A rapidly changing global economy, shifting demographics, and concerns about our ability to maintain a competitive workforce have focused national attention on the educational systems of America's states, highlighting their critical role in ensuring a productive and creative future for our country. As a result, Americas colleges and universities are expected to perform better than ever to prepare all students to meet internationally competitive standards of achievement, the knowledge and skills needed for a vital democracy, and the escalating demands of the workforce. Central in addressing these needs are robust and aligned data systems able to document the achievement of students, schools and colleges, as well as respond to questions about a state's investment in higher education. Although each state's higher education system is unique, certain characteristics and resulting functionality are essential in an effective longitudinal data system. Like the "Ten Essential Elements" of state longitudinal data systems in K-12 education proposed by the Data Quality Campaign (DQC), these characteristics are intended to promote educational progress and alignment among and between each state's K-12 and postsecondary data resources. The characteristics and functions are grouped into four broad categories: student data, course data, operational characteristics, and data governance. Developing the ideal state system is certainly challenging but the characteristics of such a system are presented here as a model that can and should be reached.