What is MSL?

Who is it for?

What are the benefits?

MSL 20th Anniversary

The Multi-Institutional Study of Leadership (MSL) is currently accepting enrollment applications for the 2025-2026 academic year in alignment with the 20th anniversary of the MSL’s launch! We are excited to welcome 125 organizations into this year’s cohort.

Note that enrollment occurs on a rolling basis and will be capped at 125 organizations. Once full, interested organizations will be encouraged to register for MSL for the 2026-2027 academic year.

What is MSL?

The Multi-Institutional Study of Leadership (MSL) enhances organizational practice by better aligning the theory–research–practice cycle. Now, one of the world’s largest and longest-running research programs on youth development, the MSL is an international research program focused on understanding the influences that shape socially responsible human development capacities & other leadership-related outcomes (e.g., efficacy, cognitive skills, resiliency). Beyond a research program, the MSL is an international movement toward more effective, evidence-based human development. MSL is the only research on the building blocks of human development that offers context — not just talking about a problem but offering a roadmap with solutions.

Who is it for?

The MSL stands out from other higher education studies with its use of theoretically grounded and psychometrically rigorous measures. Its impact extends beyond the arena of leadership education. The MSL is used by higher education professionals in academic units, institutional research, student life, and campus climate assessments among others. Additionally, the last 5 years saw increases of use of MSL by youth-serving, nonprofit organizations and programs as well as the secondary education sector. This study serves as a means to specifically address questions regarding young peoples’ educational needs and to identify elements of their environment that contribute most significantly to outcome achievement.

What are the benefits?

MSL is designed to support a variety of audiences in documenting organizational and programmatic impact as well as optimizing the return on investments associated with learning initiatives. Simultaneously, MSL is a rich data source for scholars across the globe to shape our understanding of how to leverage meaningful development for youth and students.

To read more about the multiple levels of MSL benefit, check out a set of use cases here.

For organizations participating in MSL, benefits include:

  • Ability to track participant engagement
  • Insights into outcome achievement that can be disaggregated by demographics and other indicators.
  • Ability to contextualize organizational and participant achievement against national normative data as well as with peer and aspirational organizations.
  • Insights on the unique impact of your organization on participant learning gains

All of the above are coupled with support from CELO and the resources to translate findings into action. This includes reporting with interactive dashboards to maximize understanding of findings.

    Learn more about the deliverables here.

    The MSL is one of the largest and longest-running studies of student development available.



    MSL Anniversary and Scaling Impact

    As MSL approaches its 20th anniversary in the 2025-2026 academic year, we are focused on dramatically scaling its impact. We’ll do that by evolving the MSL from a research study surveying 10% of the population for statistical significance to a broadly accessible tool that can provide organizational insight, program assessment, and benchmarking data to track outcomes. Here are some of the ways the MSL study will change to achieve this goal:

    Increased frequency and expanded reach: Moving from a 3-year cycle to an annual process provides organizations with the ability to participate in MSL on a schedule that makes sense for them.

    Enhanced reporting: The MSL will now deliver more robust reports, including configurable digital dashboards, to participating organizations, providing analysis of results against national benchmarks, peer organizational comparisons, longitudinal studies, and findings broken down by demographics. Our enhanced reporting will also translate findings into actionable steps that can help increase impact at the program, organizational, and policy levels.

    Additional applications: We have heard from many participating organizations that they would like a simplified version of MSL that enables the easy measurement and benchmarking of a subset of MSL capacities aligned with the intended outcomes of a specific program they are offering.  As such, we have created an automated, digital assessment tool to provide data and insights at a programmatic level, which includes pre- and post-assessments, as well as recommended actions to improve outcomes.

    Information and Inquiries

    For inquiries about the MSL, please email us at msl@expandingleadership.org and a research team member will respond within two business days.

    Sign up here to receive more information about the MSL.