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Paul Quinn College showing thought leadership with HBCU Town Hall

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By Nature Sargent

Paul Quinn

Paul Quinn President Michael Sorrell (L) listens to James Ragland of the Dallas Morning News (R)

President Michael Sorrell and members of the incoming freshman class of Paul Quinn College welcomed Dr. John S. Wilson, Jr., Executive Director for White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities to campus this past Wednesday, August 11th.  Dr. Wilson was here to participate in the Town Hall meeting concerning Executive Order 13532, signed by President Obama February 26, 2010.  James Ragland of the Dallas Morning News served as moderator

What is the White House Initiative on HBCUs?

Executive Order 13532 is the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities.  This initiative was originally signed by President Jimmy Carter in 1980.  Then, the point of the program was to strengthen the capacity of HBCUs to provide quality education as well as overcome the effects of discriminatory treatment.

In 1981, President Ronald Reagan established the Initiative and expanded the previous program.  In 1989, President George Bush signed an executive order establishing a Presidential Board to advise the president and the department of education on best practices to strengthen these institutions of great value.

In 1993, President Bill Clinton signed an Executive Order requiring a senior level executive in each agency have oversight in implementing the order and that the Office of Management and Budget be involved in monitoring the order.

In 2002, President George W. Bush transferred the initiative to the Office of the Secretary in the Department of Education.  Prior to that time, it had been housed in the Department’s Office of Postsecondary Education.

How is the current Executive Order going to affect HBCUs?

The order will no doubt strengthen the capacity of HBCUs to participate in Federal programs.  Currently, HBCUs account for about 3% of the 120 billion dollars in available federal funding given to all American colleges and universities annually.  The Federal Agency Plans include indentifying programs and initiatives in which HBCUs may be underserved or underused and improve their participation.

The effort will also foster enduring private-sector initiatives and public-private partnerships while promoting specific areas of academic research.  It will improve the availability, communication and quality of information concerning HBCUs to inform public policy.

There will be a 5% or 13 million dollar increase for the Strengthening HBCUs program and support for the $85 million in mandatory funding for HBCUs in the pending Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act.

$20.5 million for the HBCU Capital Financing program to provide access to financing for the repair, renovation, acquisition, construction or demolition of education facilities, instructional equipment, research instrumentation, and physical infrastructure.

$64.5 million for the Strengthening Historically Black Graduate Institution program, a 5% increase will be granted as well as $103 million for a comprehensive science and technology workforce program at the National Science Foundation.  The Pell Grant maximum award was increased by $160 over the 2010 level for a new total of $5,710.

Local Crowd, Local Questions, Local Impact

Dr. John S. Wilson, Jr., Executive Director for White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities

During the Town Hall, there were students, community activists, as well as city and state politicians on hand.  Seventeen year Texas State Senator Royce West was present and asked Dr. Wilson to, “…articulate best practices you’ve seen in public/private partnerships for HBCUs?  Also, with limited resources, how can HBCUs realistically offer [online courses] that?”

Dr. Wilson’s response was that, “Online is necessary and powerful. I’m a fan of online [learning opportunities], its targeted, supplemental but not [a] substitute.  It is a tool.  There are twelve HBCUs online, Hampton is notable among them, but the costs are not prohibitive.”  Dr. Wilson went on to say ” There are partnerships available.  New hire, John Brown will be responsible for assisting with partnerships for HBCUs.”

In response to questions from the crowd about what Paul Quinn College is doing to gets its fair share of the funds available through federal programs and private partnerships,  President Sorrell said he had a number of financially significant and highly evident examples.

President Sorrell spoke about the impact of the $1 million partnership with Trammell S Crow.  Four of thirteen dilapidated buildings on campus have already been demolished.  The remainder are on course to be finished by the end of September, barring the discovery of unmarked gas lines.  Another $500,000 from the Meadows Foundation and $2 million in Capital Improvement will have had immediate impacts on the Quinnite Nation.  The Avenue of Roses is a recent landscaping improvement noted by the president.

It is President Sorrell’s intent to graduate the most excellent communicators in the country and business majors who understand economics, how to make, protect and transfer wealth throughout generations. The other goal is to do so in less than 5 years.

There was a light moment when a member of the community informed President Sorrell there would be 500 students graduating from high school this school year who reside in zip code 75241.  She wanted to know if Paul Quinn, which shares the same zip code, offered zip code scholarships.  His reply?  “We don’t right now.  But I think,” here he starts to press his hands to his head and shoulder and chest, “I feel a zip code scholarship coming over me right now.  I didn’t know we had 500 soon to be graduates in this zip code.  Don’t worry.  Those students will be stalked!”  The crowd roared.  I did too. Sorrell is very engaging and is going to raise a lot of money for the Quinnite Nation.

Ray Gordon of the North Texas Literacy Council wanted to know, “What is the focus on other minority fundraising agencies such as the UNCF?”  Dr. Wilson’s reply detailed his recent speaking engagement at a UNCF fundraiser in Boston.  Additionally he is in close contact with Mike Lomax and Johnnie Taylor of the Thurgood Marshall Fund and works with the NAFEO (National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education).  He made it clear that the federal government is working with already established, respected organizations whose focus is the support of HBCUs and the students who are educated at these venerable institutions.

If you are interested in learning more about the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, its history, executive director, staff and policies, please direct your browser to their website and click the links on the left side of your screen.

Photos by Byron Watters

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