New Strong Foundations report and dashboards highlight state higher education data systems’ enduring value

For more than 50 years, state higher education agencies have used postsecondary student unit record systems (PSURSs) to inform policy and decision-making. Postsecondary student unit record systems are the primary means for states to collect data and analyze student progress, completions, and outcomes. In a survey to its members, the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association (SHEEO) asked state higher education agencies about their PSURSs, including the types of data they are collecting, their connections to other state agency data systems and state longitudinal data systems (SLDSs), and the value of those data to inform and improve state goals and student outcomes. The survey responses and analysis are outlined in a new Strong Foundations report and subsequent dashboards on the website.

In Strong Foundations 2023, SHEEO asked which state partner agencies their PSURSs data are linked to or shared with and what barriers and incentives exist related to that linking and sharing. As with prior years, state agencies reported a diversity of approaches to housing and sharing their postsecondary data. State agencies are collecting a variety of data elements from a variety of institutional types.

As expected, PSURSs connections with K-12 and workforce agency data systems are among the most reported connections; yet there are growing connections with other state agencies, including health and human services, foster care, and corrections agencies. The most reported barriers to efficient data sharing between agencies include data privacy concerns, coordination with other state authorities and administrators, lack of time for agency staff to link and analyze shared data, a lack of common identifiers and crosswalks, and a lack of fiscal resources. 

Forty-seven state agencies access workforce data elements, with the most common data elements collected including wages earned and employment year. Likewise, 44 state agencies access K-12 data elements, with district/school code, student race/ethnicity, and graduation date being the most common data elements. 

“State postsecondary data systems are vital for policymakers and researchers within state higher education agencies,” said Carrie Klein, associate vice president at SHEEO. “Results from our survey illustrate the deep value state agencies find in their PSURSs. As these systems and their connections continue to evolve and grow, agencies are identifying opportunities for improved insight into and support of student realities and outcomes.”

SHEEO also asked about data disaggregation and the collection of data elements, beyond traditional demographic data (e.g., gender, race, ethnicity, and age), tied to access, opportunity, and success efforts. Results indicate that state agencies continue to employ PSURS data to gain greater insight into and support of their diverse student populations and that they are increasingly disaggregating race, ethnicity, and gender data beyond Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) categories. 

Among the new data elements SHEEO included for reporting this year are tribal affiliation, student parent/caregiver status, foster care status, refugee status, justice system involvement, and other data elements about historically underrepresented groups in higher education. 

A revamped website with new dashboards has been developed to help SHEEO members understand the survey results. Find the Strong Foundations 2023 report here, and visit to explore or download the data.