Study Snapshot: College Undermatching, Degree Attainment, and Minority Students

For Immediate Release: April 16, 2018

Tony Pals,
(202) 238-3235, (202) 288-9333 (cell)

Collin Boylin,
(202) 238-3233, (860) 490-8326 (cell)

Study Snapshot: College Undermatching, Degree Attainment, and Minority Students

Study: “College Undermatching, Degree Attainment, and Minority Students”
Authors: Chungseo Kang (State University of New York at Buffalo) and Darlene Garcia Torres (State University of New York at Buffalo) 

This study will be presented at the 2018 AERA Annual Meeting 
Date/Time: Monday, April 16, 10:35 a.m. to 12:05 p.m.

Main Finding:

  • Using nationally representative data, this study found that students who attend a less selective college than their qualifications would permit—or “undermatch”—are less likely to graduate college within four years, as well as within six years, than non-undermatched students. This study further demonstrates that the college completion gap by undermatching is largest for Hispanics, across race/ethnicity groups.


  • The authors used the U.S. Department of Education’s Educational Longitudinal Study to generate a sample of 4,970 students who enrolled in a four-year college within one year of high school graduation. (Students in this sample were in 10th grade in 2002.)
  • Consistent with previous studies on undermatching, approximately 40 percent of students were undermatched, with 43.3 percent of the sample falling into this category.
  • The authors found that undermatching was highest for black students (49 percent), followed by white students (45 percent), Hispanic students (41 percent), and Asian students (31 percent).
  • On average, across all race/ethnicity groups, undermatched students were about 0.8 times less likely to graduate college within four years and 0.7 times less likely to graduate college within six years than non-undermatched students.
  • The graduation gap by undermatching students was widest for Hispanic students, across all race/ethnicity groups, for both four-year and six-year rates. The estimated six-year graduation gap between undermatching and non-undermatching Hispanic students was 28 percentage points, while controlling for student and institutional characteristics.
  • White students showed a slightly wider gap in graduation within six years by undermatching than other race/ethnicity groups, except Hispanics.
  • Conversely, there were relatively smaller gaps by undermatching in graduation rates within four years and six years for black students. For Asian students, the gap in graduation within four years between undermatched and non-undermatched students was smaller than the difference in graduation within six years.
  • The negative relationship between college undermatching and college completion held true even after controlling for other student and high school background characteristics, including academic expectations, preparation, and performance; socioeconomic status; and first-generation status, among others.
  • The study also found that the negative relationship was stronger among those students who had relatively high probabilities of graduating from college, based on their academic performance in high school and background characteristics.
  • “The results suggest policymakers and educators need to be concerned about college completion for even highly qualified students if they are undermatched,” said study co-author Chungseo Kang, a postdoctoral associate at the State University of New York at Buffalo. “To improve college completion rates for college students, in particular for Hispanic students, the results suggest it is important to encourage them to attend a college that matches their qualifications.”
  • Prior research has suggested that undermatched students are likely to receive less financial and academic support from their colleges than those who are matched properly at more selective and better resourced institutions. 

To request a copy of the full paper, or to talk to study authors, please contact AERA Communications: Tony Pals, Director of Communications,, cell: (202) 288-9333; Collin Boylin, Communications Associate,, cell: (860) 490-8326

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The American Educational Research Association (AERA) is the largest national interdisciplinary research association devoted to the scientific study of education and learning. Founded in 1916, AERA advances knowledge about education, encourages scholarly inquiry related to education, and promotes the use of research to improve education and serve the public good. Find AERA on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.