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and doing public affairs consulting, including working on Dallas's 2012 Olympic bid. Understandably, he took a special interest in sports, representing NBA players and even helping former college players heading into the NBA draft to create politicalstyle campaigns to up their stock. His connections paid off with an offer to join a group that wanted to buy the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies; he would have been franchise president and gotten a small ownership stake. He was driving to scout then University of Texas phenom (and future Oklahoma City defector) Kevin Durant when the people at Paul Quinn gave him a call. How would he like to be president of the college? As he's fond of saying, when you get offered a job you didn't apply for, that's probably a good sign no one else wants it. Paul Quinn was on the verge of bankruptcy, of deaccreditation, of closing down for good. Why hitch yourself to that wagon when you're about to be an NBA executive? As it turns out, there are two reasons: Michael Sorrell likes a challenge, and he wasn't about to be an NBA executive. He agreed to take over for ninety days while the board looked for a permanent president. When the Grizzlies deal didn't work out, he became that permanent president. Even outside of the financial and enrollment struggles, things were bleak those first few years. In addition to the massive deficits and threats of de-accreditation, the campus had fifteen abandoned buildings, and the ones that were occupied were in terrible shape. Anyone could wander onto campus, and often did (faculty members were afraid to leave their purses behind them in classrooms for fear that they'd be snatched). With 140 acres of Great Trinity Forest to the north and east, the unwelcome visitors weren't always human. Sorrell remembers driving a local politician around campus about six months into his presidency when they saw what seemed like a big dog roaming the grounds. "That's not a dog," Sorrell says he realized as they got a closer look. "That's a bobcat." (Sorrell reckons the bobcats were pushed out by coyotes, which have since been replaced by stray dogs. After a southern Dallas woman was killed by a pack of dogs in May, Sorrell's summer bridge class's big project this year was developing proposals for dealing with the neighborhood's stray dog problem.) Sorrell surrounded the campus with a fence and stationed security guards at the front to keep out strangers (and bobcats). Thanks to a million-dollar donation, he was able to get all fifteen abandoned buildings torn down, exorcising the campus's most visible past demons. He began creating pipelines to bring in students who could meet his more rigorous standards. It was a pace of work that could give you a heart attack. A year and a half after he took over, that's exactly what happened. Sorrell's heart stopped overnight, and he was unconscious for nearly three days before coming to in the hospital. The experience only deepened his resolve. "I just remember thinking, we're going to win," he says. "I am a man of deep faith. And I don't think the Lord saves you to humiliate you." Sorrell dove into studying what other college presidents were doing. "When I started as president, I didn't know anything," he says. "And I hate not knowing anything. So I im- mersed myself in my craft." He read and reread Loren Pope's Colleges That Change Lives and traveled the country visiting campuses, from nearby Prairie View A&M to far-flung Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. His biggest breakthrough didn't come from a college visit, though, but a high school one. On a recruiting trip to Detroit Cristo Rey, Sorrell was wowed by the Catholic school's corporate work-study program, in which students work once a week at local businesses. It was an idea ripe for expanding on the college level. He spent the next year studying rural work schools like Berea College in Kentucky. A tuition-free institution founded by Christian abolitionists, Berea ranks number one on the Washington Monthly's 2016 liberal arts colleges and Best Bang for the Buck lists. Admirable as it is, however, only seven rural colleges run on the work model, even though the idea has been around for a century. "The reason work colleges didn't really take hold is partly because the work is drudgery," Sor- Sorrell's heart stopped overnight, and he was unconscious for nearly three days before coming to in the hospital. The experience only deepened his resolve. rell says. That's because rural areas have few local employers where students can be placed in interesting, cutting-edge jobs. "In urban areas you can absolutely connect the work to what people are studying." It was that insight that Sorrell brought to his board and students. Getting students real professional experience while lowering tuition costs was enticing enough on all sides to give it a try. So far the new model has brought vast improvements in student outcomes, Sorrell says, though it will take a few more years for the statistics to catch up. While he increased the school's official six-year graduation rate from 1 percent for students starting in 2006 to 13 percent for those who started in 2009, the latest figure comes right on the heels of Paul Quinn's most turbulent period, in which hundreds of students left because of the shuttering of the football team, a disciplinary and academic crackdown, and lingering accreditation concerns. (The Washington Monthly's current rankings only include an average of the graduation rates of the 2006, 2007, and 2008 cohorts.) The percentage of students who return after freshman year has since jumped from 33 percent at its low point to between 65 percent and 72 percent over the past few years, and Sorrell expects the graduation rates to follow. "The lagging indicators still measure the school that we were seven, eight, nine years ago," he says. "We're not that school anymore. When that graduation rate jumps, people are going to have whiplash." Washington Monthly 71

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