Facilitating Development of a Multi-State Longitudinal Data Exchange

2014 August 14

New WICHE Reports Show Promise of Multistate Longitudinal Data Exchange to Capture Education and Workforce Outcomes

Boulder, CO — The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) has released two reports about a pilot project that shared data between four states to provide a clearer picture about education and employment outcomes as individuals move between states for schooling and work. The project, known as the Multistate Longitudinal Data Exchange (MLDE), involved Hawai‘i, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington.

Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the pilot was aimed at determining whether and how states could share individual-level, longitudinal education and workforce data among them, while protecting individual confidentiality and data security. Such information is essential because state education data systems lose track of students when they move out of the state, leaving gaps in our understanding of student outcomes at a time when attention on student success and employability has grown substantially. WICHE’s pilot resulted in a successful resource to exchange data across states that filled in missing data to give policymakers and institutional leaders critical information that is otherwise unknown to them.

The project showed that sharing data can present state policymakers – including legislators, education system and workforce agency administrators, and institutional leaders – with a clearer picture of the mobility of students and graduates and a more nuanced view of the relationship between earnings and schooling.

In “Beyond Borders: Understanding the Development and Mobility of Human Capital in an Age of Data-Driven Accountability” (Beyond Borders), Brian T. Prescott, the report’s author and WICHE’s director of policy research, describes the process and lessons of making cross-state data sharing politically and logistically possible:

  • The MLDE is feasible. The central goal of the pilot was proving it is possible to successfully exchange student-level data across sectors and states. Student confidentiality is protected through legally compliant data sharing agreements and a common, usable dataset can be assembled from myriad data sources.

  • Data sharing provides more comprehensive information about workforce outcomes and swirl in the education and labor sectors. Exchanging data across state lines plugged significant gaps in each states’ standalone data that exist from student and worker migration, and gave state leaders an enhanced picture of workforce outcomes of graduates from their state.

  • The MLDE demonstrates how cooperative cross-state data sharing could help address workforce planning. With an arrangement like the MLDE, state policymakers can also investigate how their state attracts workers who were educated elsewhere, which can be a crucial component of meeting current and future workforce needs.

In “A Glimpse Beyond State Lines: Student Outcomes from WICHE’s Multistate Longitudinal Data Exchange Pilot Project
(A Glimpse Beyond State Lines), Peace Bransberger, a senior research analyst at WICHE, provides findings from a series of analyses of 192,689 students from the states participating in the pilot exchange. The report shows:

  • The data exchange improved information available to state policymakers. Sharing data between the four states made it possible to determine where college students ended up after graduation for 7 percent more college graduates than the states would have known about from their own standalone data; the number of students found after graduation would increase if data were available from more states.

  • Over 60 percent of recent college graduates remained in the state where they graduated for at least the year after graduation. The data also show that the incidence was even greater among recent high school graduates of the states.

  • Earnings can vary significantly. Perhaps not surprisingly, recent college graduates’ earnings can vary significantly—by as much as 50 percent when one looks beyond overall earnings rates to things like field of study and whether graduates continue in their studies as they work. And, from a cross-state data exchange such as this, one can also look at how earnings vary for graduates who remain in state to work or go elsewhere.

With the completion of the pilot project, WICHE will now focus on expanding the MLDE by bringing in additional states (including some outside of the WICHE region) and continuing to provide state policymakers with enhanced information to manage the development of human capital within their states. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recently provided WICHE with a second round of funding to begin this expansion, which will improve the reach and utility of the MLDE to the participating states.


The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education and its 16 members work collaboratively to expand educational access and excellence for all citizens of the West. By promoting innovation, cooperation, resource sharing, and sound public policy among states and institutions, WICHE strengthens higher education’s contributions to the region’s social, economic, and civic life. Our programs – Student Exchange, the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies, Policy Analysis and Research, and Mental Health – are working to find answers to some of the most critical questions facing higher education today. WICHE’s 16 members include Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawai‘i, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wyoming, and the U.S. Pacific territories and freely associated states (the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands is the first of the group to participate).

Beyond Borders
Understanding the Development and Mobility of Human Capital in an Age of Data-Driven Accountability

A Glimpse Beyond State Lines
Student Outcomes from WICHE's Multistate Longitudinal Data Exchanged Pilot Project


Brian Prescott, WICHE Director of Policy Research