July 11, 2022

Use Fit and Match to Increase Students’ Success

By: Bill DeBaun, National College Attainment Network

Among students who entered college in the fall of 2015, about 60% completed a degree or certificate six years later. Just three out of every five students who jump through all of the hoops, complete all of the forms, wade through all of the processes and actually matriculate wind up with a credential six years later. It’s worth noting that figure varies by state (check out tab 2 in the report’s data visualization).

We would never tolerate a leak in our house that let out 40% of our water, but when we consider a leak of this magnitude in our college completion pipeline, policymakers and the public don’t seem to consider the problem with the same urgency. They should; stopouts represent lost time for students, significant financial burden in terms of loans, and foregone increases to human capital in the form of health, economic, and civic outcomes. It costs students, their families, and our communities, states, and nation when students don’t complete.

Our college completion leak starts well before the first college semester, and there’s something we can do to help address it. One of the most important things schools, community-based programs, and everyone involved in advising a student can do is to make sure they wind up at the right postsecondary institution for them in the first place.

Recent research from the National College Attainment Network (NCAN) and the Vela Institute found that in a large sample of high school graduates across the country, 81.3% of students had another postsecondary institution within 50 miles of their high school that had a higher postsecondary completion rate than where the student actually matriculated. Additionally, the average student in the study’s sample from a lowest-income high school had a nearby postsecondary alternative with a projected completion rate nearly 37 percentage points higher than where the student actually first attended.

All of this boils down to the idea that where students matriculate to college matters as much as whether they do so, and changes in matriculation can have a big effect on the likelihood of eventual completion.

The concepts of academic “fit” and “match” are likely well-known to most readers here, but for a quick refresher, “match” is how well-aligned a student’s academic profile (e.g., GPA, admissions test scores) is with the institutions’ student body. “Fit” is a more ephemeral concept that describes how well an institution meets all of a students’ other needs and preferences (e.g., location, size, academic and extracurricular programming, atmosphere, and so much more).

Whether fit and match are new friends or old standbys for you, NCAN has a series of resources specifically designed to meet districts, schools, programs, and practitioners where they are and advance the use of these concepts:

  • First, check out the Fit & Match Toolkit, which is a good crash course and offers thoughts on platforms to track fit and match.
  • Next, to see how these concepts get introduced in a real-life context, this blog post documents Springfield (MA) Public Schools’ professional development around fit and match and summer melt.
  • Not to be outdone, Achieve Atlanta and Atlanta Public Schools came together to create a Match & Fit List Builder; it may seem complicated, but this is something within reach for most districts who have a StudentTracker subscription with the National Student Clearinghouse.
  • Finally, when it’s time to roll up your sleeves and do the deepest dive, NCAN’s eLearning unit on college fit and match is a comprehensive look at the concepts, platforms, and advising strategies that lead to increasing students’ likelihood of getting to the institution that meets their aspiration and ability.

If more students across the country received postsecondary advising through the lens of fit and match, it’s likely we’d see completion rates rise over time. No matter where your program or organization’s current practice is, take a look at the resources above and see if there isn’t some way to augment advising and provide students with options that even better fit (and match) their needs.