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Margins that Matter: Exploring the Association Between Academic Match and Bachelor’s Degree Completion Over Time

Amanda M. Cook ()
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Amanda M. Cook: Northwestern University

Research in Higher Education, 2022, vol. 63, issue 4, No 5, 672-712

Abstract: Abstract There is a well-documented relationship between academic match and bachelor’s degree completion; students who undermatch are less likely to complete a BA than those who match or overmatch, net of academic qualifications and demographic characteristics. Little is known, however, about whether this association has changed over time. I argue that recent trends in U.S. higher education may have altered this association. Thus, while prior research has documented gaps in outcomes between undermatched, matched, and overmatched students, it is important to understand how these gaps may be evolving. The present study uses nationally representative data from three cohorts of first-time college students—students who began college in 1995, 2003, and 2011—to examine this question. Findings show that, in some ways, the association between academic match and BA completion has remained stable over time; across all three cohorts, undermatched students are less likely to graduate than matched and overmatched students, after controlling for academic qualifications and demographic characteristics. In other ways, the association may be evolving; overall, overmatched students’ odds of graduation have increased over time, while matched and undermatched students’ have not. There are multiple possible explanations for this, including the fact that graduation rates in recent years have become increasingly stratified by college selectivity. The study concludes with recommendations for policy and practice, as well as suggestions for future research.

Keywords: Higher education; College choice; Academic match; Undermatch; College graduation; Beginning Postsecondary Students (BPS) survey (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2022
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DOI: 10.1007/s11162-021-09664-6

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