The Influences of College Undermatching on College Completion for Students from Varying High School Settings
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Scholars have recently identified college undermatching as a contributing factor to the disparities observed in the rate of college completion. As undermatched students are more likely to receive less support from their colleges than those who are matched properly, they may be less likely to graduate. Further, literature suggests that the influence of undermatching on college completion could be differentiated by the institutional arrangements of the high school, i.e., type and location. However, little is known about the substantial consequences of undermatching on degree attainment, and the reason for it. Furthermore, there is no research analysis with regard to its significant differences depending upon the high school setting. This study fills these gaps by using nationally representative data from the Educational Longitudinal Study 02:12 (ELS 02:12), and a quasi-experimental design to isolate the causal effects of undermatching on college completion. In addition, guided by previous research, this study used a parallel multi mediator model to investigate the way in which undermatching affects degree attainment. Finally, I examine whether the effect of undermatching on college graduation varies with high school type and location. This study found that undermatching has a negative effect on the likelihood of obtaining a college degree within four and six years. However, the students’ expected level of college selectivity added complexity to the negative effect of undermatching. First, among those students who were expected to enroll in a somewhat selective college, the undermatched had a lower likelihood of degree attainment within six years, but not within four years. Second, among those who were expected to enroll in a selective college, the students who had been undermatched were less likely to graduate college within four and six years. Finally, in the case of those who were highly qualified and expected to enroll in a very selective college, undermatching only had a negative effect on degree attainment within four years. The results from the multi-mediation model supported the hypothesis that the graduation rate of a prior cohort and expenditures for student services per student mediated the negative effect of undermatching on college completion within four and six years. The college GPA and student per faculty ratio did not significantly mediate the effect of undermatching on college completion. In addition, across student groups who were expected to enroll in somewhat selective, selective, and very selective colleges, only the graduation rate of a prior cohort consistently mediated the negative effect of undermatching on degree attainment. Finally, when the selection bias is considered, I found that there was no significant interaction effect of undermatching with high school setting on college completion within four years. In contrast, in terms of the likelihood of degree attainment within six years, the negative undermatching gradient was steeper for those who were from a rural high school as compared to the other student groups: public urban, private urban, and private suburban. That is, since undermatching negatively affected completion within six years, the disadvantage was more apparent among the rural high school students.