NCAN Conference Series: Increasing Awareness of "College Match"

This is the first in a series of four blog posts from the National College Access Network (NCAN) Conference in Phoenix, Arizona on September 15—17, 2014. These posts summarize selected presentations at the NCAN Conference that provide concrete, actionable recommendations for practitioners on the following topics: increasing student awareness of “college match”; increasing STEM awareness and connecting with local businesses; structuring internships to prepare students for the workforce; and supporting first-generation college students.

“College match” is gaining interest in the field of college access and success. A small but growing body of research shows that attending an institution of higher education (IHE) that aligns with students’ academic qualifications (“academic match”) and personal interests (“fit”) can lead to higher rates of persistence and degree completion. MDRC recently completed a pilot study in Chicago and New York implementing a set of strategies for high school guidance counselors to assist students with “matching” in the college application process. These strategies include:

  1. Making “college match” a central message and supporting students in asking the right questions of colleges;
  2. Involving parents;
  3. Guiding students to tools and technology to make informed decisions;
  4. Encouraging students to complete the FAFSA early and apply for institution-specific aid and assisting them in the process; and
  5. Developing relationships with college admissions officers.

MDRC created “match lists” of colleges and universities in and around its pilot cities that met the following criteria: accepts students with a 3.0 GPA and 1500 SAT; has a four-year graduation rate of at least 50 percent; has a six-year graduation rate of at least 60 percent; has less than 10 percent difference between overall and minority graduation rates; and is located in the state or surrounding region. Some local, public IHEs did not meet the graduation rate criteria. However, MDRC kept these IHEs on the match list because they knew these schools were popular options for students in the pilot cities.

Data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) on the College Navigator website were used to compile the lists, and the final list for each city contained approximately 80 IHEs. The match lists contained all IHEs that met the selection criteria and presented basic information such as student demographics, size, location, and institutional selectivity (defined by the Barron’s institutional ranking categories).

The major takeaway from the NCAN Conference session was that preparing a “match list” for students in a particular district, state, or region is a useful first step in providing students and families with information to help them consider “match” in the college application process. For more information on the five strategies, see MDRC’s practitioner guide.

Clarisse Haxton is a Senior Researcher with the College and Career Readiness and Success Center at AIR. 

Photo credit: Flickr.

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