Zakiya Smith Ellis
Secretary of Higher Education
Zakiya Smith Ellis currently serves as New Jersey’s Secretary of Higher Education, where she is responsible for the policy development and coordination of higher education activities for the state.
During her tenure as Secretary of Higher Education, Dr. Smith Ellis has implemented a student-centered vision for higher education, working to ensure that New Jersey makes higher education in the state more affordable and accessible for all residents.
Smith Ellis previously led work at Lumina Foundation, the nation’s largest foundation focused solely on higher education, to advance federal policy to increase attainment and to develop new postsecondary finance models, focusing on issues of affordability.
Prior to her work in philanthropy, Zakiya served as a Senior Advisor for Education at the White House Domestic Policy Council, where she was tasked with developing, informing, and promoting President Obama's higher education policy. She also served in the Obama administration as a senior adviser at the U. S. Department of Education, where she developed programmatic, policy and budget solutions to respond to pressing challenges in college access, affordability, and completion.
Before transitioning to work as a political appointee, Dr. Ellis served as Director of Government Relations for the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, where she authored reports on the efficacy of financial advising in college access programs, on community college transfer and articulation, and on the ability of low- and moderate- income families to afford college more broadly.
Earlier in her career, Zakiya worked directly with students in various capacities across the K-12 system, and her goal is to always bring those insights to her current work. She worked on staff in various capacities for Teach For America, helping to train new teachers, and for the federal GEAR UP program in East Boston, Massachusetts, providing college preparation and financial aid information to high school students.
Dr. Ellis holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and secondary education from Vanderbilt University, a master’s degree in education policy and management from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and holds a doctorate in higher education management from the University of Pennsylvania.