Underrepresented Groups of Students

Author: P. Merner; P. Beatty-Guenter | Published: Sep 01, 2018

The key purpose of the research project was to assess the policies and practices at the BC Transfer System institutions for admitting underrepresented (equity) groups of students, as well as to summarize the data sources available on the underrepresented groups. Beyond the review of Canadian and international literature, this analysis involved scanning websites and other digital documentation for the 38 institutions of the BC Transfer System, as well as provincial government webpages and other online material. A survey of the institutional research offices at public BC post-secondary institutions provided information on institutional data collection practices and the identification of underrepresented groups. The final stage of information gathering involved interviews of admissions and other professionals to garner first-hand information about equity initiatives and access practices in an operational context.

The literature review identified key groups and factors (often correlated) that influence access to post-secondary education: low socio-economic status, parental education, low secondary school success, family, Indigenous identity, rural location, gender, ability limitation, and cultural distinctiveness. While some barriers may be amenable to change, others are not and must be addressed in other ways.

Typically, post-secondary institutions have responded to access and equity issues in three main ways: through creating or improving programs, through services, and through policy and practices. In many cases institutional responses were multi-faceted, and it was also often difficult to delineate what underrepresented groups the practices were aimed at.

The strongest policy statements were found with respect to the more visible and defined groups (e.g., Indigenous people and those with ability limitations). In other respects, such as with first-generation learners or those from rural origins, policy was almost entirely absent. This served to underline the differences in visibility among the underrepresented groups. As with policy, some underrepresented groups are well supported by admissions practices designed specifically to support their needs, while other groups less so, or not at all. This is not to say that individuals are not supported during admissions processes, but that practices are not targeted specifically towards them, by dint of group membership.

The report contains a review of availability of data sources that support current and future research on underrepresented groups. The sources of data on underrepresented groups include many Statistics Canada resources, such as the Census, data sets and surveys available through CANSIM (PSIS, NGS and the LFS), and discontinued but available YITS, PEPS and SLS/F; BC provincial/institutional data sets include the CDW and STP, and the BC Outcomes Surveys; and Institutional / Consortia data sets such as CUSC, NSSE, and UCAS.