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.