Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Postsecondary Success


Postsecondary Success Notes | The State of the Frontier Set


Like most (OK, all) parents of young children, I spend a lot of time in the world of questions. How does that work? Why do I have to take a nap? Are we there yet?

But for me, one of the most provocative questions comes from Sue Desmond Hellmann, our CEO, who routinely asks us, “What if?” What if we erased college access and success gaps by race and income? What if colleges and universities transformed themselves to make that happen?

We’re starting to gain some insight into these questions through the work of the Frontier Set, a network of high-performing, high-potential colleges and universities and university systems working together for equitable student outcomes. The network launched nearly two years ago and today released a progress report on its work and lessons learned to date (more on that below). The report is an important read, and yielded several key points for me:

Transformation is a mindset, not an initiative. Colleges and universities that are truly invested in improving their outcomes are working hard at building a student-centered culture that drives how they operate and decisions big and small.

Structure can get in the way of success. Our campuses and systems are often organized in ways that can make it difficult to share and act on information the helps students. Frontier Set sites are tackling this challenge, developing novel, cross-campus approaches to problem-solving.

We can’t fix what we don’t understand. We hear it a lot, but it bears repeating – good data are essential to good decisions. The Frontier Set experience underscores the importance of data in having the hard but necessary conversations and the need to invest in data infrastructure.

“What if?” can be a daunting and even frustrating question. But it is perhaps the most important question if we are serious about true opportunity for today’s college students.

Patrick Methvin