Only around 1 percent of bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees nationwide are awarded to Native American students. But in an effort to change that bleak statistic, the CU Boulder Upward Bound program works with high school students from eight different reservations across the country to prepare them for the college experience.
Since 1981, students from reservations across the country have come to CU Boulder during the summer for six weeks between mid-June and late July. The 2017 cohort just wrapped up weeks of taking classes, having fun together outdoors, meeting students from different communities and tribes and generally getting an idea of what college is like. Students also take science and math classes as well as journalism, creative writing and American Sign Language.
Richard Locklear, a high school senior from the Lumbee reservation in Pembroke, North Carolina, has participated in the program for three straight summers. He has treasured his experiences in the program, like meeting new peers from other tribes, particularly his first year when he met his roommate Dave McBride, a Lakota from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.
The program has yielded results for the high school students involved. Between 50 and 83 percent of students participating in CU Upward Bound continue on to a college career, CU Boulder Upward Bound Director Tanaya Winder said.
Following the 2015–16 school year, 65 percent of students enrolled in postsecondary institutions. Winder credits this in part to the high retention rate of high school students who return to the program year after year, which is usually above 90 percent.
While some students deal with homesickness, they also enjoy their time at camp and feel bittersweet about leaving.
“I met some really awesome people while I was here in Boulder for the past three summers,” said Locklear. “I would never have traded this experience for anything in the world.”
But Upward Bound assists with more than just college preparation and guidance. Winder works with her staff to make sure the students feel they are a part of a family.
Upward Bound programs exist across the country, helping low income and first-generation students feel capable in pursuing a college degree and succeeding in doing so. Involvement with the program can begin as early as a student’s freshman year of high school, and students continue to receive support for five years after high school graduation.
CU’s program focuses specifically on Native American students, building up a long history of community involvement that has helped students find out about the program through word of mouth.
“These students have such incredible resiliency, and they are brilliant, wonderful, and are going to be doing such amazing things in the future,” said Assistant Director Héctor Ramírez.