Underrepresented and Underserved: College Undermatch and School Counseling
The pathways to higher education have broadened to increase students who partake in postsecondary education, yet continuing social inequities persevere related to where students access these higher education opportunities. Persistent racial minority underrepresentation at selective institutions may be due to academic undermatch in the college choice process whereby students apply, are admitted, or attend institutions below their level of academic qualifications. Furthermore, it is unclear the extent to which access to school counseling programs influence undermatch. The purpose of the study was to examine the pervasiveness of academic undermatch, and the relationship between high school counseling programs and students’ college choice.
Guided by Bourdieu’s Social Reproduction Theory and Giddens’ Theory of Structuration, I used logistic regression and HGLM analyses for a nationally representative sample of 12,940 students at 940 high schools. The unique longitudinal dataset drew from the High School Longitudinal Survey of 2009 (HSLS:09), Barron’s Admissions Competitive Index, and IPEDS.
Findings point to the pervasiveness of academic undermatch at the application, admission, and attendance stages in the college choice process. White students undermatch at higher rates than any of the other racial groups and Asian students undermatch the least. However, undermatch rates at community colleges reveal that not only do Hispanic students undermatch at the highest rates by institutional level, but their rates are more than one-and-a-half times higher than White students by institutional level. Thus, undermatch is a complex phenomenon, with important nuances across and within racial groups. Characteristics of school counseling programs predict undermatch, for example, the more hours counselors devote to college counseling preparation activities, the less likely their graduates are to undermatch at any stage in the college choice process. The findings suggest the need to implement high school strategies and counselor training to provide students with quality college counseling support. At the college level, higher education practitioners are encouraged to reflect on admissions practices regarding college outreach to recruit from more diverse high schools than the typical feeder networks. Implications for policy speak to expanding enrollment and revisiting goals to include access to resourced institutions. For P-20 education, it is important to provide opportunities for students to attend the best matched institutions that will lead to their educational success.