Nation’s first urban work college launches consortium to expand model

Dallas, Texas-based Paul Quinn College—the nation’s first urban work college—has announced plans to create a network of urban institutions interested in adopting the work-college model to curb intergenerational poverty. The college is expanding its model to a new site in nearby Plano, Texas, and will partner with two additional schools in Michigan and Ohio.

Proponents say work-college model has potential for lower-cost education

There are currently nine federally designated work colleges, mostly located in rural areas, according to a Pacific Standard story produced jointly with The Hechinger Report. Students at these schools tend to come from low-income families and work throughout their college experience to offset the cost of tuition and fees. Most U.S. undergraduates work during college, but the work-college model allows for more seamless integration of students’ classroom and experiential learning, says Michael J. Sorrell, Ed.D., president of Paul Quinn College. Work colleges track students’ job performance alongside their academic progress.

The model also helps students graduate with less debt. At Paul Quinn—where, in 2017-18, 72 percent of students received Pell grants and annual cost of attendance ran $14,495—students can graduate with less than $10,000 in debt, officials say. A 2012 Work Colleges Consortium report estimated that students at work colleges owed $10,000 less at graduation than graduates of public colleges and $15,000 less than graduates of private nonprofit schools.

Urban location facilitates corporate partnerships

Because the work-college model originated in rural communities, students’ work responsibility typically has been farming-related and located on campus. Paul Quinn—which is also the first historically Black work college—in March 2017 brought the model into an urban setting, which enables the college to offer off-campus work through partnerships with nearby corporations.

The college expects its new site in Plano, Texas, a region that added more than 114,000 jobs between 2010 and 2015, will further streamline students’ experience. Students at Paul Quinn College-Plano will attend classes on designated days in easily accessible locations hosted by the school’s corporate partners.

Consortium aims for rapid adoption, expansion of model

In pushing for more urban work colleges, Paul Quinn officials point to shifting demographics in higher education and say the model will “make access to wealth-building possible” for the nation’s growing number of Pell grant students. “We are aggressively pursuing a world where our vision for higher education becomes the norm,” President Sorrell told Diverse Issues in Higher Education, adding that “the population we are serving doesn’t have the luxury of time.”

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