Alumni Spotlight

Van Ton-Quinlivan MA/MBA ’95

‘My education at the GSE and the GSB taught me to be ‘bilingual’ in the languages of education reform and business.’

As a first-generation American, I fully understand how students can struggle to access and navigate the path to a good career through American higher education. I take seriously my work to help Californians gain social mobility through the quality education offered through California’s 114 community colleges, the largest higher education system in the country. We serve 2.1 million students who reflect the state’s diverse demographics, and effective innovations introduced in this system can have large-scale impact. I am honored to be a driving force in shaping statewide policy, data, and program innovations that have reshaped how our colleges approach their workforce mission.

My path from Stanford has led me to the role of vice chancellor of workforce and economic development for the California Community Colleges following a career in the private sector solving talent shortages. My team, my partners and I planned and successfully turned around the system’s workforce mission from an afterthought to a state policy priority. This process of innovating-at-scale has been documented in the Stanford Social Innovation Review article “Cross-Sector Collaboration: What the Tipping Point Looks Like” and is the subject of a Stanford Graduate School of Business case study titled “Van Ton-Quinlivan: Converting a Talent Puddle to a Talent Pool.” Under the unifying framework of Doing What MATTERS for Jobs and the Economy, we regionalized the delivery of community college career education, integrated California’s adult education systems and consolidated the state’s apprenticeship systems so that students can better find success in education pathways valued by the world of work. 

My education at the GSE and the GSB taught me to be “bilingual” in the languages of education reform and business. Those skills and knowledge equipped me to lead others to jointly develop Doing What MATTERS for Jobs and the Economy.  Over the past six years, my responsibility grew from an initial $100 million in program funds to $900 million today.  


Van Ton-Quinlivan received her MA/MBA in 1995. She is vice chancellor of workforce and economic development of California’s 114 community colleges and was named a White House Champion of Change under the Obama administration.