Growing up during racial segregation, before the Civil Rights Act in 1964, Constance Carroll knew her dreams of becoming an architect were likely out of reach due to her skin color, so she turned to a career in teaching. .
It was a choice that would ultimately change the future and fortunes of countless numbers of California community college students, especially those from diverse and economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
After holding leadership positions at other community colleges, Carroll held the most senior position in the San Diego Community College District in 2004, a position she will hold for 17 years, earning a place in history as first African-American in the district, first female and longest-serving chancellor.
The district is one of the largest in the state, with approximately 100,000 students.
Carroll retired on July 1.
Her contributions as chancellor have broadened educational opportunities for hundreds of thousands of students. She helped advance state legislation that allowed students to earn certain bachelor’s degrees without attending four-year college, and she set up free education for students with little money. She has also worked to support and protect students with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status.
While Carroll has said she is proud of all of her accomplishments, she doesn’t consider any of them to be her legacy.
“I could cite the bachelor’s degree, I could cite our $ 1.6 billion bond program and other accomplishments,” she said, “but my legacy is actually the people, the people. that I have hired and that I have worked with and helped in their careers, and that would include faculty members, students and student leaders.
“This is how we live and thrive, through the people we touch and through the people whose dreams we have helped make. “
– Constance Carroll
Carroll was born in Baltimore in 1945. Growing up, her mother worked as an assistant superintendent of Baltimore City Public Schools and her father was a high school principal and football coach.
The iniquity she experienced and saw all around her had a lasting impact, she said.
“I met many students who also suffered from various disadvantages, and decided that I didn’t want to see other young people hurt by the tyranny of low expectations or be denied access to schools and college and to opportunities they would otherwise pursue, ”Carroll said. “And that stayed with me. When you have experienced something – especially when you have been marked by it – you tend to develop a passion to protect others from it and to empower others to overcome the barrier.
When Carroll retired, her colleagues honored her for her service and the work she did to level the playing field in education.
For example, Carroll was recognized as the driving force behind the San Diego Promise, a program launched in 2016 with a cohort of 186 students. It has since expanded to help over 4,000 students each year by offering free classes and grants to help with textbooks and other materials.
The program is open to first-time full-time students at colleges in San Diego City, Mesa, and Miramar. Former foster youth, veterans, returning students, and some part-time students are eligible. Much of the funding comes from donors, who have contributed more than $ 1.6 million to the program.
“Constance is recognized both locally and nationally for her transformational leadership, and during her tenure as Chancellor, the SDCCD established itself as one of the nation’s leading community college districts, known for its deep commitment to advocacy. social justice “, Dr. Maria Nieto Senour, Chairman of the District Board of Directors of San Diego Community College, noted in an article in the “Miscellaneous” newsletter.
Nationally, Carroll has contributed as a member of the National Humanities Council. Former President Barack Obama appointed Carroll in 2011 for a six-year term.
Nationally and locally, Carroll has served on various boards including the League for Innovation, Community College Humanities Association, San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp. and various committees to which she was appointed by former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer.
Carroll helped establish the California Community Colleges Baccalaureate Association (CCCBA), a nonprofit organization that provides assistance and opportunities to 116 community colleges across the state to offer four-year degrees in fields in need of more skilled workers. She is the CEO of the association.
Upon retirement, Carroll said she plans to do more of what she loves most: public service.
“You won’t see me in a Winnebago – with all due respect to Winnebagos – in a motorhome, because I love the service,” Carroll said.