Overmatching is Overcovered in Media

Today, there was yet another story in the higher education space on overmatching.


This was an issue for the First Lady and remains an issue for many: how do we get more low income students into America’s elite colleges. To be sure, it’s a good thing if more elite colleges accept low income students. It will enrich the student body, the perspectives of faculty and staff and administrators and it will help some of the accepted low income students immeasurably during and after college. I get that.

But…. that proverbial but…..

the number of students affected is small even if all elites accepted 20% or 30% more low income students. And, attention to and focus on this issue takes away in my view from the 7 million plus other Pell eligible students not attending elite colleges.

Most students don’t attend the elites. Period. Full stop.

Why not pay attention to how to enable the students attending non-elite colleges — and not just to have access to college but success in and after college? Shouldn’t our attention be broader? Shouldn’t we focus on changes that will affect the most people and move the needle meaningfully?

Sure, access to the elites matters. But, as the former president of a non-elite college, I was never convinced that an elite education was the answer to all of our prayers; nor was I sure it was the “right” place and “right” fit for many both low and non-low income students. Indeed, at some of the elites, teaching is done by graduate students rather than full time, tenure or long term contract professors where as at many (true, not all) non-elites, full time faculty do the teaching. And they do more than teach; they attend student events, they engage with students in the dining hall, they provide one-on-one tutoring if needed, they are available and eager to help.

Why should we read, write so so much about something that affects so so few? And, I get the Jack Kent Cooke’s mission. Always have. Were I bold enough, I might suggest it is high time they expanded that mission. Ponder the good that could occur if non-elite colleges received some of the foundation’s largesse. Just sayin’.

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Author, Educator & Commentator; Former President, Southern Vermont College; Former Senior Policy Advisor, US Dept. of Education; Former Law Professor

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