Multistate Longitudinal Data Exchange FAQs

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Multistate Longitudinal Data Exchange

The Multistate Longitudinal Data Exchange (MLDE) is a voluntary collaboration between states that allows for the sharing of individual-level education and workforce data in accordance with applicable privacy laws and regulations to give policymakers a clearer picture of the development and mobility of human capital.   With funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) has been facilitating the MLDE since 2010. The initial pilot phase of the exchange included four states – Hawaii, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington.  The MLDE is currently expanding to include at least 10 states, some of which will come from beyond the WICHE region.   

Existing data systems are not fully capable of measuring related educational and employment outcomes, especially for state policymakers and institutional leaders whose decisions are best informed by evidence specific to their settings—as opposed to nationally representative aggregate figures. Although Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems (SLDS) have begun to come online, their data coverage stops at state borders. Yet neither individuals nor economic activity are so constrained.  If policymakers and practitioners are going to better target policies and interventions to meet state and national goals, they need a way to access more comprehensive information about educational and employment outcomes that accounts for individual mobility. The MLDE links together existing SLDSs to address the blind spot that state policymakers and institutional leaders suffer from in the absence of cross-state data sharing.

In the the initial phase of the pilot, the MLDE exchanged K-12, postsecondary, and workforce data across four states beginning with the 2005 cohort of high school graduates and first time postsecondary enrollees. The exchange of data between participating states provided a clearer picture of workforce and educational outcomes by accounting for individual mobility. Several reports and policy briefs report findings from this initial phase of the pilot.

The first phase of the MLDE Pilot conducted from 2010-2014 showed, first and foremost, that it is possible to create a voluntary multistate longitudinal data exchange across states and sectors within existing legal and regulatory frameworks while still protecting student privacy. The lessons can be summarized as follows:

The MLDE is feasible: it is possible to successfully exchange student-level data across sectors and states while protecting student confidentiality through legally compliant data sharing agreements.

The MLDE enhances states’ standalone data: by exchanging data across state lines, the four original states reduced significant gaps in their standalone data that exist from student and worker migration.

The MLDE supports policymakers: the MLDE allows state policymakers to 1) better understand the workforce outcomes of graduates from their state and 2) investigate how their state attracts workers who were educated elsewhere. 

The MLDE can be improved: WICHE and participating states need to rethink the ways in which data are exchanged to improve the usability for policymakers and analysts. The forthcoming expansion of the MLDE will use a modified structure to better allow states to address key policy questions while improving system security.

MLDE will use a modified structure to better allow states to address key policy questions while improving system security.

The federal government is not involved in any way with the MLDE.  Rather the MLDE is a regionally led project.  WICHE has facilitated the MLDE since 2010 and is currently working in partnership with other regional compacts (NEHBE, SREB, MHEC) to expand the MLDE to at least ten states.  The MLDE is a resource states and state agencies can voluntarily join. Upon joining and contributing data, states take on shared responsibility for owning and managing the MLDE. The MLDE is expected to complement states’ own longitudinal data systems, many of which have been developed through competitive federal grants. And the MLDE must comply with federal statutes and regulations concerning the privacy and confidentiality of individual records and the security of such information (as well as with those of participating states).

In consultation with regional higher education compacts, data system experts, states themselves, and other key stakeholders, WICHE will identify several additional state clusters for inclusion, looking to bring total state participation to at least 10 partner states.  States will be evaluated on their overall migration numbers, migration to and from other states participating in the MLDE, and the policy, legal, and technological environment in the state.  States must also have an interest in and capacity for using data enhanced by the MLDE to address key policy issues as well as the legal capacity and technological commitment to fully participate in the MLDE.  While it is likely that not every interested state will be able to participate in this phase of the expansion due to limited resources, the future vision of the MLDE is to add partner states as resources allow.

WICHE and its partners will be working with interested states that meet the identified criteria to join the expanded exchange before it becomes operational in 2016. Throughout 2015, WICHE will be engaging in consultations with key state leaders and data stewards across the country, working closely with a variety of regional and national partners to address questions that may arise as states explore whether to join.

The main benefit that MLDE states will receive is access to more data to better understand where students are coming from and where they go.  An obvious goal for connecting these data is to allow states to more effectively evaluate educational and employment outcomes with a more comprehensive set of data. But gaining access to these data also helps to address and raise important policy and practice questions that either cannot be addressed with other data sources or only in limited ways.   Additionally, participation in the project offers states a forum for working through common issues related to governance, data analysis, data management and security, and protection of student privacy. The MLDE intends to develop reporting templates for use with these data to provide expedited analysis of key policy questions.

Funding for the MLDE project is available for the 10 participating states mainly to cover startup costs, construction of the technical aspects of the exchange, and related expenses such as the travel to working meetings inherent in an interstate collaborative effort. The major expense for state agencies is the personnel costs of having key staff participate in meetings necessary to develop the exchange.  Ultimately, the MLDE will be sustained without significant foundation grants. The participating states, WICHE, and other key stakeholders will work to establish a mechanism to provide a long-term governance structure for the MLDE that includes sufficient funding for operations and maintenance.

WICHE is a Congressionally chartered interstate compact founded in 1953. Headquartered in Boulder, Colorado, its mission is to promote access to and success  in high-quality postsecondary education for residents of the Western United States. Among other activities, it operates multiple student exchange programs and offers robust policy analysis and research expertise. WICHE enjoys status as a state educational agency in its 15 member states (including Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming) and the Freely Associated States and Territories.