Local College President on Forbes' List of World's 50 Greatest Leaders - NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth

Local College President on Forbes' List of World's 50 Greatest Leaders

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    Local College President Making a Name For Himself

    Michael Sorrell, president of Paul Quinn College, is making a name for himself. (Published Thursday, July 12, 2018)

    North Texas is home to roughly two dozen Fortune 500 companies, but only one Texan made Fortune's list of the World's 50 Greatest Leaders.

    Michael Sorrell is the president of Paul Quinn College, a historically black college just south of Downtown Dallas. He's held that position since 2007, making him the longest serving president in the college's 146 year history.

    When he arrived, enrollment had dropped to just 151 students. Many doubted the university would even survive.

    "I mean, that's a fact," Sorrell said. "We were 18 months from closing. People used to follow me down the aisle in the grocery store and want to know how we were going to make it, and say that I never should have taken this job."

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    He cut tuition and board costs from roughly $24,000 a year, down to $15,000 a year.

    He turned the university into an urban work college model, which allows his students more freedom to work and attend classes.

    He launched a dress code, that requires all male students to wear a collared shirt to class.

    And he turned the university's football field into a farm, which raises organic produce to combat a federally-recognized food desert.

    While the past 11 years haven't be easy, Sorrell's taken Paul Quinn College to new heights.

    More than 550 students will attend the university this fall.

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    "Our enrollment, candidly, is being artificially held down because we are out of living space on this campus," he added. "We've had to implement waiting lists because we couldn't manage the demand of students who want to attend the college."

    It's nothing short of remarkable, said fellow educator, Bob Mong.

    "Dr. Sorrell saved Paul Quinn," said Mong, president of the University of North Texas at Dallas, a university less than four miles away from Paul Quinn.

    "You walk around the campus and you ask the kids where they're from and you hear, 'I'm from D.C., I'm from south-central LA, I'm from Brooklyn.' That's Dr. Sorrell. He's captured their imagination," Mong added.

    Sorrell credits the success to those around him, but his office is full of awards and honors that prove he's the reason why.

    Including the Fortune magazine list of the World's 50 Greatest Leaders. He's in good company.

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    "Bill and Melinda Gates, Oprah Winfrey," he joked.

    Sorrell came in at number 34, right above actress Reese Witherspoon.

    "It's a pretty humbling list to be a part of," Sorrell added.

    His wife was impressed, too, though she didn't let it get to his head.

    "I got home later that night and she pointed out that I needed to take out the garbage," he recalled with a big smile. "I said wait a minute, I'm one of the 50 greatest leaders in the world. This should take me out of some chores, right? No way. She was just like, 'Garbage.'"

    Sorrell's resume includes a law degree from Duke University. He worked for President Bill Clinton, on his race initiatives. He was even part of a group that tried to buy the Memphis Grizzlies.

    "You want to know what motivates me," he asked. "When I was 17-years-old, my high school basketball coach at our banquet said some things that were really hurtful. He said we'll look at this guy's career and we'll think woulda, coulda, shoulda. He never will become the player that he should have been.  I decided at that moment in time, that no one would ever be able to look at me again and think that I didn't give the most out of my ability that was possible."

    The majority of the students at Paul Quinn College understand hardship.

    "When you visit the high schools that your students go to and some of them don't have heat, or you recruit students and they're homeless, so you have no idea where to send the admissions letter," he said. "When you see these things, it changes you."

    And that coach Sorrell had in high school changed him, too.

    "It taught me a very valuable lesson about power and who you allow to have power over your life," he added. "I never forgot that."

    Leaders aren't defined by awards.

    Sorrell's honors just prove he's on the right track.

    "We're just warming up," he said. "I haven't even taken the good stuff off the shelf yet."

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