In Chicago, two-thirds of high school graduates fail to enroll in colleges at the level for which they are qualified. Researchers use the term undermatching to describe what happens when a qualified student attends a less selective college or university. These students might be expected to succeed in relatively easy environments, but, in fact, the opposite is true. William G. Bowen, Matthew M. Chingos, and Michael S. McPherson found that in a college environment with lower admission standards, students who are academically overqualified are actually less likely to receive a degree than they are at a selective university.
MDRC and Chicago Public Schools developed the College Match Program in an attempt to address the undermatching problem. And, early results from the Joyce-supported pilot in three Chicago high schools that primarily serve students of color from low-income families are promising.
College Match advisers identified students considered vulnerable to undermatching—students with GPAs of at least 3.0 and ACT scores of at least 20, the score many colleges set as the minimum for acceptance. During the 2010-2011 school year, the advisors worked throughout the year to get to know the students, understand their lives, and figure out which colleges might be their best matches. The advisors encouraged students to apply to the most selective colleges they are qualified for, helped them understand their likelihood of succeeding at different schools, and followed up on applications, financial aid and other paperwork.
Early results show that:
Students targeted by College Match chose to attend "more selective" colleges and universities when compared to a group of academically similar students from recent graduating classes. In two of the pilot schools, the number of students planning to enroll in these colleges increased by 11 and 23 percentage points, respectively.
38 percent of College Match-targeted students intended to enroll in colleges in the “selective” category — the next-highest ranking — a modest increase from previous years.
Only 23 percent of 2011 College Match-targeted students intended to enroll in two-year or proprietary colleges or had unknown plans after high school, compared with 30 to 40 percent of similar students in earlier years.
For its second year of implementation, the College Match program has been expanded to serve more than 400 students in eight Chicago high schools. The program’s growth in Chicago lays the groundwork for planned expansion to additional schools and districts. As College Match reaches a larger number of students, MDRC plans to conduct a rigorous analysis of the program’s effects by comparing college enrollment, persistence, and graduation outcomes for academically similar students in randomly assigned “treatment” and “control” groups. A larger sample size across multiple districts will also make it easier to reliably assess the cost per student of the College Match model.
Read: “Make Me a Match,” MRDC’s policy brief