Rumble in academia about study of ‘undermatching’ of ethnic groups and elite colleges

11 Feb

Mary Beth Markein wrote in the 2009 USA Today article, Q&A: Minority, low-income students need to aim higher:

GRADUATION RATES: If graduation is assumed, students don’t want to fall behind
HIGHER ED: More on grad rates at public universities
Q: You use the term “undermatch” to describe a student who appears to be eligible for a more selective college than the one where they enrolled. Why is undermatching a problem?
Bowen: It is sort of counterintuitive. You would think a student with reasonable qualifications would be more likely to graduate by going to a school where they’re not up against super-prepared kids, where there’s less competition. One argument against affirmative action has been that African-American students get discouraged at places that are too tough for them and drop out. But we found no evidence to support that. Going to a place where you’re challenged increases outcomes. Now, there may be good reasons for undermatching, but this should not be the norm. Yet data in North Carolina suggest that 40% of students undermatch by going to a less selective four-year university, to a two-year college, or to no college.
Q: You argue for better advising for high school students. What about cost? Selective schools tend to have higher sticker prices.
McPherson: If you look at the net price, after allowing for loans and grants, it turns out that in many cases the flagships, for example, may be cheaper for low-income students than less selective institutions in the state. But financing has to be in place and unambiguous. Some relatively vague promise that families will be able to afford a particular school is probably not a message that most lower- and moderate-income families are going to believe. One answer is to make the financial aid system simpler and more reliable. Another is making sure you get the money to the right people. If this country wants to have more college graduates, we have to do better for low- and moderate-income students….. http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/education/2009-09-09-completing-college_N.htm

Not much has changed since 2009.

Scott Jaschik reported in the Inside Higher Ed article, Is ‘Undermatching’ Overrated?

Few educational theories have taken off as quickly in recent years as that of “undermatching.” The idea is that many academically talented, low-income students who could succeed at top colleges are not applying to, enrolling in or graduating from them. Research on the topic has attracted widespread attention not only from colleges but from the White House, where administration officials have urged higher education leaders to do more on the issue.
But an analysis published Friday in Educational Researcher (abstract available here) argues that some key assumptions behind much undermatching research are flawed — and that new studies are needed to determine how much of the theory holds. The authors are Michael N. Bastedo, director of the Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education at the University of Michigan, and Allyson Flaster, a doctoral student at Michigan.
A key part of undermatching theory is that the disadvantaged students who enroll at less competitive colleges are missing the chance at institutions with greater resources, higher graduation rates and more prestige. But Bastedo and Flaster question whether the researchers have in fact identified the “margins that matter” to student success.
They argue that the much increased opportunity that comes from attending a “top” institution is truly evident only at the very top, the wealthiest institutions that don’t require students to borrow. But much of the undermatching research isn’t looking at the top 50 colleges, but the top 200 or so, a group so wide that it doesn’t focus on the institutions that really have exceptional resources compared to all others.
Further, the new article says that undermatching studies largely ignore a match that truly matters: whether a student enrolls at a community college or four-year institution. This choice, the authors write, is a crucial one (and perhaps far more important than whether a student attends a more or less competitive four-year institution) if the goal is to have more disadvantaged students earn bachelor’s degrees because of the relatively low rates at which community college students go on to do so.
More on ‘Undermatching’
• Study finds that a majority of low-income, high academic ability students fail to apply to a single competitive college. http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2012/12/11/study-says-many-highly-talented-low-income-students-never-apply-top-colleges
• Study finds that certain interventions have an impact on whether low-income, high ability students will apply to competitive colleges. http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/04/01/research-suggests-top-colleges-could-attract-many-more-high-achieving-low-income
• Obama administration talks to colleges about undermatching. http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2013/12/06/obama-administration-asks-colleges-set-goals-lower-income-student-success
http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/02/10/analysis-questions-assumptions-behind-undermatching-theory#ixzz2t35Hki7x

There is of course, a contra view regarding what this study means.

Jaschik got an e-mail reply from Professor Caroline Hoxby:

Caroline M. Hoxby, a professor of economics at Stanford University, and the co-author of several of the leading studies on undermatching, was highly critical of the Bastedo-Flaster analysis. Via email, Hoxby said: “Our studies are definitive. We not only study 100 percent (I said 100 percent and I am not kidding) of low-income high achievers, but we also have causal impacts (we have studies that rely on randomized controlled trials in which students are induced by our interventions to apply to more selective colleges).”
She suggested that Inside Higher Ed “simply ignore this low quality study,” which she characterized as “a 1 on a scale of 1 to 10,” noting that “one of the great faults of the media is to give similar weight to studies” without being able to evaluate their quality. (Hoxby is a highly respected researcher on higher education, as are some of the others who work on undermatching, but so is Bastedo, and it may be relevant that this new analysis is being published in the flagship journal of the American Educational Research Association.)
Christopher Avery, a professor of public policy at Harvard University who has written pieces with Hoxby about undermatching, said via email that the “ultimate test” of the theory would be whether interventions have an impact. If the Educational Researcher analysis is accurate, he said, then interventions wouldn’t have much of an impact. But, he noted, a study by Hoxby and another co-author found that interventions do appear to work, and that evidence is “pretty compelling,” he said. http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/02/10/analysis-questions-assumptions-behind-undermatching-theory#ixzz2t35Hki7x

Citation:

Conceptual and Methodological Problems in Research on College Undermatch
Authors
1. Michael N. Bastedo1
2. Allyson Flaster1
1. 1University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI
Abstract
Access to the nation’s most selective colleges remains starkly unequal, with students in the lowest income quartile constituting less than 4% of enrollment. A popular explanation for this phenomenon is that low-income students undermatch by attending less selective colleges when their credentials predict admission to more highly selective colleges. We identify three problematic assumptions in research on undermatching: (a) that researchers can differentiate colleges at the “margin that matters” for student outcomes; (b) that researchers can accurately predict who will be admitted at colleges that use holistic admission processes; and (c) that using achievement measures like SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test) scores to match students to colleges will reduce postsecondary inequality. We discuss the implications of these assumptions for future research on college choice and stratification.
• admissions
• higher education
• research methodology
• social class
• social stratification
Article Notes
• Received April 25, 2013.
• Revision received October 9, 2013.
• Revision received January 7, 2014.
• Accepted January 14, 2014.
• © 2014 AERA
1. Published online before print February 7, 2014, doi: 10.3102/0013189X14523039 EDUCATIONAL RESEARCHER February 7, 2014 0013189X14523039
1. » Abstract
2. Full Text
3. Full Text (PDF)
http://m.edr.sagepub.com/content/early/2014/02/06/0013189X14523039?papetoc

Resources:

Can We Fix Undermatching in Higher Ed? Would it Matter if We Did? http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/brown-center-chalkboard/posts/2014/01/15-undermatching-higher-ed-chingos

Smart, Poor Kids Are Applying to the Wrong Colleges http://www.slate.com/articles/business/moneybox/2013/03/undermatching_half_of_the_smartest_kids_from_low_income_households_don_t.html

The best way to eliminate poverty is job creation, job growth, and job retention. The Asian Development Bank has the best concise synopsis of the link between Education and Poverty http://www.adb.org/documents/assessing-development-impact-breaking-cycle-poverty-through-education For a good article about education and poverty which has a good bibliography, go to Poverty and Education, Overview http://education.stateuniversity.com/pages/2330/Poverty-Education.html There will not be a good quality of life for most citizens without a strong education system. One of the major contributors to poverty in third world nations is limited access to education opportunities. Without continued sustained investment in education, we are the next third world country.

Related:
Choosing the right college for you
https://drwilda.wordpress.com/2012/04/15/choosing-the-right-college-for-you/

Producing employable liberal arts grads
https://drwilda.wordpress.com/2012/04/01/producing-employable-liberal-arts-grads/

Remedial education in college
https://drwilda.wordpress.com/2012/03/04/remedial-education-in-college/

Why go to college?
https://drwilda.wordpress.com/2011/11/28/why-go-to-college/

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