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Published June 19, 2018

Graduating on time less likely for “undermatched” college students

GSE researchers examine delayed graduation for highly qualified students

The concept of “undermatching” refers to high-performing students, often from economically-disadvantaged households, who attend less competitive colleges that do not match the students’ high qualifications. A current research study now suggests that undermatching correlates with delayed graduation.

The research, by GSE postdoctoral associate Chungseo Kang and doctoral student Darlene Garcia Torres from the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy, suggests that students who undermatch are less likely to graduate college within four or six years compared to peers who attend colleges that match their qualifications. The study was presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association in April 2018.

The study found that undermatching was the highest for Black students, followed by White, Hispanic, and then Asian students. The odds of completing college for undermatched students is approximately .80 times less than peers who attended colleges that matched their qualifications. The graduation gap for undermatching students was the widest for Hispanic students.

The reasons behind undermatching range from students being reluctant to take out student loans or a lack of confidence that they could attend more competitive schools to insufficient access to information about the higher education landscape.

“The results suggest policymakers and educators need to be concerned about college completion for even highly qualified students if they are undermatched,” said Kang. “To improve college completion rates for students, in particular for Hispanic students, it is important to encourage them to attend a college that matches their qualifications.”

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