Additionally, DeWitt says a potential overlap between older students and other demographics could explain why some groups, such as women and minority students, have had lower participation rates in STEM fields.
"In some cases when we're talking about older students not being able to break into science and engineering, we might be talking about those other demographics as well," DeWitt says.
DeWitt says researchers typically do not look into differences in age when studying the distribution of STEM degrees and that he hopes these reports will start a conversation.
"I think it's kind of an interesting question of whether there's something about science and engineering that seems like an insurmountable obstacle to an older student," DeWitt says. "And if there are barriers, I think that is something higher education would want to address because older students bring something special with their diverse backgrounds."