Understanding the Mismatch Debate
This site is intended to introduce readers to the basic Issues in higher education mismatch, and provide links at relevant points to sources, both pro and con, that explore these issues further.
Interest in “peer effects” in higher education goes back 50 years, and originally had nothing to do with affirmative action. Empirical interest in testing peer effects began to pick up around 2003, and since 2011 this research has emerged as a distinct field in higher education research. The central notion is that the makeup of one’s peers affects one’s learning and school outcomes. But this notion has evolved, through the research, into a family of ideas.
It is useful to think of “first-order” mismatch effects, and “second-order” effects:
College graduation Effects
First-Order mismatch effects are the hypothesized mechanisms that directly affect students. For example, “learning mismatch” is the idea that, if a student (call her “Mary”) could attend two different classes, one entirely comprised of students with substantially stronger academic preparation than Mary, and one comprised of students who, on average, were close to Mary’s level of academic preparation, then Mary would learn more in the second classroom than the first one, because in the second classroom the teacher’s pace and pedagogy will be more geared at a level that will engage and teach Mary.
Second-order mismatch effects are indirect consequences of the first-order effects. They are harder to measure and are intrinsically less likely to occur because other intervening factors may blur or offset the connection. Thus, for example, Mary might attend a law school where she experiences learning mismatch, and struggle in her first-year courses. But the law school might then intervene with academic support – special programs that avoid mismatch by directly aiming at Mary’s learning issues – and get her back on course. Or the law school might have a policy of graduating virtually all of its students, even those in serious academic difficulty. In either case, one would not observe a “graduation mismatch” effect even if the “learning effect” is substantial.