Press Release
February 9, 2023

National Student Success Nonprofit Names Former New Jersey Secretary of Higher Education to Advisory Board

Former Obama White House higher education policy advisor Dr. Zakiya Ellis will advise InsideTrack on evidence-based approaches to improve college access, completion and equity in student outcomes

PORTLAND, ORE. (February 09, 2023) — InsideTrack, the national nonprofit student success organization that has served more than 2.9 million students over the past two decades, today announced the appointment of Dr. Zakiya Ellis, former New Jersey Secretary of Higher Education and Chief Policy Advisor to Governor Phil Murphy, as a new member of its National Advisory Board. Dr. Ellis currently serves as a Principal at the national mission-based education consulting firm EducationCounsel. A former higher education policy advisor in the White House Domestic Policy Council under President Obama and a former Lumina Foundation policy strategist, Dr. Ellis brings experience from a distinguished career working in higher education policy, management and philanthropy to her role as an advisor to InsideTrack.

“More than a decade has passed since President Obama challenged us to make this country first in the world for college completion, and state leaders made bold commitments to address the longstanding inequities that have for too long kept the promise of higher education out of reach for underserved students,” said Dr. Ellis. “Even as we celebrate progress, emerging challenges are creating new barriers to college access and completion for a generation of students who are more diverse than any time in our nation’s history. At this critical time for students, InsideTrack’s evidence-based approach to improving higher education attainment is more important—and relevant—than ever.”

With nearly two decades of experience in state and federal higher education policy, Dr. Ellis's recent experiences includes public service with the administration of New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy (D), which she joined in 2018 as Secretary of Higher Education, responsible for developing higher education policies and coordinating postsecondary education activities for the state.

As a member of the Murphy administration, Dr. Ellis successfully advocated for increases for state and federal funding for public higher education and student aid, including efforts to expand college affordability through tuition-free promise campaigns. In that role, Dr. Ellis also helped to lead the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on institutions of higher education, coordinating with public institutions to implement Emergency Operations Plans, reviewing waiver requests to allow in-person instruction, and other efforts to ensure continuity of instruction and support services during the global health crisis.

“Dr. Ellis’s experience balances an unmatched technical knowledge of higher education finance and the policymaking process with a deep commitment to issues of equity, access and student success. She brings a deep understanding of how policy and philanthropy can scale evidence-based practices to better support students,” said Ruth Bauer White, president of InsideTrack. “This will be invaluable as we advance our mission of delivering on the promise of higher education for all of today’s students. We are delighted to welcome Dr. Ellis to InsideTrack’s National Advisory Board.”

Earlier in her career, Dr. Ellis led federal policy efforts for the Lumina Foundation, where she worked to advance federal policy solutions to increase postsecondary attainment and address key challenges such as affordability, college completion, and equity in higher education. Prior to her work in philanthropy, Dr. Ellis served as a Senior Advisor for Education with the White House Domestic Policy Council, where she led the development, promotion and implementation of President Obama's higher education policy agenda. She also served in the Obama Administration as a Senior Advisor at the U. S. Department of Education.

At EducationCounsel, where she has been based since August of 2022, Dr. Ellis helps clients navigate the current education policy climate to develop solutions that improve equity and outcomes for students. She is a graduate of Vanderbilt University and holds a master’s degree in education policy management from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a doctorate in higher education management from the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Ellis resides in Atlanta, Georgia with her family.

Current members of InsideTrack’s National Advisory Board include Wil Del Pilar, vice president of higher education policy and practice at education civil rights nonprofit The Education Trust; Dr. Tim Renick, executive director of the National Institute for Student Success at Georgia State University; Julian Thompson, director of strategy at the United Negro College Fund; Joel Vargas, vice president of programs at national education and workforce nonprofit Jobs for the Future; Amy Dunham, chief communications officer for Habitat for Humanity International; and Dr. Yolanda Watson Spiva, president of Complete College America.


About InsideTrack: InsideTrack is passionate about helping all learners achieve their education and career goals through the transformative power of coaching. Since 2001, we’ve served 2.9 million learners, partnering with more than 300 institutions and organizations to directly improve enrollment, persistence, completion and career readiness. Our coaching methodology is evidence-based and research-confirmed, with proven outcomes for every type of learner — from traditional to adult, part-time to full-time, online to in-person — including first-generation students and those who face systemic barriers to postsecondary success. We also work with partners to build internal coaching capacity through staff training and professional services — designed to sustain advances in-house for lasting, scalable impact. InsideTrack is a part of Strada Collaborative, a mission-driven nonprofit. To learn more, visit and follow us on Twitter @InsideTrack and LinkedIn @InsideTrack.

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