Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Postsecondary Success

The foundation’s work in the U.S. is dedicated to increasing economic and social mobility – helping more people access and realize opportunities that will help them live healthy, productive lives. Education, early learning through post-high school, is one of those opportunities. That is why we work with schools, colleges, and universities and the organizations supporting them to help many more students achieve their goals and eliminate race and income as predictors of student success.

Our work in education after high school has demonstrated that there are innovations that can significantly improve student outcomes, like strengthening advising, tapping the power of digital learning, and redesigning remedial education. Through initiatives such as Completion by Design and the Frontier Set, we have seen that implementing these and other innovations leads to a broader focus on institutional transformation.

Transformation requires fundamental change in culture, organizational structure, and business models and operations to address evolving student needs. Transforming institutions intentionally create cohesive and inclusive learning environments by emphasizing leadership, evidence-driven practice, and a commitment to continuous improvement.

The Postsecondary Success strategy’s efforts around institutional transformation fall in three primary areas:

  • Identifying and refining innovation associated with increased student success (e.g. improved student advising, redesigned remedial education, high-quality digital learning);
  • Forming partnerships with diverse types of colleges and universities to adopt, implement, and scale innovations to dramatically improve student outcomes and developing tools and resources to support those efforts (through initiatives like Completion by Design and Frontier Set); and
  • Advocating for policy at the state and federal levels that aligns with the goals of increasing student success and eliminating access and success gaps by race and income.

Intermediaries for Scale are organizations that will work with the foundation and other partners to pursue four objectives:

  1. Increase awareness of successful and promising transformation strategies among campus leaders and communities.
  2. Inform key campus-level decisions about change options and strategies and supporting decision-makers.
  3. Support transformation by providing guidance and resources for adopting, implementing, evaluating, and sustaining changes in policy and practice.
  4. Build connections across colleges and universities and other supporting organizations to accelerate learning and sharing of promising practices.

Pressure is mounting for colleges and universities to transform – increasing demand for an educated workforce coupled with intensifying financial challenges and wavering public confidence – and a growing number of institutions are responding to that pressure. But they need networking, resources and guidance to make the changes needed to better serve today’s students.

The foundation has selected 12 organizations to be Intermediaries for Scale. They are:

 Achieving the Dream   American Association of State Colleges and Universities
 American Indian Higher Education Consortium  Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities
 Complete College America  E3 Alliance
 Excelencia in Education  Growing Inland Achievement
 John N Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education  MDRC
 Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities UNCF (United Negro College Fund)

These organizations – plus Jobs for the Future, a pilot intermediary – have demonstrated commitment and experience in supporting institutions  as they reduce college success disparities by race and income; promoting continuous learning and improvement through the use of data; and identifying, implementing, and evaluating significant campus-level changes in policy and practice. Collectively, these groups work with or represent nearly three-quarters of the nation’s public two- and four-year institutions.

The grants are designed to cover staffing and related expenses, travel, convenings, and technical and informational resources to strengthen their capacity to support transforming institutions. This includes:

  • Learning and applying tools such as institutional self-assessments and resources developed by the Postsecondary Data Partnership;
  • Evaluating current capacity to provide guidance and technical assistance to colleges and universities (staffing/expertise, management, infrastructure) and identifying areas for expansion or improvement; and
  • Developing a strategic plan for delivering support services to colleges and universities and working with partner organizations.

The two-year grants range from $1.3 million to $2.5 million depending on the intermediary’s size and proposed scope of work.

The intermediaries will form relationships with a wide range of organizations, including and especially foundation grantees and partners focusing on innovation and the implementation and integration of innovations to support transformation (such as those working with the Frontier Set).

The initial grants to the intermediaries are focused on building their capability to support colleges and universities interested in transformation. As part of that process, the intermediaries will work with the foundation to identify institutions with whom they might engage. The goal is for intermediaries to be engaging collectively with at least 300 institutions over the next several years in different but complementary ways.

Intermediaries will be assessed on their ability to:

  • Develop a strategic business plan to promote and deliver support to colleges and universities targeted by the foundation.
  • Leverage and strengthen the organizational infrastructure needed to execute the plan (physical, human, financial).
  • Demonstrate alignment with the foundation’s priorities and approach for working with colleges and universities, as well as effective collaboration with other intermediaries and existing foundation grantees and partners.

At the end of the two-year grant period, the foundation will evaluate intermediaries’ progress and accomplishments and determine readiness for further activity and engagement with campuses, as well as the type and level of foundation support.

The foundation conducted a rigorous request for proposals (RFP) process to identify the intermediaries. The process consisted of four stages:

Stage 1 / Letter of Interest: Eligible organizations were invited to submit a brief statement outlining their mission, capabilities, and experience in working with diverse types of colleges and universities. More than 200 organizations submitted letters of interest.

Stage 2 / Request for Information: A subset of organizations submitting letters of interest were asked to provide a more detailed summary of their capacity, alignment with foundation approach and priorities, and readiness to contribute to scaling efforts.

Stage 3 / Concept: A subset of organizations responding to the request for information were asked to prepare a concept paper outlining their approach to the work (i.e. how they would deploy their resources to support colleges and universities in their scaling efforts and share learning across existing partner networks).

Stage 4 / Proposal: A final subset of 12 organizations were selected to develop full proposals for funding, including: a) a multi-year scope of work; b) progress milestones and metrics; and c) a detailed budget and workplan.

Foundation staff reviewed the applications and made selections at each stage of the process; outside experts provided advice and assistance with information gathering and analysis. Selection decisions were based on the following criteria:

Alignment Goals and work focus on increasing student success and eliminating race and income as predictors of student success
Institutional Engagement
  • Breadth (number of institutions served)
  • Diversity (types of institutions served)
  • Students served (focusing on low-income students and students of color)
  • Location (focusing on priority states)
  • Depth (scope of services offered)
Equity Commitment to diversity/equity/inclusion in organizational staffing, operations, partnerships, and service to institutions
Continuous Learning Capacity to improve strategy and programming through feedback
Systems Orientation Ability to work within complex federal, state, local, and institutional contexts
Collaboration Track record of collaborating with peers on joint initiatives

An RFP best reflected several of the foundation’s goals for identifying intermediaries: a) provide a fair and equitable opportunity for a wide range of organizations to convey their interest and qualifications; b) broaden and diversify the Postsecondary Success strategy’s grantee and partner portfolio; and c) offer learning opportunities that add value for the participating organizations. One-third of the intermediaries are new partners for the foundation.