a conversation with…
Daisy Gonzales
Dr. Daisy Gonzalez is a proud community college alum who has worked for California Community Colleges for five years. In 2018, she was appointed deputy chancellor, served as acting chancellor in 2020 and was appointed as interim chancellor in August 2022.
Daisy Gonzales headshot
Please tell us a little about your position as interim chancellor for California Community Colleges.
During my tenure, I have collaborated with cross-segmental colleagues and stakeholders to design policies, and develop tools and supports to help us implement our strategic plan, the Vision for Success, which seeks to eliminate achievement gaps, boost transfers to University of California and California State University campuses and provide Californians with the necessary job skills to find good-paying careers.

During my time as deputy chancellor, students across all groups and regions of California have seen improved outcomes. The number of students earning a college credential increased by 27 percent and the number of students earning transfer preparation associate degrees more than doubled. I am excited to continue our work to develop clear pathways for students, increase certificate and degree attainment, continue to improve transfer rates and, most importantly for our state’s economy, remain laser focused on closing equity gaps. To succeed, we will continue to put students first. This means that at the core of our design and decision-making are our students.

What are some challenges and opportunities that the community college system is currently facing?
Community college students typically come from underrepresented communities, where the idea of going to college seems unattainable because of costs. While tuition is low in our system, we cannot ignore the fact that most students are low income, work full-time or more, have issues with housing, and may also be parents and have child care needs. When you deeply care to learn who you are serving and who we need to serve in this state, you realize that going to a community college is not that affordable anymore.
girl shaking hands with professor
When you deeply care to learn who you are serving and who we need to serve in this state, you realize that going to a community college is not that affordable anymore.
The biggest challenge is also California’s biggest opportunity. For our students to succeed, we must build ecosystems of unconditional belonging. An ecosystem of belonging provides students with the opportunities and resources they need to succeed. And for California’s community college students, it means a financial aid system and student supports that include housing, textbook costs, supplies, food, transportation and yes, even child care. This is what we call total cost of attendance, and with the help of the Legislature and Governor, we are making improvements in college affordability. Most recently, we received a multi-year commitment to ensure that our state’s financial aid system is equitable. For more information about financial aid, go to icangotocollege.com.
What is the community college system doing to maintain/increase enrollment? Have partnerships with K-12 districts become more prevalent?
Nationally, the pandemic hit community college students especially hard, with enrollment declining at a higher rate than at four-year institutions. This raises critical concerns about equitable access and success in higher education as well as the ability to meet workforce needs, and it is why the entire community college system has mobilized to stabilize and turn back these declines. The recent declines came on top of pre-pandemic enrollment declines in California, where population growth is at its lowest rate in more than a century. The Department of Finance also projects an 11.4 percent decline in K-12 enrollment by 2031, adding urgency to develop new strategies to reach older learners who have no degree or certificate.

But the truth is that the problem is more complex and requires all of us working together. This is our time to make those much-needed changes and this includes working together to transform financial aid structures to be inclusive. I believe that together we can make the dreams of our students and clear pathways, a reality. In addition to this, K-12 districts and stakeholders can join us to scale up dual enrollment. Dual enrollment allows more high school students to get a head start on their higher education goals. Also referred to as concurrent enrollment or a part of early college, dual enrollment enables high school students to take college courses, taught by college professors, at their high school campus. These courses can also count toward a high school diploma. The 2022–23 Budget Act removed the cap on the number of community college districts that could offer these programs, and now is the time to expand this program and build clear pathways for California’s students.

children walking up stairs of a school
Finally, we need high school counselors to provide students with information on options to continue their education. Since 2017, we have made tremendous progress to streamline the transfer process, so that students can complete their general education requirements and major-specific coursework at a California community college and transfer with a guaranteed saved spot to a participating four-year public university. Our high school counselors are critical to supporting the dreams of our students and presenting them with all of the options. At a moment in time when students are asking about the value of higher education, our counselors are the frontline workers who can remind students that we believe in their dreams. And at California’s community colleges, our doors are open to all students. Our students transfer to four-year universities, but also earn degrees and credentials for nurses, first responders and skilled workers in technology, climate change and so much more.
Please tell us about your personal background growing up in foster care and going on to earn your Ph.D.
First, let me acknowledge that the journey I had is very similar to that of other foster youth, low-income, English learners and first-generation college students we serve. And while there are unique characters to any story, the most important one in mine is that earning an education saved my life. I grew up in the foster care system, constantly moving and living out of a trash bag. Stability in my life was non-existent. I dreamed about stability. Along the way, I met educators that lent a hand, gave me advice, and directed me towards a better place. In these instances, I felt good knowing that somebody cared. I was inspired by my K-12 teachers. Therefore, after earning a bachelor’s degree in public policy from Mills College, I became a third-grade teacher. I wanted to help guide, educate and encourage other youth to go to college. Later, while I was a lecturer at UC Santa Barbara, I had a conversation with a homeless student that helped me realize my true calling of promoting access and support for underserved students. I have dedicated my career to education research and state fiscal and policy development. But at the core of earning a doctorate in sociology is my interest in public institutions and how they can better serve our society.
How has your experience as a foster youth and first-generation college student influenced your perspective on education?
My childhood gave me a front row seat to observe (and experience) the fundamental role of state public institutions in the development of our children and our society, and one key public institution will always be schools. My childhood experiences with the foster care system have certainly influenced the solutions I create. I grew up surrounded by lawyers, judges, social workers, teachers and county staff. For me, school was always a safe space, or at least it was safer than my home environment. And this is the same for many of the students we serve today, and certainly for foster youth.

At age 13, I was told by county staff that there were only three options for me in life: to end up dead, pregnant or in prison by the age of 16. It makes me sad to say that the data has not changed for foster youth in our state. Less than 4 percent of foster youth earn a baccalaureate degree. And that is why I truly believe that earning an education saved my life.

Because of this, one of my first jobs was as a third-grade dual-immersion teacher and since then, I have dedicated my career to education policy and finance. This experience informs my commitment and alignment to our system’s Vision for Success. And at the center of this work, my job is to nurture a system transformation to become student-ready institutions.

I approach my work by grounding it in a lesson I learned from my childhood. The violence and poverty all around me was countered with positive experiences with teachers, bus drivers, faculty and judges, who served me with dignity and respect. The teachers and mentors I had taught me to turn pain into courage and strength. And they did that by showing me what was possible through the literature they assigned and recommended, the events and speakers they hosted, the resources they connected me to and by teaching me to help others. This was their way of helping me become resilient and it worked because I felt empowered.

Now, as the chancellor for the largest system of public higher education, I seek to empower students by centering their voices in the educational design of our institutions. This means that we are growing and nurturing educational leaders to have a growth mindset, which means that educators fundamentally believe that every student can succeed!

What are some things districts can do to ensure they are supporting foster youth in their schools?
Thank you for this question. It is important that we acknowledge that for foster youth, our schools and campuses are the closest thing they have to family. Regular and consistent interactions are key. There are two things that come to mind. First, as I mentioned previously, while I was growing up, I had educators who believed in me and helped me define my path. One such educator was my high school chemistry teacher who took me in. She was the first person to talk to me about college and offer support. We have since forged a lifelong friendship. Districts can nurture these types of relationships by including foster youth in teacher and staff trainings. Empowering a foster youth to use their own voice to help others builds future leaders.

And two, the hand-off from high school to community colleges is critical. Ensuring that our high school teachers and counselors are aware of state and federal resources that support this student population is critical. Programs like the federal Chaffee Grant and the California Community Colleges NextUp program were critical in my journey. For example, NextUp offers eligible current and former foster youth supports and services that could include help with books and supplies, transportation, tutoring, food and emergency housing. A dedicated counselor is also available to help students along the way. We have more information at https://nextup.cccco.edu/.

Can you tell us about California Community Colleges’ diversity, equity and inclusion work? What are the goals? What are some current steps the system is taking to reach those goals?
For our system, diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA) is not a side program or project, it is at the heart of everything that we do. We believe that this focus is a driver for educational achievement and a critical tool to ensure equitable educational access and success. To lead this work, our board adopted a DEIA Integration Plan with 68 actions to change institutional structures, policies and practices that act as barriers for equitable student success.

We are leading national conversations about the integration of diversity, equity and inclusion and anti-racism within Guided Pathways as well as strategies for addressing basic needs for students, including financial aid reform. Our goals are clear — we will design and lead anti-racist institutions because the students we serve deserve safe learning environments. And how we get there is through the cultural transformation of our institutions. This includes continuing to address financial aid equity in our state and presenting a new model to lead in anti-racism curriculum and core competencies for all educators in our state. Most recently, the Board of Governors adopted system regulations to require DEIA in evaluations and tenure, which requires our districts and colleges to support our educators through professional development and tools they need to educate the most diverse student population in this country.

Our work will continue, and we will evaluate and continue to challenge ourselves. That is the most important thing we can do as educational leaders. We can never stop learning and improving what we do.


“Supporting Students Living in Foster Care,” Edutopia: edut.to/3Kv9BLd

“Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility,” California Community Colleges: bit.ly/3cwLQFT