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Heads Up Phi Theta Kappa

Heads Up Phi Theta Kappa

Community college funding is not a new conversation. Long before the national banter surrounding the Heads Up America and America’s College Promise free community college initiatives began, political leaders, community members and educators were in boardrooms discussing ways to fill the gaps between dwindling budgets and rising costs. Most often, the solution was to pass the costs along to the people who were most in need — the students.

Before becoming the CEO of Phi Theta Kappa, I spent my career in and around community colleges —first as an instructor and most recently as a community college researcher. During those years, I was involved in numerous conversations with college leaders about filling institutional gaps created between differences in funding and enrollment. Although the math was simple, it was a calculation that I never wanted to do — project enrollment revenue and subtract all other funding sources. The result, sometimes a deficit of millions of dollars, was left to be passed along to students by way of tuition increases.

The community college mission is as much about providing opportunity as it is about education. Although he isn’t here to ask, I believe that creating opportunity was at the center of Senator Claiborne Pell’s fight to establish Pell Grants for low-income students. When Pell Grants were originally established, they covered a much higher percentage of tuition, leaving students with some amount of cushion to cover the other costs associated with being a student — things like childcare, housing and food.

Today, the cost of education has risen so much that the opposite is in effect, leaving many students unable to cover the cost of community college tuition, much less the cost of living. More than half of students drop out altogether, never fully grasping the opportunity that is the foundation of the community college mission. The students who do graduate are often saddled with student loan debt from which they will never recover.

Although this national conversation about community college access through promise programs appears to be about free community college, it is not. It is, instead, about the cost of education in this country. Like the cost of healthcare, the cost of education is a problem that requires creative solutions. We must begin to look at funding differently, finding new ways to bring together the educational, political and philanthropic interests of our communities and our country. 

There are more than 27 promise programs and many other promise-like subsidies for students. I predict that promise programs will take a very long time to scale and will not, in the near future, reach a point of federal mandate. Instead, they will continue to be grassroots efforts in colleges, communities, schools and states that are taking a serious look at what community colleges can do for students, communities and the economy. In states, it takes governors and college and business leaders willing to partner on employment initiatives. In cities, it takes mayors. On community college campuses, it takes college presidents, working with faculty, staff and students to generate stories and outcomes compelling enough to generate additional conversation surrounding this complex issue.  

In the same way that community colleges were founded on creating opportunity, so was Phi Theta Kappa. Opportunity is at the center of our mission and everything we do. Giving our student leaders a seat at the table as a part of this important national conversation is yet another opportunity for our students to create meaningful change in the lives of other community college students — which will in turn create positive change in our country. I believe that, in many ways, the answer lies with you, the members of Phi Theta Kappa. I know this because, as President and CEO, I have a front-row seat to the impactful work of our chapters. I believe that Phi Theta Kappa members have been solving important problems and adding value to their colleges and communities for nearly a century, yet we are faced with a new challenge — changing outcomes for future community college students who are seeking the same opportunity that brought you to the door of your community college.

Use your collective voices, your creativity and your unique perspectives and experience to inform your communities that the investment in a community college student is a wise one. Heads Up Phi Theta Kappa!

Dr. Lynn Tincher-Ladner is the President and CEO of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. To reach Lynn, contact Cassie Bryant, Special Projects Coordinator and Executive Assistant to the President and CEO, at

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