According to an annual Diverse: Issues in Higher Education study, just over 350,000 students of color graduated from U.S. colleges and universities with a four-year degree in 2004-2005, a five percent growth from 2003-2004 and a 64 percent increase over a 10-year period. The country’s four major ethnic groups all showed growth, while White students getting degrees during the same period increased just an average of 1.3 percent.
In the magazine’s top 100 undergraduate degree producers list, the University of Minnesota is ranked 97th in total minority baccalaureate: 333 for men, and 396 for women — 729 for 2004-05, as compared to 712 in 2003-04.
This makes Shannon Bolden earning her four-year degree even more impressive, especially for someone who played basketball all four years. “It is something definitely that I am proud of,” says Bolden, the Marshall, Minnesota, native, who graduated in May with a kinesiology degree and a 3.5 grade point average. “Even with regular students, a lot of times their degrees are five-year degrees. Many students spend five or six years getting their undergraduate degree. It just shows the hard work that I put in.”
She is one of two U of M student-athletes this spring who received the school’s athletics department’s Outstanding Achievement Award, which recognizes accomplished student-athletes in the NCAA Life Skills Program’s four primary areas:
1) Leadership: Bolden served on Minnesota’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee executive board, was the nation’s only student-athlete on the NCAA Basketball Issues Committee, and also represented Minnesota last summer at the NCAA Leadership Conference.
2) Academics: Last fall Bolden won the Patty Berg Legacy Scholar-Athlete Award, given annually to a female student-athlete whose academics and athletic achievement match her personal character, leadership skills and sportsmanship.
3) Volunteerism: Bolden assisted young people in reading activities at local schools.
4) Athletics: After she became the team’s regular starting small forward in her sophomore season, Bolden started every game she played, 95 games, and won the team’s best defensive player award three times.
“I think it is important for student-athletes to realize that they have more of a job than just playing their sport,” says Bolden. “I remember my freshman year very vividly, trying to make all the adjustments a freshman tries to make. Now I’m thinking that I have played here four years, an amazing thing. It happened so fast.”
As one of the few well-decorated black student-athletes, male or female, in recent Minnesota Golden Gopher history, Bolden notes, “I have been able to take steps and do things that not a lot of other African American women had been able to do. It shows that if you work hard at basketball, school, and at whatever you do, you are going to be rewarded for it.”
Though the number of degrees conferred on students of color continues to grow, and the gap between white students and students of color attaining a degree continues to diminish, the gap nonetheless still exists according to Diverse, formerly known as Black Issues in Higher Education.
Using preliminary 2004-05 data from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), it is hard to explain why there are such low numbers of students of color getting degrees at predominately White institutions such as the University of Minnesota, says Pamela C. Brown, associate director of enrollment services at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
Brown has worked with Indiana University Associate Vice President and Associate Professor Dr. Victor M.H. Borden for three years on the yearly rankings. “There are things that we definitely know play a role, but we are trying to figure out if there is something else that other institutions are able to do that would predict or help other institutions be more successful in retaining students,” explains Brown.
Many colleges and universities use the Diverse Top 100 as a recruiting tool in the same fashion as the U.S. News and World Report’s annual top colleges list, continues Brown. “If an institution is not in the top ranking, it might be concern for them,” she says of schools such as Minnesota that wish to attract more students of color to their campuses.
In 2004-05, Diverse shows the U of M tied with Arizona for 32nd in total minority degrees in agriculture, agriculture operations, and related sciences (11); 46th out of 50 schools in social studies and history (134); 48th out of 50 in English (39); and 50th of 50 schools in engineering (92). Sadly, the state’s largest university did not make any top-50 category when it came to Blacks receiving degrees in any discipline.
“Sometimes when you receive an honor like that,” Bolden says on being honored by U of M athletics, “you don’t realize right away the significance of it. But a couple of years later, you’ll realize how important it was.”
Now a college graduate, Bolden admits, “I’m very excited and ready to take the next step in my life and my career.” She hopes to land a job in marketing and eventually pursue a master’s in business administration, “any position where I can work with people, whether on a team of people or selling to people,” she adds.
“I think that’s a great opportunity for me to use a lot of the skills I developed over the past four years, a lot of it through basketball, leadership and communication, and working with a team of people.”
As she moves into the next phase of her life, Bolden, who successfully put action behind her words, offers some advice to present and future student-athletes: “We have to keep in mind that we are students first, and the most important thing is to get our degrees, to get the job done in the classroom. Athletics come second.”
Information from Diverse: Issues in Higher Education, June 1, 2006, was used in this week’s column. To see the complete study, go “here”:http://www.diverseeducation.com.