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CSUN names new president, Erika Beck, credited with raising graduation rates

A portrait of Erika Beck
Erika Beck will lead one of Cal State’s largest campuses. CSUN serves many low-income students and “Dreamers.”
(Cal State Channel Islands)

Erika Beck, the president of Cal State Channel Islands, who is credited with dramatically increasing graduation rates and raising achievement among Latino students, has been named president of Cal State Northridge. One of the system’s largest campuses, CSUN serves many low-income and first-generation college students as well as “Dreamers,” or undocumented students.

Beck, who will start her new job Jan. 11, will immediately be confronted with the challenges of preserving student access and helping students maintain progress toward earning degrees amid the COVID-19 pandemic and remote instruction, which Cal State has said will continue through the end of the academic year. The university must also contend with a significantly reduced budget in the face of state budget cuts.

These will not be unfamiliar to Beck. “There are very similar challenges that we see across the CSU,” she said in an interview Thursday, citing the pandemic, virtual learning and racial injustice. “For me those challenges are really the heart of why we do what we do. Public higher education is really the answer to so much of what ails us with respect to these crises.”

Beck said she was proud of the work Channel Islands has done to help students remain connected to the university virtually during the pandemic, and she cited a 6-percentage-point increase this year in the share of first-time freshmen who continued on to a second year.

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During her time at Cal State Channel Islands, the campus also saw its four-year graduation rate for first-time students reach an all-time high of 30.1%, with students from historically underrepresented groups making significant progress to catch up to those who are not from such groups.

“In a short period of time, Dr. Beck has quickly steered CSUCI to unprecedented heights,” Trustee Debra Farar, chair of the search committee, said in a statement. “Her extensive knowledge of the CSU and California ensures that she will build on the successful work of outgoing CSUN President Dianne Harrison.”

Harrison had announced her planned retirement in 2019 but agreed to stay on through the fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Beck said her departure from Channel Islands — whose student population of 7,000 is just a fraction of CSUN’s 39,000 — was “bittersweet,” but she said she was thrilled to join Northridge.

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“CSUN is known far and wide … as one of the most significant facilitators of social mobility in the country, and [it has] a longstanding reputation for equitable and inclusive education,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to help lead an institution whose values are completely aligned with mine.”

Prior to her appointment at CSU Channel Islands, Beck, who earned bachelor’s and doctoral degrees in psychology from the University of California San Diego, held various leadership positions at Nevada State College in Henderson, Nevada.

The CSU Board of Trustees also on Thursday appointed Cathy Sandeen as head of its East Bay campus. Sandeen, who has a doctorate in communication, currently serves as chancellor of the University of Alaska Anchorage, and she will replace outgoing President Leroy Morishita, who also delayed his retirement this year.

Beck will earn an annual salary of $415,952, and Sandeen will earn $389,238. Each will also be granted a monthly auto allowance of $1,000 and a monthly housing allowance of $5,000.

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The two presidents’ salaries represent 10% increases over those of their predecessors — increases some trustees and members of the public said were not appropriate amid a global pandemic and economic recession.

“We have not as a board adequately considered or reviewed what we are asking employees to accept on the campuses across the CSU system in terms of salary freezes and furloughs among our lowest-paid workers,” Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, an ex-oficio member of the board, said Thursday at a meeting during which the trustees voted on the compensation.

Several others, including both student trustees, agreed. “I don’t think a 10% increase in a global pandemic makes sense,” student trustee Maryana Khames said. “Some of our valuable people who have been with us for a long time are being laid off. Students are facing a basic-needs crisis.”

But other trustees spoke in favor of the salary increases, noting they are still below market rate, according to the models the CSU uses to analyze salary data.

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Across the CSU about 300 employees, out of roughly 55,000, have received layoff notices — including seven who work in parking at Northridge. Trustee Jane Carney called the layoffs “heartbreaking,” though small in number. But, she said, “there is never a right time to raise the pay of a president. I’ve very tired of feeling that I need to apologize to presidents, saying that it isn’t that we undervalue you even though we don’t pay you enough.”

Kounalakis proposed that the board return to closed session to consider alternate salaries. Several board members agreed with her, but the motion ultimately failed, and the two compensation packages were approved.


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