Request for Proposals: The “To and Through” Advising Challenge

This RFP is now closed.

Learn more about the grantees selected for the “To and Through” Advising Challenge.



The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation envisions a future in which all students in the United States have access to educational opportunities, from Pre-K to postsecondary, that enable them to develop the knowledge, skills, and agency needed to thrive as adults and contribute to their communities. To reach this vision, we support initiatives towards a goal that more students are on track, from Pre-K to postsecondary, to obtain a postsecondary credential with labor market value, such that race/ethnicity and income are no longer predictors of outcomes.

Our K-12 strategy supports a variety of initiatives to improve student outcomes that are predictive of high school graduation and postsecondary success. Our investments include Networks for School Improvement (NSIs), which support schools to solve common problems by using evidence-based interventions that best fit their needs. In a select set of high impact areas, such as supporting students’ transition from high school to postsecondary education, we are also investing to generate knowledge, tools, and practices that schools can use to improve outcomes for students across the country.

The Advising Challenge will support up to 20 school systems to enact the conditions & develop capabilities needed to adopt a “to and through” approach to advising for high school students. Below, please find details on why we are launching this challenge, the grant awards, grantee commitments, key outcomes and indicators, grantmaking criteria and timeline, and links to frequently asked questions. Applications are due on May 31st and may be submitted via an online form, accessed via a link at the bottom of this page.

To listen to the recording of the optional, informational webinar, click here.



An overwhelming majority of students, across all subgroups, aspire to complete some form of postsecondary education. But, many never enroll, and among those who do, far too few actually obtain a degree or credential.1 Moreover, there are substantial attainment gaps across both race and income.

The good news is that high schools have made great strides in encouraging students from low-income families and students of color to apply to postsecondary institutions. As a result of these and other efforts, a greater percentage of these students are now enrolling in postsecondary institutions.

But the percentage obtaining a degree or credential remains distressingly low. For example, just 29% of African Americans between the ages of 25 and 34 have either two-year or four-year degrees, compared to almost 50% of whites.2 Data also show a startling wealth gap. Lower-wealth students are shrinking the enrollment gap by increasing enrollment at a higher rate than their high wealth peers. But paradoxically, the attainment gap across income has grown. While wealthier students are increasingly graduating, the graduation rate for low-income students has barely budged.3


While there are many, many deep-seated causes of these gaps, the “To and Through” Advising Challenge is based on a few critical leverage points where we have compelling evidence that high schools – and those who support high school students – can meaningfully impact students’ transition to and through postsecondary institutions. We know that high schools have differential impacts on college-going – even when controlling for students’ prior academic achievement and readiness.4 Likewise, support during various stages of the postsecondary application process can have meaningful effects on the postsecondary education choices of high school students, especially those from low-income families.5

Postsecondary advising is particularly important for low-income students and students of color, many of whom are the first in their families to attend a postsecondary institution. Data show that these students have the greatest needs, but have less access to strong counseling and advising in high school.6

But, for students from low-income families and students of color, it is not enough to simply encourage them to apply to a postsecondary program. A “to and through” approach to advising requires a deep understanding of students’ identity, motivations, and mindsets, emphasizes personal relationships and family engagement, and focuses on three critical decision points which directly impact students’ chances of obtaining a credential or degree:

1) Advising students to apply to and enroll at institutions that support student success

  • Postsecondary institutions differ dramatically in their completion rates, differences that are often magnified across race and income. Recent studies in both Illinois and California conclude that one driver of race- and income-based postsecondary attainment gaps is that students attend less selective institutions which have lower completion rates.7
  • Research shows that attending a higher quality institution has substantial impacts on college completion and suggests that these impacts may be even higher for under-represented students. Regardless of their academic qualifications, students’ likelihood of graduating from a given postsecondary institution mirrors the institutional graduation rate.8In other words, the same student, with the same academic background, may have drastically different chances of graduation, depending on the institution she attends.
  • College undermatch occurs when students who are qualified to be admitted at more selective institutions instead apply to and enroll at institutions with lower academic qualifications. Often these academically prepared students fail to enroll at all. Undermatch is pervasive, particularly among low-income minority youth.9 In fact, high-performing, low-income students who “match” to a selective college graduate at the same rate as their high-income peers.
  • Strong advising programs have access to and use data to support students to understand these factors, apply to “best match” schools, and choose programs where they are likely to succeed.

2) Supporting students to successfully navigate financial aid and affordability issues

  • College cost and perceptions around cost are barriers that all low-income students must overcome. Students with excessive unmet financial need are significantly less likely to enroll and persist in postsecondary education.
  • Completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a key predictor of college enrollment and continued persistence. But low-income students are less likely to complete the steps necessary to apply for financial aid. In the first national study, researchers found lower FAFSA completion rates in school districts with higher poverty levels.10
  • Strong advising helps to ensure that students have the financial information and resources necessary to find an affordable path to – and through – post-secondary. Beyond FAFSA, advisors can help students understand confusing and often cryptic financial award letters and aid options.

3) Avoiding summer melt

  • Each year, a significant number of students who have already been admitted to postsecondary institutions fail to enroll. There are a variety of causes, but many relate to the complex tasks, such as completing financial aid verification processes, or financial hurdles, such as paying a housing deposit before receiving financial aid, that students must navigate at a time when they have little or no support. This so-called “summer melt” affects 10 to 20 percent of college-intending students each year, with rates higher among those from low-income backgrounds and those who would be first in their family to attend college.11
  • Leading high schools, college access programs, and universities have developed programs and approaches to reduce summer melt, ensuring that these already admitted and qualified students fulfill their aspirations towards a postsecondary credential. Initiatives often involve explicit partnerships with higher education institutions to support students to meet financial, academic, and housing timelines and requirements.


The Advising Challenge will support up to 20 school systems to enact the conditions & develop capabilities needed to adopt a “to and through” approach to advising for high school students. We expect that grantees, based on an analysis of their current student data and context, will address one or more of the key decision points listed above. Grant recipients will:

  • Participate in a year-long community of practice, receive individualized coaching and technical assistance, and benefit from access to effective models, tools, and practices;
  • Receive National College Access Network membership and conference registration;
  • Receive $75,000 in grant funds during the 2018-19 school year;
  • Receive an additional $15,000 to support continued measurement and improvement practices in school year 2019-2020; and
  • Be eligible to apply for additional implementation funds for school years 2019-20 and beyond.



Grant recipients will commit to measuring and reporting on evidence-based indicators and conditions that will enable them to deliver significantly more impactful advising for students.

These commitments include:

  • Report on Estimated Postsecondary Completion and adopt a measurement framework using key predictive indicators (see “Key Outcomes and Indicators” below).
  • Analyze current student data – disaggregated by race/ethnicity and income.
  • Understand all the actors currently providing postsecondary advising in schools and the surrounding community.
  • Based on the initial analysis of current student data and context, develop an initial aim & goals for improvement during the 2019-2020 school year.
  • Develop the capacity for ongoing measurement, disaggregated reporting, and use of indicators for improvement at both the school & district levels.
  • Implement key enabling conditions and leadership commitments at both the school & district levels.
  • In conjunction with school leaders, counselors, educators, and community partners, create an implementation plan to ensure systemic access to effective advising. This plan may include strengthened partnerships with college access organizations, higher education institutions, and other community supports.
  • Commit to continued measurement, usage, and reporting of key indicators and outcomes in the second year of the grant.

Grantees will also commit to fully participating in and exchanging learning across a community of practice. This will include engagement in two national convenings, the National College Access Network national conference, and ongoing trainings, communications with coaches, and other supports. Fundamental to this effort is a learning agenda which allows participants, the foundation, and the field to learn from grantees’ experiences. As such, grantees will report on key indicators and outcomes within the community of practice and to the foundation. Finally, grantees will commit to adhering to the foundation’s stewardship principles to protect student data and privacy, which include compliance with all applicable federal and state laws related to the collection, storage, use, and destruction of student data.



Many school systems and communities aspire to take a “to and through” approach and aim to increase students’ postsecondary completion rates. The challenge, though, is the significant time lag – at least six years – to track these students longitudinally.

Given the research showing that students’ likelihood of graduating from a given postsecondary institution mirrors the institutional graduation rate, many systems are beginning to use a new measure, Estimated Postsecondary Completion, which provides more immediate improvement data and is highly predictive of six-year postsecondary graduation rates. For these reasons, we’ve chosen Estimated Postsecondary Completion as the key outcome we will require all grantees to measure and aim to improve. Grantees will receive individualized assistance to help them develop this measurement and improvement capacity.

Calculating Estimated Postsecondary Completion (EPSC)

Based on historic subgroup graduation data, EPSC is the estimated rate at which students will graduate from the institutions where they matriculate. For example, consider a school with five students:

Student Graduation Rate at Institution Where Student Enrolls EPSC
Student 1, African-American 80% African-American graduation rate 80%
Student 2, Caucasian 60% Caucasian graduation rate 60%
Student 3, Latino 40% Latino graduation rate 40%
Student 4, African-American 20% African-American graduation rate 20%
Student 5, Caucasian Does not enroll 0
Total School EPSC   40%

EPSC is valuable for two purposes. First, it provides school systems and their communities with a timely and accurate gauge on a critical outcome: students’ postsecondary success. Second, and perhaps more importantly, it can be used along with other indicators as the basis for improvement efforts.

In the above example, the postsecondary enrollment rate is 80% (four of five students enrolled), but because of where those students enrolled, the school’s estimated postsecondary completion rate is only 40%. School leaders may respond by investigating which students are enrolling in low graduation rate schools, seek to understand why, and support paths to schools that will foster student success.

A different school might have the same EPSC of 40%, but a postsecondary enrollment rate of only 40%. In this school, two students go to highly selective postsecondary institutions with high graduation rates, but the other three do not even attend. This second school’s improvement efforts will likely focus on different factors and subgroups of students.

Grantees will calculate EPSC at both the system and school level, engage school leaders and educators to analyze the potential drivers of improvement, and adopt a measurement framework to monitor key indicators that are predictive of EPSC. These indicators will support efforts to continuously improve advising practices and outcomes. We recognize that each grantee operates in a unique context, which will impact exactly which indicators are measured and monitored. As part of their data analysis, we expect that grantees will seek to better understand the drivers of their current student data, analyzing and choosing key indicators to monitor.

Please see the FAQ for additional information on EPSC and the “To and Through” Advising Indicators document for a discussion of indicators that emphasize a “to and through” approach to advising.



This opportunity is structured to provide intensive support over a short time period. We will look for applicants that show leadership commitment and are able to take advantage of this opportunity to run fast! We will select those most ready to improve and establish the key commitments listed above. We anticipate additional challenge opportunities for those systems that have already established many of the key commitments.

The challenge is open to local education agencies, including traditional school districts and charter management organizations / charter schools. We also welcome applications from partnerships that span across school districts and/or charters. Nonprofit-led partnerships may also apply. Large school systems may choose to apply for a subset of their schools (with a clear goal of full system implementation). We purposely seek a variety of applicants, including across rural, suburban, and urban districts or charter management organizations, to increase the opportunity to learn about progress in different contexts. We also encourage creative partnerships with college access organizations and other community partners, including local public education support funds and institutions of higher education.

We seek to fund applicants that directly serve a student population of which at least 50% are Black, Latino, and/or low-income (students who qualify for free or reduced-priced lunch). Please tell us in your application if, in your local student population, there are other specific under-represented groups you will target who are known to have inequitable postsecondary access and persistence.

Access to and use of student data for improvement efforts is a fundamental component of the challenge. As noted above, one of the first steps in the challenge will be for grantees to calculate and understand the drivers of schools’ Estimated Postsecondary Completion (EPSC) rate. To calculate, grantees will need access to disaggregated postsecondary enrollment data (covering in-state and out-of-state, public and private institutions) for all graduating students (often provided by your state or through a contract with the National Student Clearinghouse).

This challenge aims to improve systemic access to high-quality advising for students across all achievement levels. Therefore, while we encourage applicants to consider how best to leverage a variety of school- and community-based programs to ensure systemic access, this challenge will not fund individual programs that work only with cohorts of selected students and do not address systemic, whole-school and system conditions.



Applications must be received by 5:00pm, Pacific Time, on May 31st.

Week of April 23rd RFP opens
Week of May 8th Optional webinar. Recording available 
May 31st RFP closes at 5:00pm Pacific Time
June Review of applications*
Early July Inform chosen applicants
August Complete grant agreements**

*Because this RFP is open to the public, it is difficult to predict how many applications we will receive. We therefore reserve the right to modify the review timeline slightly to ensure all applications receive appropriate consideration. If it becomes necessary to change the timeline, we will notify all applicants by early June and provide details of the updated timeline by e-mail.

**We will use an expedited award process, enabling the application for this RFP to also serve as the applicant’s grant proposal. All prospective recipients will be required to complete a standardized grant agreement with the foundation.


We gratefully acknowledge and thank the dozens of practitioners, funders, and researchers, from school systems, college access organizations, foundations, and research institutions, who contributed to the development of this challenge.



To help the foundation with its review of RFP responses, the foundation may disclose proposals, documents, communications, and associated materials submitted to the foundation in response to this RFP (collectively, “Submission Materials”) to its employees, contingent workers, consultants, independent subject matter experts, and potential co-funders. Please carefully consider the information included in the Submission Materials. If you (the “Applicant”) have any doubts about the wisdom of disclosure of confidential or proprietary information, the foundation recommends you consult with your legal counsel and take any steps you deem necessary to protect your intellectual property. You may wish to consider whether such information is critical for evaluating the submission or if more general, non-confidential information may be adequate as an alternative for these purposes.

Notwithstanding the Applicant’s characterization of any information as being confidential, the foundation is under no obligation to treat such information as confidential.



This RFP is not an offer to contract or award grant funds.  The foundation assumes no responsibility for the Applicant’s cost to respond to this RFP. All responses generated by this RFP become the property of the foundation.



In exchange for the opportunity to be awarded a grant, the Applicant agrees that the foundation may, in its sole discretion: (1) amend or cancel the RFP, in whole or in part, at any time; (2) extend the deadline for submitting responses; (3) determine whether a response does or does not substantially comply with the requirements of the RFP; (4) waive any minor irregularity, informality or nonconformance with the provisions or procedures of the RFP; (5) issue multiple awards; (6) share responses generated by this RFP with foundation staff, consultants, contingent workers, subject matter experts, and potential co-funders; and (7) copy the responses.

Applicant agrees not to bring a legal challenge of any kind against the foundation relating to the foundation’s selection and award of a grant arising from this RFP.

Applicant represents that it has responded to the RFP with complete honesty and accuracy.  If facts provided in Applicant’s response change, Applicant will supplement its response in writing with any deletions, additions or changes within 10 days of the changes. Applicant will do this, as necessary, throughout the selection process. Applicant understands that any material misrepresentation, including omissions, may disqualify it from consideration for a grant award.

By responding to this RFP, you are representing: (i) that you have authority to bind the named Applicant to the terms and conditions set forth above, without amendment; and (ii) that you agree to be bound by them.


For general questions about the RFP process, please consult our FAQs page. For questions not on our FAQs page, please send an email to While we may not be able to respond to individual questions, we will frequently update our FAQs page.

For a printable version of the RFP application, click here.

To submit a response, click here

Additional RFP Resources


Questions? Please read the Frequently Asked Questions page for more information on the RFP process.