Paul Quinn College may have lost accreditation – a potentially fatal blow to the 137-year-old institution – but its president is stubbornly optimistic about the prospects for survival.
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools voted to strip Paul Quinn College of its accreditation, citing financial and academic troubles. That means its students cannot receive federal or state financial aid, and the college cannot award degrees.
Sorrell said the college, which ended last semester with 375 students, will appeal the association's ruling. Until that appeal is decided, the school can still award degrees and class credits.
"Paul Quinn College is open and in the business of educating our students," he said.
The accrediting agency determined that Paul Quinn lacks sufficient financial resources or stability. It also cited problems with "institutional effectiveness," which focuses on whether students learn what they are supposed to.
While losing accreditation is a major blow, it's not necessarily a death sentence. Texas College, another historically black institution in Tyler, lost its seal of approval in the mid-1990s but regained it a few years later.
The historically black college, which is affiliated with the African Methodist Episcopal Church, has struggled for years with finances, academics and leadership. Under Sorrell, the school has seen spikes in applications and donations. Enrollment has dropped, although Sorrell said that's largely because of tougher academic standards.
Paul Quinn College moved from Waco to the former campus of Bishop College in 1990. Bishop had closed in 1988 after filing for bankruptcy and losing its accreditation.
Dallas businessman Comer Cottrell bought the 130-acre Bishop property, thinking it might be a good site for educating troubled youths. The idea didn't pan out, and Paul Quinn approached him about relocating to Dallas, he said.
Cottrell, who sits on the school's board of trustees, said he was saddened by the loss of accreditation. "We desperately need a college of that type here," he said. "That's how you develop leaders for your community."
Cottrell said the school's governance has hampered operations for years. "We've always had preachers in leadership," he said of the board. "They don't know what they're doing."
Board chairman Gregory Ingram, presiding prelate of the area African Methodist Episcopal Church, rejected such talk. "That's absolutely wrong and an unfair statement," he said. The current board is a "mosaic of interest groups" helping the school rebound, he said. "What prevailed in the past is not the Paul Quinn today."
Cottrell also blamed Dallas' black leaders and residents for the school's troubles. "It's our responsibility," he said. "There's enough money in the Dallas African-American community to take care of that campus."
Boarded store fronts, vacant land and aging homes dominate the scene along and around Simpson Stuart Road, where Paul Quinn is located. Development of that part of southeastern Oak Cliff has long been an unrealized vision.