Institutional Partnerships: Frontier Set Evaluation
Recognizing the need to learn more about how institutions in the United States transform their practices to improve college student success, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation invested in a major initiative to support and study the Frontier Set—a network of 29 institutions and two state systems that included community colleges, four-year colleges, and minority-serving institutions, all with demonstrated commitments to institutional change and improving outcomes and creating equitable opportunities for success for the students they serve.
AIR served as the research and learning partner for this six-year initiative, collecting annual site visit and student-level administrative data to understand how institutions approach and experience transformation and to examine trends in near-term and long-term performance indicators, especially for Black, Latino, and Indigenous students and students from low-income backgrounds.
For the Frontier Set, transformation refers to the realignment of an institution’s structures, culture, and business model to create a college student experience that results in dramatic and equitable increases in outcomes and educational value. Transformation, as a process, involves institutions creating inclusive and coherent learning environments to achieve equitable outcomes for students through catalytic leadership and evidence-based practices that are embedded in continuous improvement processes. Equity in transformation refers to the intentional, institutional pursuit of a state where race and socioeconomic status are no longer entrenched and reliable predictors of student experiences and outcomes.
Over the course of the initiative, AIR’s research activities were guided by four core areas of inquiry:
- What are the catalysts of transformation? How do they catalyze transformation?
- What are effective models that integrate the essential components of transformation into a comprehensive, coherent, and cohesive institutional strategy for creating more equitable student outcomes within the context of the institutional mission?
- Through what roles, structures, and processes can administrators, faculty, staff, and students contribute to transformation most effectively?
- What are key indicators of institutional readiness for transformation? What are key indicators of institutional progress toward transformation?
AIR’s final Frontier Set report presents key findings for practitioners and the public, especially audiences who are interested in understanding how institutions changed and what they learned along the way.