We’ve had a front-row seat these last 11 years to watch innovative leader and outspoken problem solver Michael Sorrell turn around Paul Quinn College in southern Dallas.
Now the world is taking notice: Sorrell, president of the historically black college, has just been named to Fortune magazine’s 2018 list of the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders. Coming in at No. 34, Sorrell joins the likes of philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates, Apple CEO Tim Cook and Oprah Winfrey in being recognized for groundbreaking approaches to today’s challenges in their respective fields.
It’s a well-deserved honor for Sorrell, whose liberal arts school has become a model for urban higher education done right.
And it’s recognition that Paul Quinn College’s quest to end poverty with its work-college program not only holds promise to transform the historically neglected southern half of our city but has legs to expand to cities everywhere.
Michael Sorrell (Victoria Jackson Photography/ )
When Sorrell, a Chicago native and longtime Dallas resident, took over as president in 2007, Paul Quinn was all but dead. As Fortune noted, "Sorrell quickly set about challenging perceptions, both external and internal, by giving Paul Quinn a bigger vision of itself."
That’s come in the form of diverse offerings, including the nationally recognized program that requires full-time students to work at area companies. They receive real-life experience and tuition assistance that helps them leave college with less than $10,000 in debt. That’s virtually unheard of in this era of ever-increasing tuition costs that saddle most students with tens of thousands of dollars in loans by the time they leave school.
The Fortune ranking also spotlighted Paul Quinn’s much-heralded urban farm, converted from the school’s old football field.
The university, previously stripped of its accreditation and enrolling relatively few students, now boasts an enrollment of 500 — with a waiting list. About 40 percent of the students are from outside Texas.
"It’s encouraging," Sorrell says of making the Fortune list. "It says that people have looked at us, kicked our tires, and determined we’re doing what we’re supposed to do. It’s validation that our concept is not just transforming this part of this city, but what we’re doing has promise for the world."
This newspaper has long championed Paul Quinn, along with the University of North Texas at Dallas, as important linchpins to southern Dallas’ success. With plenty of available land in the area for investment, successful campuses help potential businesses see increased opportunities.
The area still has more than its share of challenges. Only last year did a grocery store open on Simpson Stuart Road near Paul Quinn. And the school won’t be able to accommodate additional students until more quality housing, restaurants and other amenities are developed on and near the campus.
But that’s not slowing down Sorrell, whose goal is to see the new urban model of Paul Quinn replicated nationwide. Based on all that he has accomplished so far, count us among those who fully expect he will succeed.
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