Low-Income Students in Higher Education: Undermatching Predicts Decreased Satisfaction toward the Final Stage in College

M. Muskens, W.E. Frankenhuis, L. Borghans

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


It is undesirable when students attend institutions that are less selective than their academic credentials would permit (i.e., undermatching) because of the long-term consequences for their job opportunities and wages, in particular for students from low-socioeconomic (SES) backgrounds. Undermatching may also affect students’ satisfaction during college. Research from a life course perspective shows that subjective experiences during college may have long-term impact on adolescents’ development. However, little is known about the relation between undermatching and students’ subjective experiences during their years in college, and about whether this relation is moderated by SES. From an academic misalignment perspective, undermatching may lead to less satisfaction because undermatched students are not maximizing their potential. However, from a social misalignment perspective, experiences of social mismatch when low-SES students enter the most selective institutions are well documented, and such mismatch may be less pronounced in less selective institutions. Consequently, there may be a positive relation between undermatching and satisfaction with the social environment for low-SES students. The current study tested these relations by using propensity score matching (PSM) to analyse the association between undermatching, SES, and satisfaction among 21,452 respondents (67% female) among 1st, 2nd, 3th, and 4th year college students from a cohort study among students in the Netherlands (Dutch Student Monitor), all of whom were eligible for the most selective institutions. The results indicated a negative relation between undermatching and satisfaction with the social and academic environment, both for low- and high-SES students. The negative relation between undermatching and both forms of satisfaction increases toward the last year in college, especially for low-SES students. This lowered satisfaction in the final stage in higher education implies that the negative consequences of undermatching become more pronounced after students have become more integrated in their colleges. These findings have important implications for the understanding about undermatching in relation to students’ development and for the formulation of policies and programs for promoting social mobility.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1296-1310
JournalJournal of Youth and Adolescence
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Propensity score matching
  • Satisfaction
  • Social mobility
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Students
  • Undermatching


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