In 2007, when Sorrell started as president of Paul Quinn, a historically black college in Dallas, the institution was on the brink of being shut down. Founded in 1872 at the height of Reconstruction, the school was losing students, and the campus, which housed 15 abandoned buildings, was “closer to a garbage dump than a grocery store,” Sorrell says.
Sorrell quickly set about challenging perceptions, both external and internal, by giving Paul Quinn a bigger vision of itself. Under his leadership, the football field was turned into a farm. He solicited the school’s first-ever seven-figure gift from a donor and used it to raze that campus blight, and he emphasized the recruitment of students from out of state to expand what’s now a 500-plus-member student body.
He also took aim at problems that ail all of higher education—the cost, and the disconnect with what comes after. Paul Quinn is now a federally recognized work college; students get jobs with area companies, helping them to pay tuition and prepare for life postgraduation. Sorrell, who calls this the “new urban college model,” now plans to open Paul Quinn campuses nationwide.