Murphy names NJ Secretary of Higher Ed, Smith Ellis, chief policy advisor

NJBIZ- Gov. Phil Murphy on Wednesday named current New Jersey Secretary of Higher Education Zakiya Smith Ellis as chief policy advisor to the governor, effective July 6, 2020. She will replace Kathleen Frangione, who left the administration to take a new job.

“It has been an honor to have Dr. Zakiya Smith Ellis serve as our Secretary of Higher Education for the past two and a half years, and I’m thrilled to announce that she’ll soon join the Governor’s Office as chief policy advisor,” said Murphy.

Smith Ellis has served in the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education (OSHE) since early 2018, and implemented the governor’s vision for expanded educational opportunity. In her time as secretary she has spearheaded the administration’s efforts to make college education more affordable and accessible.

Zakiya Smith Ellis, former New Jersey Secretary of Higher Education, current chief policy advisor to Gov. Phil Murphy - STATE OF NEW JERSEY
Smith Ellis

“I am confident that the team at OSHE will continue to build on the work we have accomplished together,” said Smith Ellis.

“I will continue to be a fierce advocate for our state’s students. My new position in the Governor’s Office will allow me to continue doing critical work to build a stronger and fairer New Jersey and I thank Governor Murphy for the vote of confidence and for the opportunity to fulfill such an important role during this time in our state’s history.”

As secretary, Smith Ellis lead efforts to assist institutions of higher education in navigating the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, including reviewing institutions’ Emergency Operations Plans to ensure readiness, issuing OSHE guidance, reviewing waiver requests to allow in-person instruction to continue as appropriate, and advocating for federal funding for higher education, among other efforts.

Previously, Smith Ellis led work at the 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, she served as a senior advisor for education on the White House Domestic Policy Council, where she was tasked with developing, informing and promoting President Barack Obama’s higher education policy. She also served in the Obama Administration as a senior advisor at the U. S. Department of Education, where she developed programmatic, policy and budgetary solutions to challenges in college access, affordability and completion.

Smith 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 a doctorate in higher education management from the University of Pennsylvania.

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