jolene koester and wenda fong
Story Chancellor

Honoring Chancellor Koester's 40-Year Legacy

Alisia Ruble

Reflecting on the significant contributions Dr. Jolene Koester has made to the CSU.

jolene koester and wenda fong

​Interim CSU Chancellor Jolene Koester (right) and chair of the CSU Board of Trustees Wenda Fong at the September 2023 board meeting, during which Dr. Koester received the title of Chancellor Emerita. 


During her four decades of service to the California State University, Dr. Jolene Koester has made a long-lasting impact as a professor, administrator, university president and, since May 2022, interim chancellor. To honor her dedication to the university, the CSU Board of Trustees conferred the title of Chancellor Emerita upon Dr. Koester at its September 2023 meeting.

“Serving as interim chancellor has been my life's greatest professional honor, and it has truly been a labor of love," Dr. Koester said as she accepted the conferral. “Above and beyond the enormous responsibility, it's been a tremendous gift—one that has enabled me to reconnect with the incredible sense of purpose that the CSU provided for me throughout much of my professional life by allowing me to play a small role in elevating thousands of lives through the transformative power of a CSU degree."

As the university prepares to say, “Happy retirement!" to Dr. Koester and welcome its 11th chancellor, Dr. Mildred García, we take a moment to reflect on some of Dr. Koester's many contributions to the CSU.​

Early Career

Throughout her career, Dr. Koester has developed a well-earned reputation as an ethical and purpose-driven leader, a champion of student success and inclusive excellence, and an unwavering supporter of innovation in teaching and learning.

CSU has been my professional home since 1983. It has been a thrill to return to the university system i love.

Dr. Koester's relationship with the CSU began four decades ago when she accepted a position as an assistant professor of​ communication studies at Sacramento State​. She quickly became involved in administrative roles and rose to department chair in just three years, eventually serving as assistant vice president, associate vice president and vice president for Sacramento State's Division of Academic Affairs.

Dr. Koester was appointed president of California State University, Northridge​ in 2000 and held the position through 2011, during which time she successfully led CSUN through a period of unprecedented growth. The student population increased by more than 25% during her tenure—from 29,000 to nearly 37,000 students—and the university saw dramatic improvements in student success, including significant gains in both graduation and retention rates. During her administration, the campus also solidified its position as the intellectual and cultural hub of Greater Los Angeles's San Fernando Valley. 

Known nationally for her expertise and innovation in higher education leadership, Dr. Koester also served as a member and past chair of the Board of Directors for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU)—in addition to her roles with a variety of other higher education organizations.

An 'Accidental Chancellor'

Though Dr. Koester had retired from the CSU, she was asked to return as interim chancellor in May 2022 at a transformational time in the university's history. Koester jokes that she is an "accidental chancellor" because she never aspired to reach this level of leadership, although the role ultimately proved to be perfectly suited to her. 

Dr. Koester came to the position with clearly defined goals and priorities—and with a collaborative spirit. During her tenure, the university launched several programs and initiatives to further support student success, restore trust in the university by improving structures and processes and build a glidepath for the next regularly appointed chancellor.

To pave a smoother path to a four-year degree for transfer students, the university launched the CSU Transfer Planner—a digital portal that simplifies the transfer process and connects new California Community College students to their future CSU campus of choice early in their educational journey. The university also introduced the Transfer Success Pathway, which guarantees future CSU admission to high school graduates who are entering a California community college and who commit to transferring within three years.

The CSU announced a plan to both elevate Black excellence and address the continuing decline in Black student enrollment, retention and graduation rates across all 23 universities in the CSU system. The comprehensive report, “Advancing Black Student Success and Elevating Black Excellence in the CSU: A Call to Action," is the product of a workgroup called for by Dr. Koester after the system's inaugural Juneteenth Symposium in June 2022. 

Following the release of a nearly year-long assessment—the largest and most comprehensive review of its kind—the CSU committed to improving its Title IX​ and other non-discrimination programs prohibiting discrimination, harassment and retaliation based on protected categories and, in doing so, strengthen its culture of care and compliance across the system.

Finally, the university celebrated continued progress to improve student achievement through its Graduation Initiative 2025​, which has been successful in nearly doubling the four-year graduation rate for first-year students since its launch in 2015.

“Earning a degree from the CSU transforms lives," Dr. Koester said in a press release. “I have witnessed it firsthand, and seeing our talented and diverse students achieve their academic goals is a great joy and my highest professional honor."

National Recognition

Dr. Koester's significant contributions to higher education have not gone unnoticed. In April 2023, she received the Tosney Award for Career Service in Higher Education Leadership from the American Association of University Administrators (AAUA) in recognition for her outstanding, long-term experience as an administrator. Named for one of its pioneer members, Elieen Tosney, this award is considered to be AAUA's highest individual honor.

And, in August 2023, Dr. Koester was recognized​ by California Speaker of the Assembly Robert Rivas, Assemblymember Mike Fong and California Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins on the Assembly and Senate floors for her exceptional leadership and service as interim chancellor.

“Dr. Jolene Koester stepped in during a difficult time for the CSU system and has been a champion for student success and inclusion, and an unwavering supporter of innovation in teaching and learning," Atkins wrote​. “Thank you, Dr. Koester, for your leadership!"​