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Renaissance at Dallas Historically Black College


By BJ Austin, KERA News

Dallas, TX – Paul Quinn College, the small, historically-black college in South Dallas, has not taken a serious hit because of the slowing economy, as some larger colleges and universities have. Paul Quinn's President says they're used to doing a lot with less. KERA's BJ Austin visited the campus on media day - part of Black History Month activities.

Michael Sorrell has been president of Paul Quinn College for two years. He inherited a college on probation, with a legacy of financial mismanagement and prosecution. A former Dallas City Councilmember was found guilty last year of stealing 20 thousand dollars from the college. Paul Quinn opened its doors two years later with more than one thousand students. Today, there are 375. President Sorrell says Paul Quinn is undergoing a renaissance, academically and financially. They're out of debt and are raising money.

Beginning a campus tour, Sorrell says tougher times may come, but Paul Quinn is situated well to handle them.

Sorrell: The difference for us is we didn't have that much to begin with. So when you don't have much, you learn to manage your resources differently. And, it's made us better able to withstand the change in the economic fortunes.

Austin: Are you worried about the downturn, and what that may mean to your fundraising?

Sorrell: There are still a lot of rich people in America. The difference between giving money to Paul Quinn is that every dollar has an enormous impact.

Sorrell proudly leads the tour of new features that are commonplace on most campuses, but new and exciting here. He says the old one was bad really bad. And in January, the school opened a fitness center, with treadmills and weight equipment. They hope to expand the fitness center in the next year and a half, and open it to predominantly low-income neighborhood residents for a nominal fee. And, Sorrell intends to spread the Paul Quinn renaissance "off campus".

Sorrell: We're not going to fix the school and not help this community. So what we want more than anything else, to be frank with you, is reinvestment dollars in this community.

This year, Paul Quinn has begun a partnership with Habitat for Humanity. Any student who graduates within five years, with a 3.0 grade point average, will be eligible for a Habitat home. BUT it must be in the predominantly African American community surrounding the school. Sorrell says he's tired of developers saying there aren't enough college graduates in the neighborhood to warrant investment.

The academic revival on campus began two years ago with a "business-casual dress code" and a crack down on slackers. Sorrell says Paul Quinn recruits students like other schools recruit athletes. Freshman Patrick Hillard, of Fort Worth, is one of them. Hillard says his SAT scores were high enough to grab the attention of recruiters from TCU, UTA, University of Memphis and elsewhere. But historically black college Paul Quinn captured his imagination.

Hillard: I had gotten a call from the President almost weekly the last couple of months of high school: checking on me to make sure my grades were going well. I just wanted to go to an HBCU cause I had heard so much about how close the relationship was with the teachers; how you learn more there about yourself than just what you were majoring in.

That's exactly what President Michael Sorrell wants to hear.

Sorrell: Every decision we make is made with the vision that we will become one of the nation's great small colleges. Quite frankly we think North Texas deserves one. And we're gonna be that school.

President Sorrell says next year, they're making adjustments to the school calendar to make it easier for students to work and go to school. He says that's going to be increasingly important in the changing economy.

Send E-mail to BJ Austin