Students who undermatch are significantly less likely to graduate than their peers who don’t undermatch, according to a study from Chungseo Kang and Darlene Garcia Torres, education policy researchers at the University at Buffalo.
For the study, the researchers analyzed outcomes for a nationally representative sample of nearly 5,000 students based on data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Educational Longitudinal Study. The researchers controlled for other factors in students’ lives, including socioeconomic status, first-generation status, academic performance, and more. Here are some of the key takeaways for schools from the study:
Four in 10 students undermatch: A little over 40% of students in the sample attended less-selective colleges than they could have, based on their qualifications. That’s consistent with what previous research has found, the researchers note. The rate of undermatching was highest for black students (49%). Previous research has found that undermatching happens disproportionately among low-income and minority students.
Undermatching hurts graduation rates: Across the full sample, students who undermatched were 0.7 times less likely to graduate in six years. The impact was biggest for Hispanic students. When they undermatched, their graduation rate was 28 percentage points lower than that of their peers who did not undermatch.
Highly qualified students aren’t immune: The effects of undermatching were stronger for students who were more likely to graduate from college, based on their background. “The results suggest policymakers and educators need to be concerned about college completion for even highly qualified students if they are undermatched,” says Kang.
It’s about more than a pedigree: This study underlines why “the most important effect of undermatching isn’t that the student didn’t go to a name-brand institution,” says Lachezar Manasiev, a K-12 student success researcher at EAB. Students who don’t graduate because they undermatched can face lower pay, poorer job prospects, and difficulty paying off student loans, he points out.
Colleges can use social media to recruit low-income students
Underrepresented students are more likely than their peers to turn to social media platforms to learn about and interact with colleges, according to EAB Enrollment Services research.
For example, 27% of first-gen students initially encountered a favorite school via social media, versus 17% of their non-first-gen peers. Social media represents an often-overlooked opportunity for colleges to recruit underrepresented students, according to Emily Upton, the vice president of program marketing at EAB.
K-12 schools can help students make smart college choices
“At-risk students are disproportionally affected by undermatching because they have much fewer resources at their disposal to support them in making a smart college choice,” says Manasiev. To put more information in students’ hands, the first step for K-12 schools is to gather data on where your students go to college and what graduation rates look like at those colleges (American Educational Research Association release, 4/16/18; Harris, The Atlantic, 4/23/18).