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Phi Theta Kappa Receives Grant to Boost Completion and Transfer Rates

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Support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to Expand CollegeFish.org   

Phi Theta Kappa has received a nearly $3 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to expand the reach of CollegeFish.org, a college completion and transfer planning program.

The grant, the largest in the Society’s history, will provide funding for acquiring hardware, developing software to increase the functionality of CollegeFish.org, redesigning the website, and launching the program in community colleges in five target states. Grant funds will be paid out over two years.

“We are enormously grateful for this vote of confidence in our organization and CollegeFish.org from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation,” said Phi Theta Kappa’s Executive Director Dr. Rod A. Risley. “These grant funds will allow us to open up CollegeFish.org enrollment to all students attending community colleges in five pilot states of Alabama, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, and Washington.”

“Since 1918, Phi Theta Kappa has encouraged and recognized the academic achievement of students pursuing completion of associate degrees. Central to Phi Theta Kappa’s mission is providing innovative programs and services which lead students to engage in proven educational practices that result in higher learning and student success,” Dr. Risley said. “Our web-based platform, CollegeFish.org, was designed as a multifaceted tool to help community college students understand the value and process of completing a credential or degree and planning for successful transfer to senior colleges. At the same time it aids community colleges in reaching their goals of increasing student persistence, graduation and transfer rates to senior colleges; and assists senior colleges to effectively identify, advise and recruit community college transfer students.” 

"CollegeFish.org, developed by Phi Theta Kappa, is an invaluable and innovative tool for our colleges and their students to increase degree completion and transfer rates," said Dr. Walter Bumphus, President and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges and a member of Phi Theta Kappa’s Board of Directors. “Now, more than ever, community colleges serve as a pathway for students to complete a baccalaureate degree.  CollegeFish.org is one of those timely innovations that will help our colleges successfully meet the challenge of doubling the number of Americans earning a higher education credential or degree by 2020.”

The Phi Theta Kappa Foundation received support from the Gates Foundation to further enhance CollegeFish.org by institutionalizing use of the transfer tool in five states, with a total of 125 community colleges and 50 senior colleges. Five community colleges and five partner senior colleges in each pilot state have been selected for participation. Dr. Risley explained that successful fulfillment of the grant project would lead to expanded roll-out in additional states.

The grant will provide resources to improve the functionality of the CollegeFish.org website for student users, provide tools for monitoring student progress toward community college completion and increase the effectiveness of tools used by senior colleges to advise and recruit community college transfer students.

Phi Theta Kappa is developing comprehensive instructional guides to be distributed to the selected participant colleges in advance of statewide implementation conferences to be held in each pilot state. Phi Theta Kappa staff will serve as trainers during these conferences to help project colleges plan for the use of CollegeFish.org campus-wide and provide follow-up technical support.

Dr. Risley stressed that CollegeFish.org will bring value to these states’ current efforts toward college completion as transfer to senior colleges has become a public policy priority.

“As community colleges’ enrollments surge to record levels, these colleges must provide more for more students, but with less money. Community colleges are experiencing severe funding cutbacks due to the current economic downturn. The decrease in funding and increase in number of students they serve are preventing community colleges from providing adequate advisement resources to help students complete credentials/degrees and plan for transfer to senior colleges,” Dr. Risley explained. “Findings from the Community College Survey on Student Engagement (CCSSE) reflect that prior to the economic downturn and enrollment surge, less than one third of community college students actually spoke to an advisement counselor. The percentage of students receiving essential advisement and support for college completion is even less today, thus CollegeFish.org is meeting a critical need in regard to degree completion at a time when credentials are often essential for jobs.”

Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, headquartered in Jackson, Mississippi, is the largest honor society in American higher education with 1,275 chapters on two-year and community college campuses in all 50 of the United States, Canada, Germany, Peru, the Republic of Palau, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, the British Virgin Islands, the United Arab Emirates and U.S. territorial possessions. More than 2.5 million students have been inducted since its founding in 1918, with approximately 135,000 students inducted annually.