Jeffrey Smith examines “match between student ability and college quality” in new paper

January 16, 2017

A new article by Jeffrey Smith and Eleanor Wiske Dillion (Arizona State University), "Determinants of the Match between Student Ability and College Quality," was published in the Journal of Labor Economics on October 24, 2016.


We examine how students of varying abilities sort (and are sorted) into colleges of varying qualities. Our data indicate substantial amounts of both academic undermatch (high-ability students at low-quality colleges) and academic overmatch (low-ability students at high-quality colleges). Student application and enrollment decisions, rather than college admission decisions, drive most deviations from academic assortative matching. Financial constraints, information, and the public college options facing students all affect this sorting, but mainly via college quality rather than the match between ability and quality. More informed students attend higher-quality colleges, even when doing so involves overmatching.