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Do adults in school constitute an underrepresented group?

  1. Jan 31, 2013 #1
    Do adults in school constitute an "underrepresented group?"

    I know we have a few of us here - "returning adults," "non traditional students," or whatever appellation is currently P.C.

    I'm wondering if, given that I'm not a member of any sort of minority group, I should be considered "underrepresented" for purposes of applications for REU's, etc. or otherwise.

    -Dave K
     
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  3. Jan 31, 2013 #2

    Simon Bridge

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    Re: Do adults in school constitute an "underrepresented group?"

    I guess it depends on which jurisdiction you are in.
    I think anyone can find a small group that they belong to though - so, in a sense, everyone is "underrepresented" aren't they? I think the real question is how you'd go about making a case for special consideration as a member of such a group and what benchmarks you'd have to meet to get it to stick in law.
     
  4. Feb 1, 2013 #3
    Re: Do adults in school constitute an "underrepresented group?"

    Well sure, I'm polish-italian-german-native american. I'm pretty much underrepresented in any sense. But that's obviously not the spirit of the question. It's not in the same sense that most minorities and women are underrepresented, especially in math and sciences.


    It has to do with the challenges one faces as part of that group and what advantages that diversity brings. In the case of adults - we probably aren't ask quick as we used to be, we don't have as much time to dedicate to school because of outside obligations, and we tended not to grow up in families where education was made a priority by the parents (or we would have done it the first time). That's a generalization of course.

    The advantages we have are a kind of focus and maturity that we can bring to projects, experience, more honed communication skills, etc.

    As far as benchmarks, we can get caught in details here... Is a 25 year old going for a bachelor's a returning adult? Are you a returning adult if you left for one year? I don't know. I know at 36 I definitely fit.

    But I'm sure other groups have the same issue and I don't know in what sense they struggle with it. 1/2 Latino, 1/4 Latino, etc. I don't know.

    But I'm not talking about law, necessarily, but certain programs and opportunities (like getting accepted to a graduate program, college in general, or in my case applying for an REU) ask to highlight if you are a member of such a group, and I'm wondering to what extent I need to emphasize that. In that sense I don't know if I need a legal definition necessarily.

    -Dave K
     
  5. Feb 1, 2013 #4
    Re: Do adults in school constitute an "underrepresented group?"

    I think there's a difference between "underrepresented group" and "small group". As Simon pointed out, anyone can find a small group they belong to. I take "underrepresented group" to mean "smaller than should be reasonably expected were everyone's circumstances equal". So, women are an underrepresented group in, say, engineering not because of the absolute number of women in any university's engineering program, but because they generally make up much less than 50% of the class. In the absence of any a priori reason (besides sociological) for why fewer women than men should be interested in engineering, this discrepancy makes women fit the definition of "underrepresented" in engineering.

    The upshot is that a small group is not necessarily underrepresented (as per Simon's comments) and, conversely, an underrepresented group need not actually be small—just smaller than it reasonably should be expected to be.

    So, while I don't doubt you and many other "non traditional students" faced significant challenges in early life and in returning for an education, I think the question that matters is, "Should we reasonably expect there to be more adults in post-secondary education?" I think the answer to that is no, precisely because you're following a non-traditional path. I see no reason to think that there are any institutional or sociological biases that are artificially lowering the number of adults in universities. That number is low simply because most adults don't need to do their post-secondary education later in life.

    You could always highlight the challenges you've faced as a returning student on applications anyways and argue why you think it merits you special consideration. However, in my opinion, adults in school don't constitute an underrepresented group; just a small one.
     
  6. Feb 1, 2013 #5

    Simon Bridge

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    Re: Do adults in school constitute an "underrepresented group?"

    Yep - are adults returning to education underrepresented in the sense that women are underrepresented in physics and over-represented in nursing? Is it bad enough for adut students to be recognized as an underrepresented group in law? Should there be additional incentives to get more adults into education?

    Sometimes that is the case - in NZ a point was raised that there was a shortage of experienced teachers (a while ago now) but an excess of experienced professionals hitting the unemployment lines. They were too old to get a grant to cover their college tuition so one was provided ... there are still more new graduates entering teaching but there are some older people too. The idea is that by the time their students are trained up, the economy would have recovered enough that work will be available or they can otherwise contribute to the recovery.

    (Note: in NZ, a college education is considered a right and grants are available to make sure people have a chance to exercise it.)

    So - where one perceives a possible need, it should certainly be brought up and examined. I don't think returning adults (we say "mature") students, in general warrant special consideration - but there may be specific courses which would benefit from a greater adult participation and adults may have an extra hurdle to doing the course.
     
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