Additions to the Department of Education’s Upward Bound college advising strategies expanded the enrollment choices made by young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, but did not resolve the issue of “undermatching.” Each year, almost 40 percent of all high school graduates who enroll in college for the first time undermatch. These students—many of whom are from low-income families—are either not attending college at all or are attending colleges that are less selective than their academic credentials would allow. With some evidence suggesting enrolling at a more selective or higher quality college leads to a better chance of graduating, shorter time to degree, and higher earnings after graduation, undermatching may have consequences for students’ later success in life, and these impacts speak to—and can exacerbate—equity issues that extend from education to employment to health.
On behalf of the Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Abt Associates and Mathematica investigated whether promising postsecondary advising strategies—bundled together in a package called Find the Fit—could improve college choices for rising high school seniors in the Upward Bound federal college access program.
Find the Fit is a low-cost program that includes customized information about college and costs, sends text messages to students to remind them of key application and financial aid deadlines, and provides specialized training for the students’ advisors. The report compared the college choices of 4,500 students in Upward Bound projects with and without access to Find the Fit to determine its effects on college attendance. While some benefits were reported, challenges remain.
- Despite its initial benefits—increasing the number and selectivity of the colleges to which students applied—Find the Fit did not change whether these students, mostly from low-income families, undermatched.
- Find the Fit did shift some students’ enrollment choices to more selective colleges, regardless of whether students ultimately were undermatched. This shift did not seem to come with higher costs or a greater risk of dropping out, both of which are potential consequences of attending a more selective college.
- There was no significant effect on college persistence through the third year after high school.
”While Find the Fit focused on enrollment and college selection for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, promoting equitable access to college also necessitates addressing the financial burden of higher education, which might be more acute for students in Upward Bound,” said Abt’s project director, Tamara Linkow.
“Undermatching may limit students’ opportunities, so it is important to keep examining and testing ways to support students as they make their college choices,” noted principal researcher Alina Martinez, co-author of the report.
About Abt Associates
Abt Associates is a global consulting and research firm that uses data and bold thinking to improve the quality of people's lives. From combatting infectious disease and conducting rigorous program evaluations, to ensuring safe drinking water and promoting access to affordable housing - and more - we partner with clients and communities to tackle their most complex challenges.
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