Panel Paper: Expanding Low-Income Students’ College Options through Enhanced College Advising

Saturday, November 10, 2018
Madison A - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Alina Martinez1, Tamara Linkow2, Hannah Miller2 and Amanda Parsad2, (1)Mathematica Policy Research, (2)Abt Associates, Inc.

Where students go to college, not just whether they go, is key to their educational attainment and later economic success (Bound, Lovenheim, and Turner 2010; Bowen, Chingos, and McPherson 2009; Dillon and Smith 2015; Horn and Carroll 2006; Hoxby 2001; Smith 2013a). However, 41 percent of students nationally undermatch—meaning they do not attend college or they choose a college that is less selective than their academic credentials would allow. This issue is more acute among students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds (Smith, Pender, and Howell 2013), for whom cost, application logistics, and concerns about falling short are real barriers to their attending more selective colleges.

Concern about undermatching prompted the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to test whether promising advising strategies, previously tested in more limited settings and with different populations, could improve college outcomes for students in its college access programs, including Upward Bound. The Upward Bound program, designed to help high school students from disadvantaged backgrounds prepare to enroll in and complete postsecondary education, reports high rates of college going among its project participants. However, these students, like many low-income students, may miss opportunities to enroll in more selective or higher quality colleges.

In an effort to address concern about where Upward Bound students enroll in college multiple strategies showing promise in prior research were drawn together, into a package called Find the Fit, and made available to Upward Bound projects to use in their college advising. Strategies included practical help on the logistics of applying to colleges, supports to reduce the financial hurdles, and approaches to widen and raise students’ aspirations and expectations regarding college choice. Find the Fit comprises three components: student materials organized in personalized folders; semi-customized text or email messages sent to students; and live training webinars for Upward Bound advisors.

This study examines whether these promising strategies can be applied in a federal college access program, which involves a different population of students in different settings than the ones in which the underlying interventions were developed. The study involved 194 regular Upward Bound projects, serving almost 4,500 high school seniors, that volunteered to participate. Projects were randomly assigned so that half were able to integrate Find the Fit into their regular services for their seniors (the treatment group) while the other half did not receive access to Find the Fit until after the study period ended (the control group). Using student surveys and administrative records from the National Student Clearinghouse and the Federal Student Aid Office, the study compares the outcomes of students in both groups to determine the impact of Find the Fit. This paper will present the impacts on early indicators of college going that are hypothesized to affect undermatching, specifically: whether students applied to four or more colleges, the selectivity of colleges to which students applied, the importance students place on academic quality in choosing a college, and whether students completed the FAFSA by March 15 of their senior year. How Find the Fit was implemented was also examined.

Full Paper: