Frontier Set

Last Updated: 05/17/2024

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Frontier Set was a national initiative (2015-2021) comprised of colleges, universities, state systems of higher education, and supporting organizations committed to (1) transforming how institutions operate by eliminating race, ethnicity, and income as predictors of student success and (2) working collaboratively with other institutions. Frontier Set was supported by the Gates Foundation.

A key aim of the initiative was to understand how the participating colleges and universities were transforming to improve the student experience and to share those learnings to help advance the field. All the institutions had a track record of being high-performing, high-potential institutions with a history of working collaboratively to create equitable student success for Black, Latino, and Indigenous students, first-generation students, and those from low-income backgrounds).

At the initiation of Frontier Set, the Gates Foundation identified six non-profit organizations (Intermediaries for Scale) to work across diverse partners to serve transforming institutions as connectors, advisors, and strategists:

  • American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU): A Washington, D.C.-based higher education association of nearly 400 public colleges, universities, and systems whose members share a learning- and teaching-centered culture, a historic commitment to underserved student populations, and a dedication to research and creativity that advances their regions’ economic progress and cultural development.
  • American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC): AIHEC serves as the unifying voice of the Tribal Colleges and Universities as they strive to achieve excellence in Tribal higher education.
  • Complete College America (CCA): A national advocacy organization, representing an alliance of 48 states and postsecondary systems, working to dramatically increase college completion rates and close institutional performance gaps through data-driven policy and practice.
  • Excelencia in Education: A national organization that accelerates Latino student success in higher education to enhance our workforce, leadership, and economy.
  • Growing Inland Achievement (GIA): A regional K-16 education collaborative that works to achieve economic and educational equity in California’s Inland Empire region.
  • UNCF: A national membership organization dedicated to sustaining Historically Black Colleges and Universities while empowering the students and communities HBCUs serve.

These organizations were identified for their demonstrated commitment and experience in supporting higher education institutions to reduce college success disparities by race and income; promote continuous learning and improvement through the use of data; and identify, implement, and evaluate significant campus-level changes in policy and practice.

The intermediaries identified 29 colleges and universities and two state systems of higher education institutions to make up the Frontier Set. Institutions were chosen because of their history of making strides in improving outcomes for their students, as well as for their ability to work together. The network provided a structure for participating sites to collaborate and share, supported by a group of organizations that facilitated and studied their ongoing transformation efforts and captured insights and lessons learned. This level of collaboration differentiated the Frontier Set in a historically competitive field.

The participating institutions met to share progress in their continuing equity-focused work and piloted new strategies. The institutions shared insights and reflected on what drives change and what transformation is and how it happens.

From this work, the Frontier Set developed a common definition of institutional transformation:  the realignment of an institution’s structures, culture, and business model to create a student experience that results in dramatic and equitable increases in outcomes and educational value. The transformation process would require realignment – the redesign of how the institution operates and enables changes that advance racial and socioeconomic equity in student outcomes. The institutions would transform by integrating evidence-based practices that create inclusive and coherent learning environments and leverage a student-centered mission, catalytic leadership, strategic data use, and strategic finance in a robust continuous improvement process.

Key Insights

  • Institutions transform by integrating evidence-based practices that create inclusive and coherent learning environments and leveraging a student-centered mission, catalytic leadership, strategic data use, and strategic finance in a robust continuous improvement process.
  • Postsecondary transformation requires reevaluating existing systems and structures that no longer serve students. The work isn’t easy, it doesn’t happen overnight, but it is possible, and more importantly, it’s imperative for delivering equitable student success.
  • The student experience is at the center of an integrated model where an institution’s solutions and operating capacities work together.
  • An important step in an institution’s transformation journey is identifying catalysts and their potential impact.
  • The roles and actions needed to accelerate transformation differ by institution, but people are always at the center.
  • Institutions must assess their journey to sustain momentum. These are the essential components tested in the institutional transformation framework.


  • Administration - VENTUREWELL
  • Evaluator - AIR
  • Data Partner – National Student Clearinghouse
  • Opportunity Fund – Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors



Variety of resources to include reports, case studies, insights/topical briefs

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Initiatives (309)

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