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Three Urban Colleges Work Together to Lower Student Debt and Enhance Career Readiness for Graduates

June 26, 2018

By Mai P. Tran, ECMC Foundation


Student loan debt has reached an unprecedented high: Americans collectively owe $1.48 trillion and students graduate with an average of $40,000 in debt.

To address this issue, in 2015 Paul Quinn College launched its Urban Work College Model, which helps students reduce the amount they borrow, while simultaneously gain real-world working experience.

Under the leadership of Dr. Michael Sorrell, students at Paul Quinn work paid internships in addition to jobs on-campus. Students work between 10 and 20 hours per week and between 300 and 400 hours per academic year in order to earn the full tuition grant of $5,000 and cash payment between $1,000 and $1,500, according to the school’s site. Earnings go towards paying tuition and fees. As a result, students graduate with less debt and are better prepared to launch their careers.

After its initial success, Paul Quinn will kick off a two-year project this summer to help other campuses, including Kuyper College and Wilberforce University, explore ways to pilot the model.

The collaboration is the result of a challenge grant supported by ECMC Foundation and in partnership with the University of Innovation of Alliance (UIA), a group of 11 public research institutions committed to increasing the number and socioeconomic diversity of college graduates. Designed to spawn new campus networks to foster the UIA’s culture of collaboration, the challenge grant offered three awards of up to $75,000 to participants in the recent UIA National Summit who became inspired to develop and advance new collaborative work as a result of attendance.

Q&A with Campus Leadership

Paul Quinn College

DowdyChristopher J. Dowdy, Ph.D.
Vice President of Academic Affairs

Q: How do you feel about sharing Paul Quinn’s model?
A: We are excited to share this version of the Urban Work College model with such bold leaders at Kuyper College and Wilberforce University. We applaud their willingness to aggressively look for new and creative ways to serve their students and are committed to supporting them in doing so.

Kuyper College

HarrisPatricia Harris, Ed.D.

Q: Why did Kuyper College decide to join the consortium? What does it hope to gain?
A: Kuyper College strives to equip students to be effective leaders within their areas of ministry and service. To accomplish this mission, we provide holistic development of students through praxis-based learning, including off-campus internships in all of our academic programs, as well as through on campus work experiences. We see that our value of preparing workplace ready students upon graduation aligns with the aim of the Urban Work College model. Through participating in this consortium, we are eager to gain best practices and data as we explore how the Urban Work College model may help us extend our mission to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse demographic of students.

Wilberforce University

BradleyTashia L. Bradley, Ph.D.
Executive Vice President and Chief Innovation Officer

Q: What about collaborating is Wilberforce most excited about?
A: Wilberforce University is extremely excited about the collaborative nature of this project. Under the leadership of President Elfred A. Pinkard, and as America’s first private HBCU, we are focused on our value proposition of being A Premiere Liberal Arts Institution with an Entrepreneurial Intention. This collaboration uniquely situates us in the completion of our Work College Program at the Nation’s First Private HBCU Feasibility Study and contributes to the re-imagining of our historic Cooperative Education Program. Wilberforce University has recently launched The Mark and Shelly Wilson Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and is a recipient of United Negro College Fund Career Pathways Grant. Our focus is to provide students with career development experiences that connect the academic to the practical in innovative ways. What is also exciting is the opportunity to collaborate across institutions.

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