From Diplomas to Doctorates – A Book Review

Reviewed by Dr. Brenda L. H. Marina and Michael Terrell

From Diplomas to Doctorates: The Success of Black Women in Higher Education and its Implications For Equal Educational Opportunities for All was written by V. Barbara Bush, Crystal Renee Chambers, and MaryBeth Walpole in 2009. The book was published by Stylus Publishing and gives a feminist opinion on how African American and other women of color have faced academic challenges in the university environment. In-depth research that includes tables, charts, and graphs enhance the theme of the book by providing facts to support the authors’ professional opinions.

The purpose of the book is to examine the path that women of color have taken in seeking doctoral degrees. The authors assert that by obtaining doctoral degrees, African American women enhance their opportunities to secure faculty positions at colleges and universities and, as a result, to aid other youth and women of color on their journey to a degree. However, this book is not just intended for African American women, but for all women and men as well. It serves as an encouragement to invest in and support the educational lives of young women, as the authors make note that that support from peers and other mentors is critical for success at every juncture on the way to the doctorate degree.

The Table of Contents details three levels of development necessary for a doctoral degree: the Pre-College experience and Transition, Undergraduate experience, and the Graduate experience. By developing the book in this chronologic sequence, the reader is able to fathom how students of color in general and African American female students in specific are affected by the college experience and how this experience impacts their ability to acquire a doctoral degree. The thesis of the book clearly conveys the message that an increase in the investment of women of color and their educational pursuits will produce a more educated group capable of obtaining the highest of degrees and making even more significant contributions.

Research was presented in a narrative and argumentative fashion. Students at various stages in their educational journey illustrated how they were influenced to attend college and why they stayed on the journey. The authors contend that when there is an intentional and continuous investment in African American female students beginning at the high school level, they tend to be more successful in the university environment. This notion is presented with specific research from the National Educational Longitudinal Study from 1988, to demonstrate that “it is profitable for teachers, administrators, and counselors to engage this population actively” (Chambers, 2009, p. 49) so that Black women achieve high standards for themselves.

The book presents the African American female experience during high school, undergraduate studies, as well as graduate studies to trace their matriculation. Other examples of this theme are in the chapter entitled “An Asset or an Obstacle: The Power of Peers in African American Women’s College Transition”, where several narratives are utilized to clarify the positive and negative influences of peers at predominately White universities. Students gave examples of the positive and negative influences of their peers during the pursuit of their college education. An example of such an influence is Mercedes’ account of negative talk which encroached upon her ability to get adequate rest:

“Like, I’d try to go to bed like around two o’clock [in the morning], but I wouldn’t be
asleep, I would just be sitting up there hearing this and hearing that. Looking at the clock- three o’clock, four o’clock, six o’clock. I might fall asleep somewhere during that, but it wasn’t for more than an hour. God, it’s stressful when you can’t sleep.” (p. 64)

An example of the argumentative nature of the text were demonstrated in the debate of whether or not attending an HBCU (Historically Black College or University) or a PWI (Predominately White Institution) benefits or hinders African American students. This discourse attempts to convince the reader that African American students who attend HBCU’s fare better academically than those who attend PWI’s.

From Diplomas to Doctorates provided thought-provoking information on a topic that has been minimally researched in the academic and social community. The U.S. Department of Education reported in 2007 that Black women earned “7.4% of all doctoral degrees” and these were earned by females who attended 2-year universities. Because of the high costs of going to college, students are often discouraged from attending four-year institutions which can disadvantage the chances of desired doctoral degrees that many women need and seek. Such information calls attention to the need to encourage students to pursue additional advanced degrees after transferring from a 2-year university.

We agree with the authors that there can be great advantages for African American females and other women of diverse backgrounds to attend these smaller school systems. It is suggested that attending a two-year college or university is a “financially smart way” to attend post-secondary school as well as a way to strengthen a student’s basic skills.

This book adequately provided relevant facts to support the theme of the book; however, the authors consistently mentioned throughout that more research is needed in several areas related to this topic. Overall, the book offers a staunch defense for the position that African American females need judicious attention on the way to obtaining higher degrees such as their doctorate. Through the reading of this book, our ideas about underrepresentation of faculty of color on college campuses were reinforced as we considered the fact that students often miss out on the experience of having a woman and person of color as a professor. The “doctorate degree‟ should not be under-emphasized, as it can lead to a career in the university classroom and can increase confidence in students of color when they have such role models.

We highly recommend this book as a special topics text in for Women’s Studies programs or Higher Education administration programs. This topic also lends itself to the discourse in Educational Leadership programs, Multicultural Education courses, and mentoring programs. This is not a typical topic of discussion because such programs often focus tends on the success of African American males in the university setting. Finally, we emphasize that this book will be of interest to both males and females of any race who are interested in investing in the future of our American knowledge economy and the global knowledge economy.


Bush, B., Chambers, C., & Walpole, B. (2009). From Diplomas to Doctorates: The Success of Black Women in Higher Education and its Implications For Equal Educational Opportunities for All. Sterling Virginia: Stylus

This hardcover book can be purchased for $69. 95, however, the paperback version sells for a modest $24.95.


About the Reviewers:
Dr. Brenda Marina is an Assistant Professor for Educational Leadership at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Georgia. Her doctorate degree is in Secondary Education and she also has a Masters degree in Higher Education Administration. Dr. Marina has worked for the past sixteen years in higher education and Higher education administration as a coordinator for educational centers, an academic advisor, and as an assistant dean. Her career as an educator includes teaching undergraduate students, graduate students and has served as an internship mentor for students pursuing Higher Education Administration degrees. Dr. Marina’s research interests include: Leadership though Mentoring, Diversity in Mentoring, Women in Leadership, Multicultural Competence in Higher Education, and Global Education Issues.

Michael S. Terrell is originally from Washington, D.C. He earned his BS in Broadcasting, M.Ed. in Higher Education Administration and is currently finishing his Educational Specialist degree in Educational Leadership at Georgia Southern University. He has a huge interest in working with college-aged adults and minority populations. Michael works as a Graduate Program Advisor in Atlanta.