State Postsecondary Data Systems

SHEEO’s involvement in data issues dates back to its initial contract with the National Center for Education Statistics in 1976, one of the early examples in which the organization has acted as a liaison between states and the federal government. SHEEO’s longstanding commitment to these issues continues today with a primary focus on state postsecondary data systems with student level data and the role they play in increasing educational attainment as well as the value they provide in our increasingly P-20W conversations.

Regardless of sector, state-level data systems serve two primary purposes: 1) they can monitor the progress of individual students as they move through our educational system; and 2) they can help assess the effectiveness of policies and practices to promote student success. These systems provide valuable feedback to both educators and policy makers seeking to improve educational outcomes.

State postsecondary data systems are not a homogeneous group. Each state has a unique environment that implements and collects its postsecondary data. State postsecondary data systems reflect these differences. There is often more than one postsecondary data system per state. They may be within a coordinating or governing board of higher education or another state agency or entity. They may contain data from only one institution of higher education, several institutions, institutions within a defined system, or all institutions in the state. Further, they may contain student data in the aggregate or at the student unit record (SUR) level. Ultimately, state constitutions and laws dictate coordinating and governing board missions, duties, and responsibilities, affecting the nature of each state’s postsecondary data system.

SHEEO’s most recent focus on state postsecondary data systems builds on the groundbreaking work that the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS) conducted for the Lumina Foundation for Education. Two influential NCHEMS publications, Following the Mobile Student (2003) and Critical Connections (2007), were the precursors to SHEEO’s Strong Foundations: The State of State Postsecondary Data Systems (2010) and Strong Foundations: The State of State Postsecondary Data Systems: 2012 Update on Data Sharing with K-12 and Labor (2012).

The resources associated with the Strong Foundations reports contain links to the reports, presentations, and downloadable data, such as individual responses, maps and tables.

Please direct questions or comments to Christina Whitfield ( or John Armstrong (


Strong Foundations:  The State of State Postsecondary Data Systems: 2016, by John Armstrong and Christina Whitfield, June 2016

Strong Foundations: The State of State Postsecondary Data Systems: 2012 Update on Data Sharing with K-12 and Labor, by Tanya I. Garcia and Hans Peter L’Orange, November 2012

Strong Foundations: The State of State Postsecondary Data Systems, by Tanya I. Garcia and Hans Peter L’Orange, July 2010

Protection and Accessibility of State Student Unit Record Data Systems at the Postsecondary Level, by Molly Ott and Stephen DesJardins, November 2009

Recommendations for State Postsecondary Data Systems - A Report from State Data Experts, prepared by Alli Bell, November 2009

The Ideal State Postsecondary Data System – 15 Essential Characteristics, by Peter Ewell and Hans L’Orange, September 2009

En Route to Seamless Statewide Education Data Systems: Addressing Five Cross-Cutting Concerns, by Sharmila Basu Conger, August 2008

Unit Record Data Systems: A State Perspective, by Hans L’Orange, June 2008

Data & Accountability Systems from More Student Success, by Hans L’Orange, August 2007

P-20 Data Systems: An Alignment Status Report, by Hans P. L’Orange and Peter Ewell, January 2007

Critical Connections: Linking States’ Unit Record Systems to Track Student Progress, by Peter Ewell and Marianne Boeke, January 2007

Data Systems to Enhance Teacher Quality, by Richard A. Voorhees and Gary T. Barnes with Robert Rothman, July 2003

Following the Mobile Student: Can We Develop the Capacity for a Comprehensive Database to Assess Student Progression?, by Peter T. Ewell, Paula R. Schild and Karen Paulson, April 2003

The Status of Statewide Student Transition Data Systems: A Survey of SHEEO Agencies, by Alene Bycer Russell, May 1999

Advances in Statewide Higher Education Data Systems, by Alene Bycer Russell, October 1995

Statewide Student Data Systems and Capabilities to Report Postsecondary Graduation Rates, by Charles S. Lenth and Alene Bycer Russell, November 1991





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