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How ‘Undermatching’ Shapes Students’ College Experience

“Undermatching,” the phenomenon in which students enroll at less-selective colleges than their academic qualifications suggest they could have attended, is a hot topic in higher-education research. Among the topics studies have examined so far: how common undermatching is, its effect on graduation rates, and a low-cost way to change where high-achieving, low-income students apply to and enroll in college.

A paper scheduled to be presented on Friday at the American Educational Research Association’s annual meeting considers undermatching from a different angle: how it shapes high-achieving students’ experience in their first year of college.

Using data from the National Survey of Student Engagement, the paper compares the self-reported engagement, satisfaction, and gains in knowledge, skills, and personal development for high-achieving, undermatched students and their peers attending “match” institutions.

The undermatched students reported a less-challenging academic environment, lower satisfaction, and fewer gains. Those findings, the paper says, may explain why students who undermatch are less likely to graduate, as other research has found.

But some experiences of undermatched students were more positive than those of their peers at more-selective colleges. The undermatched students reported having more interactions with professors and higher engagement in active and collaborative learning styles.

The paper, “Selectivity and the College Experience: How Undermatching Shapes the College Experience Among High-Achieving Students,” is by Kevin J. Fosnacht, a research analyst at the National Survey of Student Engagement.

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