College Match Matters

College Match Matters
College Match Matters


According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2009 only 36 percent of youth in the United States ages 18-24 were enrolled in college. Of those that managed to navigate the system and gain access to higher education, only 53 percent attending four-year institutions were able to graduate within six years. While many factors contribute to the issue of postsecondary enrollment and graduation, a major challenge has been the matching of youth to appropriate programs. Oftentimes youth may be the first in their families to apply or enroll in college, and are forced to navigate the process with little or no guidance. If students are to enter into and ultimately succeed in postsecondary education, greater support is required to match each individual student with an institution and course of study that matches his or her needs, both academically and financially.

This forum provided an overview of the research conducted by MDRC on the promising College Match Program in Chicago Public Schools, as well as a panel discussion the implications for policy, specifically considering opportunities for sustainability and scaling up. Presenters included D. Crystal Byndloss, Senior Associate, MDRC; Michael McPherson, President, Spencer Foundation; Greg Darnieder, Senior Advisor to the Secretary on the College Access Initiative, US Department of Education; and Mariana Saucedo, College Match Advisor, DeVry Advantage Academy High School and Lincoln Park High School.

College Match Program

The College Match Program (CMP) was designed to respond to the undermatching problem by encouraging academically capable students to choose colleges where they are likely to thrive and graduate. CMP proactively delivers crucial information, supports students as they navigate the complicated college and financial aid application process, and helps students and parents make thoughtful decisions about college enrollment.

CMP targets students who are prepared for college but need advice and support to choose the right college. Importantly, CMP is not focused on getting students into the most elite colleges and universities; rather, CMP seeks to increase the rate at which students apply to, are admitted to, and enroll in “match” colleges that fit their academic profile and meet their financial and personal needs. In many cases, CMP works with students who expected to enroll in a two-year community college — or did not plan to attend college at all. CMP advisers help those students understand that a selective four-year college is a practical, affordable, and superior option.

Beginning in the spring semester of a student’s junior year and extending through high school graduation, College Match delivers services through a combination of workshops and counseling by specially trained College Match advisers. These advisers replicate what is available to help students in more affluent schools and homes make informed decisions about college enrollment.

While CMP targets a relatively small percentage of high school students, those students represent the “low hanging fruit” of the large population that is struggling to reach and complete college. By helping low-income and first-generation students choose a college that best meets their needs, MDRC hopes that the lessons learned will support efforts to help a much larger student population make wise college choices in the future.


Presenter Biographies

An experienced qualitative researcher, Crystal Byndloss is project director for the College Match demonstration, an intervention designed to improve the choices higher-performing, low-income high school students make about which colleges to apply to and attend. In addition to leading the College Match demonstration, Byndloss is the implementation research lead on evaluations of two other programs that aim to promote college access and success among low-income minority students. Before returning to MDRC in 2010, Byndloss was the director of research and analysis for Symphonic Strategies, a Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm, and served for three years as the assistant dean for research and associate director of an interdisciplinary center at the College of Education at Temple University. Byndloss earned a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and a Ph.D. in Sociology from Harvard University, and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Byndloss is a LEADERSHIP Philadelphia fellow and works with several nonprofit organizations that support families in need.


Greg Darnieder began his career in education as a middle grades teacher in St. Louis and Riverdale.  He has a BA in Sociology, a K-8 teaching certificate from St. Louis University and a MA in Christian Education from Wheaton College.  He worked for 15 years as the executive director of youth development and college access organizations in Chicago’s Cabrini Green Housing Development. Beginning in 1993, he oversaw the Steans Family Foundation’s community focused philanthropic efforts in Chicago’s North Lawndale community including early childhood, education, organizational development and affordable housing.

In 2003 Greg established the Department of Postsecondary Education and Student Development (DPSESD) at Chicago Public Schools (CPS), designing and implementing an assortment of postsecondary, academic, financial, and social support programs and building university, corporate and civic partnerships to enhance college access.  In 2008, he was named the director of the Department of College and Career Preparation (DCCP) for CPS, a newly formed department that consists of the DPSESD and the Department of Career and Technical Education.

In 2008, he was named Executive of the Year for the City of Chicago. In 2012, Greg was awarded the Middle Grades Education Leadership Award from National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades, the Excellence in Education Award from the National Association of College Admissions Counseling, and the National Advocacy Award from National Office for School Counselor Advocacy.

In 2009, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan named Greg Senior Advisor to the Secretary on the College Access Initiative at the U.S. Department of Education, where he currently serves as a leading voice on the President’s 2020 Goal.


Michael S. McPherson is the fifth President of the Spencer Foundation.  Prior to joining the Foundation in 2003 he served as President of Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota for seven years.  A nationally known economist whose expertise focuses on the interplay between education and economics, McPherson spent the 22 years prior to his Macalester presidency as professor of economics, chairman of the Economics Department, and dean of faculty at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts.  He holds a B.A. in Mathematics, an M.A. in Economics, and a Ph.D. in Economics, all from the University of Chicago.

McPherson, who is co-author and editor of several books, including Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America’s Public Universities; College Access: Opportunity or Privilege?; Keeping College Affordable; Economic Analysis, Moral Philosophy, and Public Policy; and was founding co-editor of the journal Economics and Philosophy.  He has served as a trustee of the College Board, the American Council on Education and Wesleyan University.  He was a Fellow of the Institute for Advanced Study and a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution.  He is currently a trustee of McNally Smith College of Music and the DentaQuest Foundation, as well as President of the Board of Overseers of TIAA-CREF.


Mariana Saucedo is a College Match Advisor working in two Chicago Public High Schools through a partnership with MDRC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan, social policy research organization, CPS and the Illinois College Advising Corps at the University of Illinois-Chicago.  She works as an Advisor assisting with plans for post-secondary education for high-achieving, low-income students.  This work includes assisting seniors with applications, financial aid, and scholarships emphasizing on identifying match colleges to fit the students’ overall needs.  Saucedo has also worked as a Team Leader at the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan, leading high school students on their college and career paths.  She also interned for the City of Grand Rapids with Our Community’s Children, overseeing and organizing the Mayor’s Youth Council in civic engagement.

Saucedo, a Chicago native, graduated from Grand Valley State University (Allendale, MI), in 2010 with a Bachelors of Arts in Communications and a minor in Sociology.  During her time at GVSU, she served as the Vice-President for the Latino Student Union, the Layout Editor for the GV Lanthorn newspaper and co-founder of the Alpha Nu Chapter of Sigma Lambda Upsilon/Senoritas Latinas Unidas Sorority, Inc.  Currently, Saucedo is the Midwest Regional Director for the sorority, as well as a member of the Hispanic Alliance for Career Enhancement and serves as a Grand Valley State University Alumni Ambassador for the Chicago-land area.


Recommended Resources

Click here to view the Power Point presentation for this event (PDF)»

Click here to read the Forum Brief for this event (PDF)»

Click here to read “Promoting College Match for Low-Income Students:  A Lesson for Practitioners”

Presenter Information

D. Crystal Byndloss, Ph.D.

Senior Research Associate


16 East 34th Street

New York, NY 10016



Greg Darnieder

Senior Advisor to the Secretary on the College Access Initiative

Department of Education Organizational Structure and Offices

U.S. Department of Education

400 Maryland Avenue, SW

Washington, DC 20202

(202) 401-1367


Michael S. McPhearson


Spencer Foundation

625 North Michigan Avenue

Suite 1600

Chicago, IL 60611



Mariana S. Saucedo

College Match Advisor

DeVry Advantage Academy High School

Lincoln Park High School

2001 N Orchard St

Chicago, IL 60614



The American Youth Policy Forum (AYPF), a nonprofit, nonpartisan professional development organization based in Washington, DC, provides learning opportunities for policy leaders, practitioners, and researchers working on youth and education issues at the national, state, and local levels. AYPF events and publications are made possible by contributions from philanthropic foundations. For a complete list, click here.