The Jed Foundation and State Higher Education Executive Officers Association Convene Top Policy Leaders for System-Wide Mental Health Progress

Key voices in higher education policy and mental health gathered in Minneapolis to discuss progress and potential for student wellness.

Moderator standing with panel of students

[May 3, 2024, MINNEAPOLIS]The Jed Foundation (JED), a leading nonprofit that protects emotional health and prevents suicide for teens and young adults nationwide, and the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO), with generous support from the Lumina Foundation, convened state higher education leaders, mental health professionals, students, and representatives from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to discuss critical policy changes needed to support the emotional health and well-being of college students.

Panelists at SHEEOThe Wellness Blueprint: Cultivating Foundations for Statewide Student Mental Health Policy,” a special event held in Minneapolis from April 29–May 1, included sessions and discussions about the learning community program and grant opportunities provided by JED and SHEEO. Roberto J. Rodríguez, ED’s assistant secretary for planning, evaluation, and policy development, delivered a keynote speech and inspired discussion among attendees, which included state policy leaders from Arizona, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Texas. Each state collaborated with JED and SHEEO to generate system-wide policy recommendations to strengthen college and university mental health and wellness capacities, particularly among low-income and diverse students. 

Speaker delivers keynote speech on screen

“A single institution, government agency, or community organization may face challenges while advocating for the changes required to protect youth mental health. By collaborating across the federal, state, and local levels, a clearer path towards progress and the creation of meaningful systems-level change can be possible,” Rodríguez said. “It was great to see a willingness from education and policy decision-makers to make that happen.”  

The Wellness Convening helped states meet the growing urgency around youth mental health. Research indicates that today’s young people are facing loneliness, increased access to firearms, climate anxiety, financial insecurity, and a lack of access to care.

Speaker delivering presentation in front of screen

“The statistics are clear: Young people are currently facing unprecedented mental health challenges. At JED, our data demonstrates that when comprehensive approaches are implemented and championed by higher education systems, we can meaningfully reduce suicidal ideation, planning, and attempts,” said Zainab Okolo, the senior vice president of policy, advocacy, and government relations at JED. “Higher education systems are encouraged to address these issues head-on. This summit was a critical step toward creating scalable and effective policy solutions that prioritize the well-being of all our nation’s college students.”

Speaker smiling in front of podium with presentation screen in background

Student wellness is directly related to student success, and state higher education agencies are uniquely situated to help develop student-centered policies and practices,” said John Lane, the vice president for academic affairs and equity initiatives at SHEEO. “This learning community and convening are designed specifically to help states develop plans to support institutions as they address the startling statistics around student mental health and well-being.”

Examining state and university progress and policies, while also amplifying the voices of young people as part of the solution, helped attendees identify key takeaways and priorities from the convening, including:

  • The implementation of a campus-wide, comprehensive approach to mental health that holistically encompasses strategic planning, data collection, equitable implementation, life skills development, creating a sense of belonging, reducing stigma, and identifying students in need of care.
  • An emphasis on effective proactive measures to address external factors that impact student mental health,  including societal challenges, technological advancements, and the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The vital need for a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) lens, alongside representation of diverse voices and perspectives, when considering mental health policy and service delivery.
  • Financial prioritization of mental health initiatives, including considerations for licensure across state lines and equitable access to services. 
  • Utilizing evidence-based policy and program development and evaluation for effective mental health strategies, including using research findings, engaging with reputable organizations, and incorporating an equity lens in policy reviews.
  • Supporting advocacy and collaboration to engage institutional stakeholders, state systems, legislators, and student bodies to advance mental health priorities and resources, including building relationships, organizing collective efforts, and advancing systems-change work.

As state leaders return to their home communities, these findings will be reviewed and customized to the needs of their students and higher education institutions.

“Louisiana is honored to participate in the inaugural Student Mental Health and Wellness Learning Community, sponsored by SHEEO and JED, as we work to bolster existing mental health programs and pursue innovative initiatives tailored to the evolving needs of Louisiana’s student population,” said Dr. Kim Hunter Reed, Louisiana’s commissioner of higher education. “The consultative strategic planning and technical assistance offered within the learning community will assist Louisiana in creating a sustainable model to support the mental health and well-being of our students.”

Learn more about the event and the learning community on the SHEEO project webpage.

About The Jed Foundation
JED is a nonprofit that protects emotional health and prevents suicide for our nation’s teens and young adults. We’re partnering with high schools and colleges to strengthen their mental health, substance misuse, and suicide prevention programs and systems. We’re equipping teens and young adults with the skills and knowledge to help themselves and each other. We’re encouraging community awareness, understanding, and action for young adult mental health.

Connect with JED: Email | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube | LinkedIn | Snapchat | Pinterest


The State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO) serves the executives of statewide governing, policy, and coordinating boards of postsecondary education and their staffs. Founded in 1954, SHEEO promotes an environment that values higher education and its role in ensuring the equitable education of all Americans, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or socioeconomic factors. Together with its members, SHEEO aims to achieve this vision by equipping state higher-education executive officers and their staffs with the tools to effectively advance the value of higher education, promoting public policies and academic practices that enable all Americans to achieve success in the 21st century, and serving as an advocate for state higher-education leadership. For more information, visit sheeo.org

Media Contacts

Justin Barbo
Director, Public Relations
The Jed Foundation
(914) 844-4611

Jessica Duren
Strategic Communications Director
State Higher Education Executive Officers Association
(573) 291-9251

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