Sorrell expects that the work curriculum will only help retention. The We Over Me Farm, still Sorrell’s signature move as president, is the keystone of his model. While at first it may seem like another example of work-college “drudgery,” students don’t only labor on the farm—they also work on the marketing and business sides, helping to solicit donations and make sales. While some of the produce is used in the dining halls, much of it is sold to Dallas restaurants and grocery stores along with larger corporate buyers like the Dallas Cowboys. And at least 10 percent of the produce every year is donated to charities in the school’s Highland Hills neighborhood, which sits in the middle of a food desert.
That’s where Sorrell’s plan to “end urban poverty” comes in. The work-college model goes hand in hand with his idea of small urban colleges as “anchor institutions”; even a small school provides economic investment, employment opportunities, and cultural resources in inner-city neighborhoods. Thanks in large part to the success of the farm, for instance, a new grocery store is opening up across the street. Paul Quinn students organized to successfully fight off a city plan to significantly expand a nearby landfill farther into Highland Hills. Students marched multiple times, wearing “I AM NOT TRASH” T-shirts, and eventually Dallas relented and threw away the landfill plan. Now Sorrell is lobbying city officials for a light-rail stop in the neighborhood, which would serve his students (who often have to take difficult bus routes or drive to their jobs around the region) as well as Highland Hills commuters. And while Paul Quinn may be gated, it can still provide an artistic as well as economic impact: In addition to lectures and symposiums that are open to the public, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra plays a free show on campus every year, which Sorrell calls his favorite event the school puts on.
–Matt Connolly, Bringing a College Back from the Brink