What is the Frontier Set?

The Frontier Set is a select group of high-performing, high-potential colleges and universities, state systems, and supporting organizations that are all committed to dramatically increasing student success and erasing attainment gaps by transforming how they operate.

The 29 colleges and universities and two state systems (all referred to as “sites”) that make up the Frontier Set stand as a diverse cross-section of higher education, encompassing research universities, state systems, regional comprehensive institutions, community colleges, urban-serving universities, and minority-serving institutions including Historically Black Colleges and Universities.


The member sites are succeeding in improving student outcomes by implementing innovative approaches, strengthening their capacity to adapt, and consistently focusing on how all these pieces come together to increase student success. They’re experimenting with incorporating predictive analytics in their advising offices, increasing the use of digital learning approaches to meet student needs, taking creative approaches to financial aid, creating new methods for mentorship, and more. They were chosen because they are disproportionately narrowing the achievement gap in comparison to their peers. They are dedicated and innovative, and they have agreed to work together to go further and faster as a group, generating big ideas that will ripple outward and transform the postsecondary system as a whole.

Additionally, sites have committed to taking a hard look at their data and owning the story it tells—good or bad—and using that understanding to move forward in new ways that may serve as an example for other institutions grappling with similar challenges. They are committed to making college credentials truly attainable and affordable for all students, and to sticking to their values despite the financial, operational, and strategic challenges that entails.

The fundamental goals of the Frontier Set are equity-focused: Improve student outcomes and close attainment gaps within the network, and in that effort, find, implement, research, and document policies and practices focused on student success. The Frontier Set network—especially the intermediaries, which are organizations that serve as connectors and communicators—encourages sites as they pilot new strategies. The network provides a structure for sites to check in with others and ask about different approaches. This habit of sharing is essential to the Frontier Set, and will continue to build upon itself, spurring more demand for insight around student success. It’s an innovative model based on learning and sharing in motion, and the power of a strong network—enhanced by the work of the support partners.

The Frontier Set sites are supported by a group of organizations that provide coaching, evaluation, and packaging, and share insights and lessons learned. The combination of diverse organizations that support the sites is unique within the landscape of higher education. It adds complexity but also capacity and expertise, as well as a dynamic mechanism for both disseminating ideas and sustaining the network.

Map of the Frontier Set

American Association of State Colleges & UniversitiesHistorically Black Colleges & UniversitiesUniversity Innovation AllianceAssociation of Public & Land-Grant UniversitiesThe Aspen InstituteState Higher Education Executive Officers AssociationVenturewellNational Student ClearinghouseRockfellerAIRBill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Support partners help capture the sites’ progress indicators, which shed light on where sites excel and where opportunities for improvement lie. This critical understanding of sites’ strengths and gaps informs ongoing efforts and helps sites formulate new approaches for the future. Along with this continual cycle of evaluation and growth, Frontier Set sites share their promising practices (and the indicators that support them) so others inside the network can learn from them, adapt them, and continue to improve and accelerate their own transformation. This progress is supported by building strengths and filling gaps with targeted technical assistance, facilitating efforts to ensure all students succeed.

By capturing and sharing back how the Frontier Set is improving student outcomes and closing attainment gaps, the network begins to generate more big ideas that accelerate transformation. In this way, the Frontier Set is setting new standards and building a body of knowledge that will lead the way for others, transforming how institutions operate and positively impacting the lives of thousands of students nationally.

The Frontier Set provides permission and resources to be creative, try new approaches and succeed—or fail and learn—in new ways, and share those experiences and outcomes with peers. Our campuses are eager for deeper sharing, learning, and support around change management and institutional strategies.

University Innovation Alliance, Intermediary

The Frontier Set serves as a testing ground for tools created to help institutions accelerate transformation, and is also the source of the Observed Practices, a collection of case studies, hypotheses, and common threads found in successful approaches to transformation. This resource will help other institutions find inspiration to inform their own next steps toward improving student outcomes. As time goes on, the Frontier Set’s findings will continue to grow and evolve, becoming an essential resource for interested institutions and other stakeholders in higher education.

This is what is unique about the Frontier Set: learning and sharing in motion—plus doing it so openly in a field that is known to be competitive. Not only have sites committed to changing how they do things in order to make a difference in student outcomes, but they’ve also agreed to share the highs and lows, what they’re trying, what approaches they’re seeing promise in, and what they’re hoping for the future.

The Frontier Set was created as a five-year initiative. Now, more than two years in, sites are growing and learning from each other, and finding success in innovative approaches and new ways of thinking. There is plenty of hard work ahead, but also plenty to celebrate.

This is the State of The Frontier Set, a reflection of early learnings and aspirations of the group, and a vision for what’s next in increasing equity and accelerating student success.