Frontier Set

The Frontier Set was a diverse network of high-performing two-and four-year colleges, universities, and state systems all committed to significantly increasing access, advancing student success, and eliminating racial, ethnic and socioeconomic disparities in college attainment. Over a six year period, the Aspen Institute, with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, helped the 12 community college member institutions:
  • Implement policies and practices associated with significantly increasing student success
  • Strengthen their ability to implement and sustain change
  • Share progress, insights, and lessons learned 
Along the way, Aspen gained a deeper understanding of how colleges advance student success and equity strategies in real time. After the Frontier Set closed in 2021, Aspen produced a research report (available below) that investigates question such as:
  • What does it look like to implement reform over several years?
  • What is the specific role of the president and senior team?
  • How do different functions within the institution work together to drive high, improving, and equitable levels of student success?
What’s in the report?
  • Part 1: Improvements in student outcomes achieved by the Frontier Set community colleges before and during the investment.
  • Part 2: Institutional changes that colleges accomplished as outcomes improved, categorized under three phases of transformation: Initiation / Vision, Implementation / Iteration, and Institutionalization / Scaling.
  • Part 3: A framework detailing how institutional capacities—specifically, human capital, strategic finance, data capacity, and implementation structures and processes—support student success and equity strategies.
  • Part 4: Further insight on each institutional capacity—using both Frontier Set and Aspen Prize research—as well as tools leaders can use to assess the readiness of their institutions in each of these capacities. This section also includes key investments leaders can make in these areas to advance the institutional transformation process.
  • Part 5: Case studies on how leaders have adapted guided pathways to their institutional context in case studies of three Frontier Set community colleges.
Access the report, Designing for Transformation: Insights from Frontier Set Institutions here.
What kinds of insights are included?
As noted above, there are explorations of five important institutional capacities and three valuable case studies about tailoring guided pathways to fit unique institutions.

Access the case studies directly here:

Lorain County Community College
Davidson-Davie Community College
Harper College

There are also synthesized reflections on transformation, like the page below, which follows a section on the three phases of transformation.

Six insights about the reform process
Which community colleges participated in the Frontier Set?
The 12 members of the community college segment of the Frontier Set, supported by Aspen, were:
  • Columbia Basin College / Pasco, WA
  • Davidson-Davie Community College / Thomasville, NC
  • Guilford Technical Community College / Jamestown, NC
  • Harper College / Palatine, IL
  • Indian River State College / Fort Pierce, FL / 2019 Aspen Prize Winner
  • Lorain County Community College / Elyria, OH
  • Miami Dade College / Miami, FL / 2019 Aspen Prize Winner
  • Northeast Wisconsin Technical College / Green Bay WI
  • San Jacinto College / Pasadena, TX / 2021 Aspen Prize Finalist with Distinction
  • Santa Fe College / Gainesville, FL
  • Sinclair Community College / Dayton, OH
  • Wake Technical Community College / Raleigh, NC
See the full list of members here.
The Frontier Set was supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation through its postsecondary success strategy.
Contact us for more information
Kristin O'Keefe, Director, Communications