Honoring the remarkable work of Frontier Set

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation launched the Frontier Set in 2015, bringing together a network of diverse colleges and universities, state systems, and supporting organizations, to learn about institutional transformation. We wanted to understand how these high-performing, high-potential institutions—all committed to student success—were transforming to improve the student experience, and share our learnings to help accelerate institutional transformation across the field.

Over the past seven years, the Frontier Set helped us better understand what institutional transformation is: what it looks like on different campuses; what it takes to realign institutions’ structures, cultures, and business models to create a student experience that results in dramatic and equitable increases in outcomes and educational value for their Black, Latino, and Indigenous students, and students from low-income backgrounds.

Throughout this site, we highlight what we observed about transformation that accelerates equitable student success, and we feature insights from our Frontier Set institutions, state systems, and partners, all with the hope of providing inspiration and practical guide for any institution embarking on its own transformation journey.


Transformation is possible

We observed and heard directly from institutions that believe transformation is indeed possible. It was clear from their experiences that taking a more integrated approach to transformation results in greater impact, and they modeled and affirmed the role of courageous leadership in transformation. These are major contributions to what we know about how transformation works, and I am thrilled to share what we’ve learned together. 

From professional development, to process mapping, to thoughtful questions for reflection, the rich and varied collection of tools and resources on this site are a treasure trove of what we’ve learned from colleges and universities at the frontlines of transformation. As you explore the site, look for links to additional reports, publications, and tools, all of which can also be found on the resources page.


Four key insights

We are pleased to share top-level summaries of four key insights here, all of which you can read about in more detail on their respective observation pages:


An equity-minded approach must be explicit

Race and socioeconomic equity must be an explicit operational priority of the institution, evident in its vision, mission, and strategic plan. 


Visionary leadership is a key driver

The ability of a senior leader to effectively articulate a vision for student success and equity is a powerful driver to ignite change.


Integrated approaches create great impact

Student success initiatives such as advising, developmental education reform, and digital learning must be supported by a cohesive collection of institutional operating capacities such as information technology, information resources, and strategic finance to sustain transformation efforts. 


People—at every level—create the culture for change

Senior leaders play an indispensable role in prioritizing and initiating institutional change. No less important is the role of the greater team, including faculty, administrators, mid-level leaders, and frontline staff, all of whom contribute to accelerating transformation by championing equity.


Transformation is both an imperative and a journey

I want to express deep gratitude to the Frontier Set network and partners for their contributions to furthering the critical work of institutional change to better deliver on their promise for Black, Latino, and Indigenous students, and students from low-income backgrounds. Even with a global pandemic and renewed, resounding calls for racial justice after the murder of George Floyd, their commitment, agility, and humanity made this work possible. Thanks to them, we have learned a tremendous amount about what transformation is and how it happens.

Even as the Frontier Set ends, it has never been clearer that transformation is not a “nice to do”; it’s a “must do.” It’s also clear that, while each of us has a role to play, transformation is complex work best undertaken with partners, colleagues, and allies. We also know that the journey of transformation is an ongoing one. 

Our focus now is taking the lessons from the Frontier Set and other insights about innovation, data and information, and policy to help even more colleges and universities—at least 250 additional institutions over the next five years—begin their equity-focused transformation journeys.

To read more about the intermediaries we’re working with to scale what we’ve learned about institutional transformation, visit the Gates Foundation page on Transformation Intermediaries. 

We also share the lessons we’ve learned with the wider field, to honor the member institutions and supporting organizations that have made this work a priority, as well as the individuals themselves who have demonstrated their commitment by pouring their hearts into dynamic collaboration and vulnerable observation. Their tireless contributions, fearless honesty, relentless courage, resiliency, and tenacity are what make us confident that they—and those they inspire—will carry on the critical work of institutional transformation that results in equitable student success.


With gratitude,

Archie P. Cubarrubia, Ed.D.

Deputy Director, Postsecondary Success.