Breaking the cycle of poverty and low expectations: How counseling activities predict college undermatch

What types of high-school counseling activities can help low-socioeconomic status students apply to colleges to which they are well-matched and thereby improve their college completion outcomes?

Undermatching, which occurs when students enroll in less selective colleges than their qualifications would otherwise allow, disproportionately affects students of low-SES and negatively affects their college completion outcomes. Rosenbaum will examine institutional features of high schools, activities of high-school counselors, and students’ plans and outcomes in order to identify where and why undermatch occurs during the processes of planning for, applying to, and enrolling in college. In doing so, he aims to identify strategies to reduce undermatch to both selective and middle-selectivity colleges, as both types of institutions typically offer support services to improve college persistence. Rosenbaum will use data from the National High School Longitudinal Study (HSLS), a nationally-representative study of the transition from secondary school to postsecondary education, to describe the resources high schools invest in college-related counseling and activities, such as group counseling, counselors’ relationships with college representatives, and activities focused on students’ concerns about finances or belonging in college. The team will determine which efforts predict better college match outcomes for students with low-SES backgrounds. These analyses will be supplemented by an in-depth analysis of a Midwestern urban school district, enabling the team to deepen their understanding of the context in which counseling activities are implemented. Rosenbaum and colleagues will survey nearly 200 counselors within the district to better understand counseling procedures and information sources. They will interview a subset of these counselors to gain a nuanced understanding of how well specific activities work for low-SES students, how counselors inform colleges about low-SES students’ strengths, and how counselors evaluate the availability of supports for low-SES students at highly and moderately selective colleges, and the extent to which this perception influences their advising. Findings will be used to articulate promising institutional policies to decrease undermatch and improve educational attainment for students from low-SES backgrounds.