Offering admission to students’ friends and family, an HBCU hopes to lift a whole community

During what appeared to be a regular campus visit to Paul Quinn College in Dallas, Texas, over four hundred students from the Fort Worth Independent School District were surprised with acceptance letters—not only for themselves but also for two additional friends or family members. The announcement was part of a new admission policy at the historically Black college in which Pell Grant-eligible students with a GPA of 3.0 or above can choose two family members or friends to attend with them. Participating family and friends will take courses online or through the university’s credentialing and upskilling program, PQCx, rather than attend classes on campus, allowing them to work according to their own schedules and avoid student debt, which has long been a priority for Paul Quinn, the nation’s first urban work college.

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

The new admissions policy is less about boosting student enrollment and more about building a college-going culture, leaders say. “Our goal is to eradicate intergenerational poverty,” Michael Sorrell, president of Paul Quinn, says.

A college admissions policy with a broader reach

Paul Quinn’s new admission policy aims to empower not only students but also the communities that raised them. Students who are the first in their families to attend college are on a mission to raise both themselves and their families out of intergenerational poverty. Achieving that goal is easier when other family members work alongside them, Sorrell believes.

To start, leaders at Paul Quinn are focusing on five high schools in the Fort Worth Independent School District, according to Inside Higher Ed. Eighty-five percent of that district’s students and their families live below the poverty line, and Black students make up a quarter of the district. Jerry Moore, the District’s chief of schools, says this program is “an opportunity to really change a community.”

A history of innovation

This initiative is characteristic of Paul Quinn, which has a track record of introducing unique programs tailored to its needs, The Texas Tribune reports. Originally founded in Austin, Texas, in 1872 by African Methodist Episcopal Church leaders to educate formerly enslaved people and their descendants, Paul Quinn was the first urban work college in the nation and began expanding its model to additional sites in 2018.

Like the other eight federally funded U.S. work colleges, Paul Quinn has a predominantly low-income student body. Ninety-seven percent of its students are Black and Latinx, and 80 percent are Pell Grant-eligible. All students are required to have an on-campus job or be employed by a partner through their Corporate Work Program so that students graduate with minimal debt and significant work experience.

With Paul Quinn’s new admissions program, Sorrell celebrates another first for the college and for higher education. “We realized we could do something different,” he says. “We don’t have to subscribe to the same methodologies over and over again.”

Robert Palmer, professor and chair of educational leadership and policy studies at Howard University, believes Paul Quinn’s admission policy might encourage parents to pursue a college education, as well. “Imagine that support system, that energy, that enthusiasm, that bond that will allow both the family member and the student to complete college,” he says.

A new start for first-gen students and their families

Engaging family and friends also could help address the stress, isolation, pressure, and guilt some first-generation students feel when they leave their families and communities to attend college, Sorrell says. “We set up first-generation college students to be heroes, and that’s a lot of pressure,” he explains.

He expects that Paul Quinn’s new initiative will help students feel connected to their communities throughout their college experience and know that their communities are rising with them.

For Ke’shawn Rubell, a senior at Eastern Hills High School, the offer to attend Paul Quinn with family was “amazing.” As an incoming first-generation college student, he recalls how hard he worked to chart a new course for himself and his family. “My mother was working job to job, and my brother, he was in and out of jail, so it was just me going to school. That took a big toll on me,” Rubbell says. “It changed my mindset mentally, knowing that I need to make a change.” Rubell tells The Texas Tribune he would ask his brother and mother to attend college with him.

Trenton Garder, a senior at O. D. Wyatt High School, was also “very excited” to be accepted to an HBCU and plans to ask his older brother to come attend, as well. “They told us they had an announcement, but I didn’t think it was going to be this big,” Gardener explained to Inside Higher Ed. “Everyone cheered and clapped. Everyone was extremely excited about this.”

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