In the span of months, Paul Quinn College has received $1 million from the Strada Education Network to expand its Urban Work College model, its students have scored an invitation from Michelle Obama to attend her book tour stop in Dallas, and is preparing to send its soccer team to compete for a national title.
What makes the small, private HBCU in Dallas’ suburban outskirts a giant in HBCU culture in growth, philanthropy and brand recognition? Part of the answer is simple; the school has a dynamic president who has personal stake in all of PQC’s major initiatives.
But that element is complementary of a larger point about the HBCU business model. Everything that HBCUs need to do to thrive is countercultural to higher education practices and traditional HBCU operational norms. Paul Quinn is in the midst of its greatest financial, cultural, social and political success for going totally against the grain of HBCU administrative standards, and for having great luck in the areas which are out of its control but which have a direct impact on its destiny.
PQC is located in the footprint of one of America’s fastest-growing regions. Cities in and around the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex are home to established and start-up companies in booming industries like real estate and tech,giving PQC more options for philanthropic appeals and outreach on top of the region’s established oil and agricultural wealth.
And that’s on top of the growing list of options for internships and careers Paul Quinn students can earn without leaving the radius of their campus community.
Federal enrollment numbers from 2016 indicate that Hispanic students comprised more than 20 percent of Paul Quinn’s student body, giving the school a unique advantage in recruiting and programming for a diverse minority student base which also comfortably fits with its HBCU mission. As black and Latino students share many of the same experiences, values and racial backstories, there is no major departure in meeting their needs from academic, cultural or sociopolitical themes in suburban Dallas.
Many look at Paul Quinn’s enrollment and size as a disadvantage, but they are one of the few institutions in the HBCU sector, with Spelman College, Fisk University, Hampton University and others which can economically afford to keep enrollment small in order to focus resources on graduation rates and post-graduation job placement while cultivating institutional identity. Paul Quinn is the model for the kind of money magnetizing, headline-grabbing, debt avoidant institution which we’d like to see at our larger HBCUs, but can’t do so because of their economic needs and strategic plans which call for campuses to annually grow by thousands of students.
Some campuses cannot help their location and the changes taking place beyond their communities. Schools like North Carolina A&T State University are thriving because of historic public investments. These things can change over a course of years, depending upon who is or isn’t elected and how much political will is behind resources for black folks.
But Paul Quinn is receiving virtually no public funding and is growing by ignoring most conventional higher education wisdom. While colleges are emphasizing STEM training, PQC is the nation’s first historically black work college. While most campuses are looking to break than 10,000 enrollment mark, PQC is satisfied with their eyes focused on 2,000 students who will not have to worry about how to pay for college.
While most campuses are fundraising to support student scholarships and endowment, Paul Quinn is attracting money to boost initiatives self-sustaining campus farm or the work college program; areas which can earn their own revenue through public and private partnerships.
Paul Quinn College is unencumbered by higher ed or HBCU norms, and that’s why the school is growing while fears are collecting about how many campuses we may lose in the next decade. We’ll lose a number of struggling campuses because state legislators stopped investing, leaders did not adapt to clear and present danger, or a combination of both.
But they won’t fail because the sector lacks a working model. And because of that, maybe we should all realize that failure or closure doesn’t have to be a certain outcome if we are willing to get smaller, more flexible and more creative to accommodate the world around us, regardless of how much or how fast it is changing.