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Create and Use a Student-Level Information System

Create a comprehensive data and information system to measure student progression and outcomes, including mobility of students within the system, time and credits to degree, and job placement

Improve Student

State policymakers and higher education leaders need sophisticated data systems capable of delivering and reporting useful, high-quality data and information on student progress, achievement, and outcomes, including employment. Leaders can also develop metrics and dashboards for measuring and reporting progress toward attainment and other important goals. Such data can help leaders identify strengths and weaknesses in the education pipeline, develop policy strategies, determine funding priorities and make adjustments over time. Data are particularly important for tracking attainment goal progress and achievement among those student populations who have been traditionally underserved and are least likely to complete postsecondary programs.

In 2016, the Postsecondary Data Collaborative, an initiative led by the Institute for Higher Education Policy, convened an expert working group and released a series of papers—Envisioning the National Postsecondary Data Infrastructure in the 21st Century—that maps the current data landscape. In one paper—Assessing and Improving State Postsecondary Data Systems—authors from the State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO) and Complete College America examine the current status of state postsecondary data systems and identify recommendations for both state and federal policymakers seeking to support improved data systems. Among the recommendations, the authors urge states to include the postsecondary data system in strategic plans for higher education and for measuring progress on goals and metrics included in those plans. The report also recommends that states continue to expand the use of these data systems for critical research and policy analysis. The report includes information about expanded use of such data systems among states and finds that 39 states now actively link or plan to link postsecondary data to K-12 data, compared to 16 states in 2010. Forty-seven agencies in 42 states currently link or plan to link postsecondary data to workforce data. Other papers in the series examine building a federal student-level data system, leveraging employment data, fostering state-to-state data exchanges, and leveraging national and federal data sets.


Several organizations, including the State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO) and the Working Poor Families Project (WPFP), have made recommendations about the structure of state postsecondary data systems and the kinds of data to be collected and analyzed. SHEEO has identified 15 essential characteristics and functions of state higher education longitudinal systems grouped into four broad categories: student data, course data, operational characteristics and data governance. WPFP, which works in support of state policies to make postsecondary, adult education and skills development programs work better for low-skilled adults, is committed to making state postsecondary and skills development data systems more effective tools for state leaders. WPFP defines an effective state data system as one that combines information from K-12, workforce development and postsecondary education systems and programs, including adult basic education and skills development programs, and tracks employment outcomes.

State Examples

Each of the following state examples is a policy solution crafted in response to the unique circumstances of the state in which it was formed. As a private foundation, Lumina does not support or oppose any legislation. Lumina provides educational information, nonpartisan research and analysis to advance Goal 2025.


In 2013, Kentucky lawmakers enacted HB240, which established the Kentucky Center for Education and Workforce Statistics, to oversee the collection and reporting of accurate data through the Kentucky Longitudinal Data System. The Center also provides analyses that examine student performance and employment to inform improvement in Kentucky’s education system and training programs. The law specifies that various state agencies—including the Council on Postsecondary Education, the Department of Education, the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority, and agencies in the Education and Workforce Development Cabinet—must supply education and workforce data. In 2015, Kentucky received a $6.7 million grant from the National Center for Education Statistics to expand access to and alignment of education and workforce data to inform policy and practice.


Minnesota officials continue to expand and improve the P-20 Statewide Longitudinal Education Data System (SLEDS). Governed by the Minnesota P-20 Education Partnership, SLEDS matches student data from prekindergarten through completion of postsecondary education and into the workforce. As of 2016, the system can now provide institutional level data reports through the SLEDS mobile analytics website and graduate employment outcomes through the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. Users can access employment outcomes for Minnesota college graduates one to four years after graduation by institution, institution type, program and major. In addition, SLEDS now includes a postsecondary data mart, which offers a secure website for individual postsecondary institutions to download student-level data for enrolled and graduated students, including pre- and post-college variables. Further, the Minnesota Office of Higher Education (OHE) is developing a Regional Technical Assistance and Data Use Network. OHE released a request for applications seeking education and workforce partners and offering grants of up to $50,000 annually for as many as three years. Chosen network member organizations will support increased use of SLEDS data, improve stakeholders’ SLEDS data literacy, and conduct value-added research and analysis for their designated region within Minnesota.

Multistate Data Exchange

The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) conducted a pilot study with four of its member states—Hawaii, Idaho, Oregon and Washington—to create the Multistate Longitudinal Data Exchange (MLDE), which links data from K-12, postsecondary and workforce sectors across the four states. The goal was to more comprehensively analyze the production, stock and flow of human capital using a regional multistate approach. A 2015 brief—Building Capacity for Tracking Human Capital Development and Its Mobility Across State Lines—summarizes findings from 2014 reports that outlined outcomes and lessons learned and analyzed data from the pilot study. WICHE is currently working on expanding the MLDE to at least 10 additional states.


Texas was an early leader in developing education data systems at all levels, and connects PK-12, postsecondary (public and private), and workforce data systems to facilitate analyses of student progress through the education pipeline and into the workforce, including employment, wage and industry data. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board maintains the Texas Higher Education Data website where various data, reports, analyses and dashboards are available. The THECB’s dashboards show progress on student enrollment, degree production and closing the gaps among minority populations. Reports and performance metrics detailed in its Closing the Gaps 2015 plan are also available.

In 2013, the Texas legislature adopted legislation (SB 1) that included the creation of new funding models for community colleges and technical colleges. Calculations to determine the level of funding are only possible due to the data system linkages that Texas has created.


The Virginia Longitudinal Data System (VLDS) combines data from K-12 education, public postsecondary education, and employment to address key education and workforce related questions. The VLDS combines data in a “federated” manner that allows each participating data contributor to maintain control of their own data so no personally identifiable data leaves the agency. This cross-agency collaboration has analyzed and provided insights into student progression, post-graduation employment outcomes, and teacher pipeline information to better understand where their teachers come from and where they teach.


Washington State’s Education Research & Data Center collects and analyzes data on K-12 education, postsecondary education, workforce and employment, and unemployment insurance/wages. State leaders created the linkages between systems by brokering data-matching agreements between state agencies. The state has also made good use of its data for making policy and spending decisions, evaluating performance, and improving services. For example, researchers—using transcript data to track the progress of students 25 and older in the community and technical college system—found that students who took at least two semesters’ worth of college credit and earned a certificate or credential within five years earned substantially more income than their counterparts who did not meet that mark. Leaders used that information to identify critical issues and take action to help more adult students gain credits and to help as many as possible reach the critical “tipping point” of two semesters of college credit.

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