Bright Spots

Paul Quinn College: Defying National Trends in Higher Ed

Bright Spots Blog Series

20 July 2016

National headlines can paint a negative picture of the current and future state of higher education. The average cost of tuition, room and board for private institutions grew 10% from 2010-2015, much faster than inflation. In 2015, 1.7% fewer students completed their degrees within 6 years and fell more heavily in debt than their counterparts the year prior. It may not be surprising then that enrollment into postsecondary programs is down 2% since 2010 as more students and their parents see these sobering statistics in the news.

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) are experiencing even more significant challenges with their financial sustainability and student completion rates, which fall below the national average by about 25 percentage points. However, nestled in Southern Dallas, Paul Quinn College (“PQC”) is defying some of these trends despite what some would view as considerable challenges–implementing innovative practices to reduce tuition, grow enrollment, and help students persist and complete college.

PQC is reducing tuition in a variety of ways, including a student work program and not requiring expensive text books. The college is assisting students to have academic and personal success, in addition to reduced financial burdens, via intensive support services such as their residential Summer Bridge Program which brings students to campus early and includes academic and social/emotional interventions.

Paul Quinn College’s Successes v. National Averages:

  • 80% of freshmen (and 84% of all students) at PQC receive Pell Grants, meaning most students come from low-income households.
  • The cost to attend PQC was reported at $14,300 for 2015-16, which is a 19% decrease since 2012.
  • Undergraduate enrollment at PQC grew 93% from 2010 to 2015.
  • The College has posted six or seven figure end-of-year budget surpluses in seven of the last nine years and earned a perfect score on the Department of Education’s financial strength rating.

Post-Secondary Enrollment and Tuition

Nationally, enrollment has declined between 1 and 2% a year over the past several years due to macro factors such as a recovering economy and the continual rise of the cost to attend college. Yet during the past 5 years Paul Quinn College has seen enrollment not decline, but rather rise by 93%.

While PQC cannot impact macro trends that would lead to higher enrollment, it has found innovative ways to reduce the price of a college degree its students bear, making a degree more attainable. Two of these cost-limiting practices include the following:

  • Student work program: All on-campus students are required to work on campus or at an internship for a minimum of 10 hours per week during their semesters at Paul Quinn. In place of salaries PQC would pay full-time employees or independent contractors, PQC is able to pass the savings on to students in the form of tuition credit of $5,000 each year a student works on-campus. When students work off-campus, employers provide a $5,000 tuition credit to Paul Quinn and $1,500 for students’ personal expense defrayal each year a student works off-campus. This program not only helps reduce financial barriers to college but also gives students valuable job experiences that will help them in their studies and post-graduation career.
  • No textbook policy: Paul Quinn institutes a policy prohibiting professors, in general, from requiring students to purchase textbooks. Class readings and assignments are now open-source or professor-provided, significantly reducing the cost of a class semester.

Hopes for Improved Graduation Rates

Paul Quinn College is pursuing innovative ways to serve their predominately low-income student population through their courses, work experiences and support services that stress the importance of the ‘4 L’s’ (Love, Learn, Lead, Live), which are core to Paul Quinn’s culture. While PQC has made significant strides in supporting students through the challenges of completing a 4-year degree, to support these students in particular, Paul Quinn has key interventions in place.

One system is called ‘Student Support Services’ (SSS). Students that have a declared disability, are first-generation college students, and/or come from a particularly low-income household are eligible for the SSS program. The SSS program connects students to dedicated, full-time advisors that mentor and coach them in their academic and personal lives. The Carrington Living and Learning Community (CLLC) is similar but far more intensive intervention. During the application process, academically fragile students agree to conditional admission and monitoring throughout their PQC careers. Until they establish strong GPAs, they live in a dedicated floor in student housing, with intrusive advising and prohibitions against extra-curricular activities in their first term. For academically fragile athletes, the first full year must be given over to improving academic outcomes.

Over 380 students have been involved in Carrington and SSS over the past 5 years, and the programs are expected to continue to grow in proportion to the segment of academically fragile students that enroll at PQC–and Paul Quinn College will also make their successful residential Summer Bridge Program mandatory for all entering first year first time students. Since historically, Summer Bridge participants have earned higher GPAs in their first years than non-participants, Paul Quinn College expects that making this summer experience mandatory for all students will increase academic and emotional preparedness for college, increasing overall GPA, persistence and degree completion.

Paul Quinn is in the process of a historic turnaround in its graduation rates, having been dealt a serious blow to the enrollment during a two-year fight over accreditation in 2009-10. In its pursuit of better outcomes for students, the college stands out for its innovative practices in making college affordable and connecting students with the people and programs to support their postsecondary success. These practices are already leading to improvements in completion and retention rates and lower debt loads for their students. It is encouraging to see colleges finding ways to lower costs, despite national trends suggesting that lower costs aren’t possible, while still having high-touch, high-impact support services to benefit low-income students.

Sources: National Student Clearinghouse, The College Board, The National Center of Education Statistics, Paul Quinn College

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If you know of an outlier educational achievement, a ‘bright spot,’ in Dallas County please contact Carissa Grisham of the Commit! Partnership.