#NACAC20: Current Crises Demand New Mindset for Colleges

The work of colleges and universities has never been more urgent, education leader Michael Sorrell told attendees Thursday at the 2020 NACAC Virtual Conference.

In these unprecedented times, higher education institutions have a duty to both students and democratic society, said Sorrell, president of Paul Quinn College (TX). History will judge the ways in which US colleges respond to the coronavirus pandemic, the country’s continued shameful treatment of Black people, and the actions of the current presidential administration, Sorrell said at the conference’s closing session.

He urged attendees to look at what their institution could do differently in this time crisis, which has hit minorities particularly hard.

“I am an advocate of higher education, but I’m also critical of it,” said Sorrell. “I don’t think we’ve done enough, and I don’t think we are who we need to be. If we are honest, we produced the people who produced this moment. We need to fix it.”

Sorrell joined Paul Quinn College 13 years ago. He is the longest-serving president in the history of the school, an HBCU where more than 80 percent of students receive Pell Grants. The college has garnered national attention for its innovative work program. The average Paul Quinn student works 15 hours a week, reducing their need for student debt while building valuable skills for the future. And on their way to a four-year degree, Paul Quinn students complete short certificate programs allowing them to become more marketable in the workforce.

“This is who we are, this is an example of meeting the needs of the people that you have in front of you,” he said. “Society doesn’t need another college that aspires to be one of the 40 schools that claim they are in the Top 20. That’s not what people need. What people need are schools and leaders that see them, that appreciate them, that respect them, that love them, and are unselfish with them. That is nation-building while a nation burns.”

Black and brown students, in particular, need strong advocates, said Sorrell, who is African American. Admission professionals and others in education can serve in that capacity.

“What our children need is they need hope; they need advocates—they need people who stand up for them,” Sorrell said.

He later added: “We let way too much talent go undeveloped and because of that people struggle.”

Recordings of all conference sessions will be available for purchase through Playback now. Registered attendees can view conference content on-demand for free until Oct. 31. All sessions will be available to registered attendees 24 hours after the session occurs.

Mary Stegmeir is a freelance writer and editor. She formerly served as NACAC’s assistant director for editorial content and outreach.

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