Former Obama Official to Lead Calbright

February 12, 2020

California's new online-only community college has named Ajita Talwalker Menon, a former Obama administration official, as its new interim CEO.

Menon will replace Heather Hiles at Calbright College, which opened its programs in October, according to a news release. Hiles announced last month she was leaving after less than a year on the job. She is on paid leave through March.

Menon will start in the position once the Board of Trustees approves her contract on Feb. 24. She will serve as CEO until the board finds a permanent leader for the college. Her contract will cost the college about $23,750 per month, if approved by the board. Hiles had a base salary of $385,000.

Calbright has faced several challenges since the project began with funding from former California governor Jerry Brown. Its goal is to serve working adults and help low-income Californians get skills to move up in their careers. Faculty at the state's community college system say the money would be better spent at programs that already existed. But some advocates have said the college, which only just started, needs time to work through the growing pains.

Menon will be leading the college through this tumultuous time, as it seeks to establish itself and to prove its detractors wrong, while also making the case for its existence to the Legislature.

“I’m excited to temporarily lead the effort to help Californians improve their skills and find better jobs,” Menon said in a statement. “I firmly believe in Calbright’s potential to tackle income inequality in California through new high-quality learning opportunities designed to fit the lives of working adults and respond to the talent challenge facing California employers.”

Menon previously served as special assistant to the president for higher education during the Obama administration, as well as a senior policy adviser for higher education in the U.S. Department of Education. She is also a principal at EX3 LLC, a management systems company.

“As a nationally recognized expert on higher education and workforce training innovation, Ajita will evaluate the progress Calbright has made and bring new ideas to refine and improve our service to Californians,” Tom Epstein, president of the board, said in the release. “She brings excellent management skills, public sector experience and a commitment to educational equity that will keep the college moving forward during this transition period.”

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