of California Community College System

Christian will be the first woman to serve as the permanent chancellor of the nation’s largest system of higher education.
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  • Sonya Christian on Thursday was named chancellor of the California Community College system.
  • Christian is the first woman and first person of South Asian descent to serve as chancellor of the system.
  • She is currently the chancellor of Kern Community College District in California
  • Her four-year term starts June 1, 2023

Sonya Christian will be the next chancellor of the California Community College system, the Board of Governors announced Thursday.

Christian will lead the country's largest public higher education system, serving over 1.8 million students at 166 community colleges.

Christian previously served as the chancellor of the Kern Community College District, one of the largest community college districts in California, with over 30,000 students at Bakersfield College, Cerro Coso College, and Porterville College.

"I am honored to be selected to lead the most important system of higher education in the country and grateful to the Board of Governors for their confidence," Christian said in a release.

"We continue to face many challenges, but I truly believe our greatest challenges enable us to do our greatest work," she said. "We are called to design the most vibrant, resilient, and effective learning environment ever. We are called to do this work at scale, not eventually, but now. And we will work with a shared vision that keeps students first."

Christian will begin her four-year term on June 1, 2023. She succeeds Dr. Daisy Gonzales, who served as the interim chancellor of the California Community College system since August 2022 after former Chancellor Eloy Ortiz Oakley stepped down to serve as the President and CEO of the College Futures Foundation.

The board of governors interviewed over 250 candidates from across the country for the position.

"Dr. Christian is one of our nation's most dynamic college leaders, with a demonstrated record of collaboration and results in the Central Valley," Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement. "She understands what is needed to deliver on record levels of higher education investment to make real improvements to the lived reality of our students. I look forward to continuing to partner with Dr. Christian to ensure our community colleges are engines of equity and opportunity."

Christian received her bachelor's degree from the University of Kerala in India and came to the United States for graduate school; she earned a master's in science degree in applied mathematics from the University of Southern California and a doctorate from the University of California, Los Angeles, according to her biography on the Kern Community College District webpage.

"When I was introduced to the California higher education master plan that espoused higher education as a fundamental right, I said, 'Yes, of course, only in California,'" Christian said at the Board of Governors meeting Thursday.

"I believe that California leads from values – a right to higher education, a right to health care, a right to a clean environment, a right to a quality of life – where each of us as individuals are honored and respected and where our sons and daughters can be bold, fearless, and joyful," she said.

California Community Colleges must "expand the canopy of community college learners," through dual enrollment and other outreach opportunities, focusing on marginalized communities, Christian said.

"'You can't be what you can't see' will be a driving principle to create the conditions of engagement for learners who have previously been bypassed," she said. "Our work today is creating the future of learning where there will be many more flexible on-ramps to educational pathways that lead to quality jobs."