Undermatching is a phenomenon in American higher education in which well-qualified students, often from less affluent households, are not matched with competitive colleges. Undermatched students attend less-demanding colleges such as two-year colleges or don't attend college at all.
Undermatching is considered as a serious issue in higher education, and it is getting increased attention from education researchers and policymakers. Undermatching can affect long-term economic inequality and social mobility, and it can negatively affect college graduation rates. According to one view, minority and less-affluent students have substantially lower graduation rates and take longer on average to get degrees when they do stay in school. Low college graduation rates are a problem in the United States; one estimate is that fewer than 60% of high school graduates manage to earn a bachelor's degree, which is one of the worst completion rates of developed nations. The problem of undermatched students has attracted the attention of the executive branch. Proposals to reduce undermatching include making it easier to transfer between colleges, making financial aid policies more transparent, and helping students identify colleges that will challenge them academically, possibly by sending high-achieving low-income seniors an information packet about college choices. According to a report by NBC News in 2014, some elite colleges such as Williams strive actively to bring bright low-income students by supporting them financially but these colleges can find themselves pressed to make up the shortfall by seeking out more full-paying students; as a result, students at such colleges tend to be mostly affluent with some low-income students but few from the middle class, which reporter Nona Willis-Aronowitz described as a "middle class squeeze".
While estimates vary, the numbers of undermatched students in the United States are considerable. One estimate is that only a third of high-achieving students from the bottom quartile of income distribution attended any of the 238 "most selective" colleges. Another estimate is that 28% of college students are undermatched and could have attended a more rigorous institution, while 25% may be overmatched or "over their heads". An overall estimate is that each year there are 400,000 low-income well-qualified high school graduates who do not enroll in college, and that there are an additional 200,000 who are in college but undermatched. Many undermatched students are African-American or Latinos, and generally come from poor or less affluent backgrounds. Researchers studying undermatching have noticed that undermatched students are more likely to report fewer self-perceived gains from their education, and have less educational satisfaction on average, although they had more frequent meetings with faculty and were more likely to participate in collaborative learning projects, according to one study. They are less likely on average to graduate from college.
Undermatching is generally not believed to be caused by discriminatory policies by college admissions offices but rather by a lack of applications by well-qualified students. Simply put, high-qualified low-income students do not apply to colleges they are qualified for. Lack of information about choices and scholarships may be a factor, as well as basic financial constraints. This includes misperceptions about costs; many undermatched applicants are deterred by the artificially high sticker prices by elite colleges without realizing there are numerous opportunities for financial aid.
- AERA 2014 Annual Meeting, April 4, 2014, Kevin John Fosnacht, Indiana University, Bloomington, Selectivity and the College Experience: How Undermatching Shapes the College Experience Among High-Achieving Students, Retrieved Aug. 30, 2014, "...attending less selective institutions was associated with a less academic challenging academic environment, fewer self-perceived gains, and lower levels of college satisfaction during the first college year..."
- NONA WILLIS ARONOWITZ, October 3rd 2014, NBC News, Middle-Class Squeeze: Is an Elite Education Worth $170,000 in Debt?, Retrieved Oct. 3, 2014, "...recruiting high-achieving, low-income kids to apply ... 18 percent of Williams students now pay no tuition ... To offset the cost, these schools often aggressively recruit students whose families can pay the full cost...."
- William G. Bowen, Matthew M. Chingos, and Michael S. McPherson, September 8, 2009, Chronicle of Higher Education, Helping Students Finish the 4-Year Run, Retrieved Aug. 30, 2014, "...A surprisingly large number of students—especially those from poor families and those who are African-American or Hispanic—"undermatch."..."
- Justin Pope, Associated Press, Sept. 8, 2009, San Jose Mercury News, Research: Students don't aim high enough for college, Retrieved Aug. 30, 2014, "...Students aren't aiming high enough, settling for less selective schools they imagine will be easier..."
- DAVID LEONHARDT, March 16, 2013, The New York Times, Better Colleges Failing to Lure Talented Poor, Retrieved Aug. 30, 2014, "...Most low-income students who have top test scores and grades do not even apply to the nation’s best colleges...."
- 9/10/2009, Mary Beth Markein, USA TODAY, Q&A: Minority, low-income students need to aim higher, Retrieved Aug. 30, 2014, "...minorities and students from poor or less educated families have markedly lower graduation rates and take longer to earn degrees than their more privileged peers.."
- Angel B. Pérez, July 21, 2014, Chronicle of Higher Education, The 'Best and Brightest' Aren’t Always Obvious, Retrieved Aug. 30, 2014, "...the White House is paying a lot more attention to the work of higher education ... to solve the problem of 'undermatching,'..."
- Beckie Supiano, March 29, 2013, Chronicle of Higher Education, A Low-Cost Way to Expand the Horizons of High-Achieving, Low-Income Students, Retrieved Aug. 30, 2014, "...phenomenon of "undermatching," in which high-achieving, low-income students rarely enroll in or even apply to the selective colleges...
- January 5, 2009, David Glenn, Chronicle of Higher Education, Economist Describes a Missing Pool of Low-Income College Applicants, Retrieved Aug. 30, 2014, ".. thousands of high-achieving students from low income families do not apply to selective colleges that would almost certainly accept them...."
- Casey McDermott, August 13, 2013, Chronicle of Higher Education, Researchers Explore Factors Behind Mismatched College Choices, Retrieved Aug. 30, 2014, "..About 28 percent of students in the sample who started at a four-year college probably could have gone to a better institution..."
- Carina Woudenberg (the San Mateo County Times), October 23, 2011, San Jose Mercury News, Young entrepreneur helps kids 'Strive for College', Retrieved Aug. 30, 2014, "...another 200,000 "undermatched" by attending schools with lower graduation rates ...."
- April 4, 2014 by Beckie Supiano, Chronicle of Higher Education, How ‘Undermatching’ Shapes Students’ College Experience, Retrieved Aug. 30, 2014, "...undermatched students reported a less-challenging academic environment, lower satisfaction, and fewer gains...more interactions with professors and higher engagement in active and collaborative learning styles....
- September 23, 2009, updated April 4, 2012, Debra Viadero, Ed Week, Student-to-College 'Mismatch' Seen as Graduation-Rate Issue, Retrieved Aug. 30, 2014, "...barrier for lower-income families may have been the “sticker prices” for the elite schools..."