Monthly Archives: September 2014

ACA-sponsored mental health language included in United Nations resolution

By Bethany Bray September 10, 2014

Thanks in part to the advocacy efforts of the American Counseling Association, mental health services are among the major elements included in a resolution that will inform and influence the United Nations’ strategic plan for 2015-2030.

ACA has been designated an official U.N. nongovernmental organization (NGO) for nearly a decade. In August, ACA joined 4,000 other NGOs and nonprofits from around the globe for the UN’s annual NGO conference in New York City to create and pass an “action agenda,” a 14-page resolution that will help to guide future U.N. efforts.

The conference resolution lists 16 goals for governments worldwide — from sustainable development practices to providing clean water — the fourth of which is a call to “ensure the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health and well-being.”


ACA joined 4,000 nongovernmental organizations at U.N. headquarters in New York City Aug. 27, 28 and 29 for the U.N.’s annual NGO conference. This photo, taken by ACA Chief Professional Officer David Kaplan, captures the opening session.

According to ACA Chief Professional Officer David Kaplan, who attended the conference with ACA CEO Richard Yep, early drafts of the document didn’t contain any mention of mental health. This omission caught Yep’s attention, so he submitted language highlighting the importance of mental health and asked that it be included in the resolution. ACA’s suggested language was accepted and included in the final document, which was approved by the conference body Aug. 29.

Yep says it was a “humbling yet very rewarding” experience to work alongside other NGOs with “such important goals in society,” including achieving peace, improving health outcomes, addressing climate change and fighting hunger, homelessness and poverty, among many others.

“While there were ample opportunities [at the conference] to network with other NGO groups and to learn about issues being addressed by these colleagues, the work of creating a declaration was of primary importance,” Yep says. “In some ways, this could be compared to creating a platform that stated those issues that world leaders need to address. The fact that ACA was able to advocate for, and then have included, wording about the importance of addressing mental health concerns is why I believe that our efforts at the conference were worthwhile. … ACA felt strongly that the perspectives of mental health services, delivered in culturally appropriate ways, was also a key element that needed to be addressed by world leaders. Our belief is that in working within the NGO process, we can help bring even greater voice to this issue.”

“The document affirms that mental health is essential for all people of all ages,” says Kaplan. “It further asserts that mental health is interlinked with several goals of the declaration, including quality education, poverty eradication, achieving gender equity and the empowerment of women and girls, promoting decent work for all, disaster recovery and promoting peaceful and inclusive societies.”

Yep and Kaplan gave input toward the conference resolution during a series of town hall-style meetings. This is the second time that ACA representatives have attended the U.N.’s annual NGO conference, Kaplan says, adding that ACA’s designation as a U.N. NGO puts ACA “in the middle of internationalism.”

“The more involved we are [internationally], the more we learn and the better ACA is,” he says. “It’s a global society, and our clients are global.”

Speaking at the closing session of the conference, U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson thanked the participating NGOs for their collaboration and creation of a “global action plan.”

“In today’s global landscape, no one can do everything, but everyone can do something,” Eliasson said. “The work of civil society – often with limited resources and much personal and political risk – has been central to the promotion of peace, development and human rights. You are out there in the field, building bridges of solidarity. You advocate and engage. You debate and defend. You push and then push some more. And the world is better for it.”




Mental health excerpts from the declaration approved at the United Nations’ 65th annual NGO conference


“We affirm that physical and mental health and psychosocial well-being are essential for all peoples at all ages in order to achieve the three dimensions of sustainable development;

“We further assert mental health and psychosocial well-being is cross-cutting, and interlinked across several goals, e.g., ensure[ing] quality education; ending poverty; achieving gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls; promoting economic growth and decent work for all; making cities and human settlements safe; taking urgent action to combat climate change and promote disaster recovery and risk reduction; global partnerships and promoting peaceful and inclusive societies;

“We call on governments to ensure that all people of all ages have access to affordable, essential and quality physical and mental health care services, without discrimination and without suffering financial hardship”





For more information


The full conference declaration is available online:


U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson’s remarks at the conference’s closing session:


Conference website:




Bethany Bray is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at


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Four Questions for Jamie Merisotis, President of the Lumina Foundation

Interview by Frank Burtnett September 3, 2014


Jamie P. Merisotis, CEO of Lumina Foundation

Jamie P. Merisotis is president and CEO of Lumina Foundation, the nation’s largest private foundation committed solely to enrolling and graduating more students from college. In celebration of the opening of the 2014-2015 academic year, Frank Burtnett, editor of ACAeNews for School Counselors, asked Merisotis to present an overview of foundation work and discuss the importance of school counselors in achieving the Lumina Foundation’s mission.


1) Lumina Foundation has advanced the position that “education is the great equalizer,” and your Goal 2025 seeks to increase the percentage of Americans with high-quality postsecondary education credentials to 60 percent by 2025. What role do you see professional school counselors playing in achieving the student-centered experiences that result in improved career and college readiness?

Lumina believes that student outcomes — the real attainment of knowledge, skills and abilities that make students successful in work and in life — are the bottom line of a truly student-centered system. So the question is how do you create educational experiences that lead to those outcomes?

The Gallup-Purdue Index, a recent survey of 30,000 U.S. college graduates, found that those who have achieved great jobs and great lives were more likely to have been personally engaged with a faculty member, have participated in an internship, been involved in extracurricular activities and have graduated with minimal student debt. These findings held true regardless of the type of four-year institution — public or private nonprofit college; a highly selective institution or a less selective institution; or a top 100-ranked school in U.S. News & World Report vs. other schools.

Counselors play a very important role in helping students make informed choices, while also factoring in the complexity of their life circumstances. Counselors know that what students need from the educational experience is not just the academic part; it’s also the social and financial part. Students have to be able to choose the right college and pay for it, to seek out mentoring and tutoring support, and to pursue the internships and other high-impact experiences that are likely to prepare them for success. Given the unique challenges that today’s students face, the right choices are not made in a vacuum.

Lumina Foundation is invested in providing students and counselors with actionable data and information about what leads to success. We’ve recently developed a college planning checklist, based on findings from the Gallup-Purdue Index, which counselors could use to guide students toward the right postsecondary and career opportunities (see


2) How would the improvement of counselor-to-student ratios in the public education sector offer improved access to services by minority and economically disadvantaged students, contribute to the elimination of widening attainment gaps and bring about greater representation of the currently underserved in postsecondary education and many career fields?

Many students could benefit from any additional time spent with counselors, dealing with the complexity of their life circumstances and charting a path to success. Today’s student population is remarkably diverse, and a variety of unique challenges stand in the way of the finish line for so many. For instance, a high-achieving, low-income student has about the same statistical chance of going to college as does a low-achieving, high-income student. Almost 25 percent of low-income students who score in the top quartile of standardized tests never go to college. And of those who do, many never earn a degree.

Student support systems are more crucial than ever before when it comes to helping students go to college and finish their degree. The main institutional resource for pre-college advising is the high school counseling office, yet there are more than 450 students assigned to any one counselor, on average. That number isn’t an issue for some students. But for first-generation and other students in high-risk situations, the lack of help can quickly douse their college dreams. If counselors were afforded more time and attention to invest in students as individuals — especially traditionally underserved students — that could make all the difference.


3) Lumina Foundation recently announced an initiative designed to generate solutions to closing the skills gap and increasing communication between higher education and today’s workforce. How do you see such collaboration occurring, and will your support for such programs ensure that they include an identifiable and sustainable counseling component?

There is significant disagreement between higher education leaders and employers about the readiness of recent graduates to do the work required in entry-level jobs. In a recent survey by Gallup measuring how business leaders view the state and value of higher education, only one-third of business leaders “somewhat” or “strongly agreed” that graduates have the necessary skills and competencies to succeed in the workplace. On the other side of the coin, nearly all (96 percent) of the provosts said their institutions are “somewhat” or “very effective” at preparing students for the workplace, according to a recent survey of provosts by Gallup.

What we’re trying to do at Lumina Foundation is develop models for collaboration to ensure that higher education is equipping students with skills that are relevant and necessary for today’s gradsworkforce. Additionally, this collaboration focuses attention on the need to provide students with higher quality information, earlier on, about what they need to be able to know and do in order to meet their future objectives. It is crucial to ensure that students get the right kind of counseling and mentoring to make informed choices about their education that will lead to a great job and a great life.


4) The Common Core State Standards, sponsored by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, have been the subject of considerable discussion and debate. Where does Lumina Foundation stand with respect to these standards and their role in the improvement of education nationwide, including the assessment strategies that are being suggested to measure accountability and progress?

Though Lumina Foundation does not work directly in K-12, we believe very strongly in the importance of K-12 reform. Students need to leave high school better prepared academically, socially and financially for the next phase of life. While the Common Core represents higher standards for what it means to be prepared, it is really about getting students to the starting line. The finish line is a postsecondary credential — one that reflects the knowledge and skills that students need to succeed.

Lumina’s interest is in the alignment of a higher level of standards for quality learning that span from K-12 to postsecondary to the workforce — all so that postsecondary degrees represent what students know and can do next. Ultimately, if the student is our vantage point and attainment is our end, then the Common Core is one step toward ensuring that students are prepared to achieve degrees and certificates that have real and relevant value.




Jamie Merisotis is president and CEO of Lumina Foundation. Lumina Foundation is an independent, private foundation committed to increasing the proportion of Americans with high-quality degrees, certificates and other credentials to 60 percent by 2025. Lumina’s outcomes-based approach focuses on helping to design and build an accessible, responsive and accountable higher education system while fostering a national sense of urgency for action to achieve Goal 2025. For more information on Lumina, visit Create link




This interview appeared originally in the August 2014 edition of ACAeNews for School Counselors.