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Will Texas’ Paul Quinn become the first HBCU in California?

The historically Black college is exploring the possibility of a West Coast campus to begin creating a national network of schools.

By Valeria Olivares

President Michael J. Sorrell
Paul Quinn President Michael J. Sorrell announced the formation of an exploratory committee to potentially open a campus in California — which would create the first historically Black college in the state — during the college’s 150-year anniversary celebration on Friday, April 1, 2022.(Lola Gomez / Staff Photographer)

Dallas’ Paul Quinn College wants to be the first historically Black college in California.

President Michael Sorrell, who made the announcement as Paul Quinn celebrated its 150-year anniversary, said on Friday that the school is launching a committee that will explore the idea of expanding the college into the West Coast. California only has one such graduate school in Los Angeles, the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science.

“The dream was always to create a network of urban work colleges,” Sorrell said. “That’s what we’re going to do … We will become a system, that’s absolutely where we’re headed.”

Officials are specifically considering a campus in Oakland, part of the Bay Area. The school will begin a feasibility study this summer, but officials have not yet finalized the members of the committee.

Loren Taylor, a city councilman in Oakland who is running for mayor, got to know the college while it was recruiting students in the area.

Nearly half of students at Oakland Unified School District are Hispanic or Latino and about 22% are Black, according to the latest data from the California Department of Education. And about 40% are from families struggling financially. Before the pandemic, about 58% of the district’s students enrolled in college, compared to nearly 66% of students across California, according to data from the 2017-18 school year.

Paul Quinn is known for actively recruiting students from historically underserved, low-income neighborhoods that many other colleges overlook. After getting to know the school and its leaders, Taylor said he’s “overwhelmed” at the way that it leads its students toward success, adding that his constituents will benefit greatly from its presence.

Historically Black colleges and universities, such as Paul Quinn, “came about because of the community recognizing that we can’t rely on others who aren’t connected, aren’t deeply ingrained into our community to really educate and take us to that next level,” he said.

A group of African Methodist Episcopal Church preachers founded Paul Quinn, then called Connectional High School and Institute, in 1872 in a church basement in Austin. It originally aimed to educate freed slaves.

The campus was moved to a former slave plantation in Waco before settling in southern Dallas.

Paul Quinn was on the brink of closure about 15 years ago. In efforts to stabilize its finances, leaders worked on creating partnerships with other colleges and companies to provide revenue and support that allows it to not rely so heavily on tuition to function.

University President Michael J. Sorrell
Paul Quinn University President Michael J. Sorrell talked about the school’s next initiatives during the celebration of its 150-year anniversary on Friday, April 1, 2022.(Lola Gomez / Staff Photographer)

In 2008, the school had about 441 students and one of the country’s lowest graduation rates, which was lower than 1%. It has since designed programs — such as a series of summer classes for incoming freshmen and free mental health clinics — to support students, many of whom are the first to attend college in their families.

The school has prioritized providing its students with career and internship opportunities that help them gain experience and pay for college.

In 2017, Paul Quinn was federally recognized as one of the country’s nine work colleges — a designation for institutions that engage students in the integration of work, learning and service. It’s the only school of its kind found in an urban setting, and campus leaders want to expand that model to Oakland.

Sorrell, the longest-serving president in Paul Quinn’s history, said the model has helped reduce debt for the college’s students from $40,000 to less than $10,000 and improve its graduation and retention rates by nearly 40%.

The urban work college model is “lifting our students into career opportunities they never would have imagined,” Sorrell said. “The model works, so we’re going to take it on the road.”

And as Paul Quinn seeks such an ambitious expansion, the school launched a five-year fundraising campaign to further support its students and build its endowment.

Meanwhile, during Friday’s anniversary celebration, the college also surprised 225 Lancaster ISD graduating seniors with college acceptance letters for themselves and two of their family members or friends.

President Michael J. Sorrell
Paul Quinn President Michael J. Sorrell announced a partnership with Lancaster ISD to admit 225 graduating seniors and two of their family members or friends on Friday, April 1, 2022. (Lola Gomez / Staff Photographer)

The automatic admission is offered to every Lancaster senior who is Pell Grant-eligible, which is based on financial need, with at least a 3.0 grade average. Family members who choose to attend can opt for online courses or a Paul Quinn program that teaches new skills and provides credentials.

The college announced a similar partnership with Fort Worth in February.

The DMN Education Lab deepens the coverage and conversation about urgent education issues critical to the future of North Texas.

The DMN Education Lab is a community-funded journalism initiative, with support from The Beck Group, Bobby and Lottye Lyle, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Dallas Regional Chamber, Deedie Rose, Garrett and Cecilia Boone, The Meadows Foundation, Solutions Journalism Network, Southern Methodist University and Todd A. Williams Family Foundation. The Dallas Morning News retains full editorial control of the Education Lab’s journalism.

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