This came up in another thread, but I though that it would fit here as ...Something useful
Without getting into AA, here is a fairly useful way to think about and clarify what URM is:An Underrepresented Minority (URM) in higher education is any ethnic group that has historically made up a significantly smaller proportion of a given field of study (e.g. law school) than they make up in the general population, where "general population" can mean either the national population or the regional population near a certain school (e.g. the population of MA for Boston College, or California for UCLA).National underrepresentation and overreppresentation
Think about any ethnic group (I am going to make up a word for illustration) and call that group "puffs." If puffs are 10% of the national population, but they make up only 1% of the population in higher education, then puffs are very underrepresented. Now, think of another ethnic group - the "pops" - who make up only 3% of the national population, but who make up 30% of the population in higher education. That makes the pops very overrepresented.
Now that the point is made, think of actual ethnic groups in higher education: Hispanic and Asian Americans at top universities.
The last census
reported that about 15.4% of the US is hispanic and that about 4.4% of the US is Asian. Now take a look at those groups for some top universities:US POP
Asian: 4.4% - Hispanic: 15.4%3 TOP WEST SCHOOLSUCLA
Asian: 38% - Hispanic: 15%UC Berkeley
Asian: 41% - Hispanic: 11%Stanford
Asian: 28%% - Hispanic: 10%Average for these WEST schools
Asian: 36%% - Hispanic: 12%3 TOP EAST SCHOOLSHarvard
Asian: 16%% - Hispanic: 7%Yale
Asian: 14%% - Hispanic: 7%Northwestern
Asian: 18%% - Hispanic: 7%Average for these EAST schools
Asian: 13%% - Hispanic: 7%
After looking at this, you can clearly see that, at least for 3 top schools on each side of the country (feel free to post-to-increase my sample of top EAST/WEST undergrads if you want), there is nearly a tripple overrepresentation of Asian Americans in both EAST and WEST, while the reppresentation splits for hispanics. EAST has only one-half representation for hispanics, whereas WEST falls short by much less.
The above was only a comparison to the national population, and demographics vary by region.Regional underrepresentation and overreppresentation
Because the west coast boarders Mexico, it has more hispanic than the east coast. Because of proximity as well, the west coast also has more Asians. So, the role that regional ethnography plays is important to consider.
The census shows that states on the west have much more hispanics than the east; CA has a 37% hispanic population
. East coast states are much different: NY has a 17% hispanic population
, Pennsylvania has a 5% hispanic population
, ME has a 17% hispanic population
, etc. So, this strongly suggests that hispanic underrepresentation in CA is actually about proportional to that of east coast states event though hispanic reppresentation is closer to the national average at top CA schools than it is at top east schools.Historicity
The numbers can't just be mismatched in a random year for a group to be a URM in higher education. An ethnic group's reppresentation being lower in higher education than in the general population must be a longstanding fact, and it must be the result of institutionalized barriers to access (e.g. the long-lasting affects of segregation).
Mexicans had it bad in CA: (picture of a typical sign in window of CA restaurant from 1900-1960s
Blacks had it bad everywhere: (picture of a typical sign for blacks from 1900-1960s
You all know the story, or have at least heard parts of it. Either way, I won't get into it, but there have been serious barriers to entry into many life-essentials (e.g. health care, education, job markets, property ownership, etc) for a select handful of ethnics groups in the US (e.g. blacks, Mexicans, Indian Americans), and the effects of those barriers accounts for part of the story behind underrepresentation of those groups in higher education. Only those ethnic groups that are underrepresented in part because of such barriers
meet this historicity criteria; they have been historically
underrepresented in a way that makes them eligible to be URMs.Implications
This idea of "URM boosts" is obviously meant to help. However, whenever help is given out in categories, things get hazy. Consider something analogous to illustrate why: As we all know, just because horses are animals, it doesn't mean that "helping animals" means helping horses (viz. there are many other animals besides horses; rattle snakes, for instance). In the same way, helping only groups who have been historically underrepresented in higher education raises questions: should the rich black/Mexican/Native-American kid get help? should the poor white kid not get help? why deny certain groups help like the Hmong Chinese, who face serious barriers into life essential in China? There will always be these types of "where do we draw the line" questions. However, recognizing URMs as a group is a step in a good direction. The best that can be done to mitigate line-drawing issues is to take things on a case-by-case basis.HTH