College President Paul Quinn reflects on the past year, looks ahead


A year after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, students at Paul Quinn College in Dallas, Texas, are still working through virtual learning.

While attending the Urban Work School, Paul Quinn’s students spend approximately 16 hours per week working in corporate internships in addition to taking courses. President Michael sorrell says the existing hybrid model made it easier to adjust to in-person and distance learning.

“When they return, the students will come back to a school where there are three new buildings. There are new university programs, ”he says. “It will just be a whole different experience because we made the best use of that time.”

But helping students find jobs during the pandemic has been a challenge with so many businesses closed, Sorrell says. The college has changed to help students gain experience with useful computer programs and work on emotional intelligence through training – but it recognizes there is no substitute for hands-on experience. of an internship.

About 85% of historically black college students receive Pell Grants. Paul Quinn’s Urban Work College program has helped some students reduce the loan debt problem from $ 40,000 to $ 15,000, with a goal of $ 10,000.

Colleges need to care for students from underserved communities instead of taking advantage of them, Sorrell says.

“Part of that is not leaving people with unmanageable debts and then directing them to careers where they will never pay for it,” he says. “At Paul Quinn, we believe in looking at eradicating poverty from a generational perspective.”

Sorrell uses his own life story as an example. Her father grew up in a one-parent home in New Orleans and did not go to college, while her mother attended college and graduate school, as did her maternal grandmother.

After getting married, her parents invested in what turned into a successful business.

“Because my dad came home smelling ribs every night, I never came home smelling ribs,” he says. “In a generation, his sacrifice took us from a family where for his part, a father who did not go to university to a son who is university president.

Sorrell agrees with education advocates who say the pandemic may serve as a time for colleges to rethink the admissions process through means such as standardized testing. But he points out that moving away from SATs and ACTs could harm students with mediocre academic profiles whose intellectual gift manifests itself in a high test score.

During his 15 years as president of Paul Quinn College, Sorrell says the landscape of higher education has changed. The idea for global services – comprehensive support designed to help students succeed – comes from HBCUs, he notes.

“These schools had the job of educating a whole race of people who had nothing,” he says. “The only way forward was for these institutions to be everything for their students, hence global services.”

The conversation around student debt often plays against students, he says. While students shouldn’t be forced to take on “crushing amounts of debt,” Sorrell believes that taking out a manageable amount of loans is an investment in itself.

“A lot of students come to us now and they say, ‘Well, I don’t want to take a loan,’ he says. “Well, that just won’t be possible. Maybe you need to take out $ 10,000 in college loans. “

Sorrell racked up his debts while attending Duke University Law School – but he says he can’t complain about how the investment paid off.

Marcelle Hutchins produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Tinku ray. Allison Hagan adapted it for the web.

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