Today, November 19, Phi Theta Kappa celebrates its 95th birthday! For 95 years we have focused our energy on recognizing and honoring the top students from two-year colleges, developing true servant leaders who are the best of the best at their colleges and in their communities.
Since its humble beginnings with just six members at Stephens College in Missouri, Phi Theta Kappa has grown to 1,285 chapters on college campuses in all 50 of the United States plus Canada, Germany, the Republic of Palau, Peru, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the 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 1918, and approximately 135,000 students are inducted each year, making it the oldest, largest and most prestigious honor society in higher education.
In honor and celebration of our Founders Day, here are some highlights – and perhaps some little-known facts – from our storied history.
Of the eight charter chapters of Phi Theta Kappa, Cottey College in Nevada, Missouri, is the only charter college with an active Phi Theta Kappa chapter today.
For the first six years, Phi Theta Kappa confined its activity to women’s junior colleges; in 1924, through constitutional amendment, the field of activity was enlarged to cover all junior colleges.
In 1926, Phi Theta Kappa expanded beyond the borders of Missouri and into coeducational institutions. The Kappa Chapter at St. Joseph Junior College in Missouri was the first chapter at a coeducational school. The Mu Chapter at Northeast Junior College in Miami, Oklahoma, was the first chapter located outside the state of Missouri.
In 1929, the American Association of Junior Colleges (now the American Association of Community Colleges) recognized Phi Theta Kappa as the official honor society for two-year colleges.
In 1930, Margaret James (Mosal) became the first elected national president of Phi Theta Kappa while attending Whitworth College in Brookhaven, Mississippi. She would go on to become national secretary in 1935 and move the organization’s records to her home in Canton, Mississippi. She served as Phi Theta Kappa’s chief executive for 50 years, retiring in 1985.
In the early years, Phi Theta Kappa membership was conferred to students at time of graduation and few programs and services were offered. This was modeled after the prestigious senior college honorary society, Phi Beta Kappa.
In 1968, to celebrate Phi Theta Kappa’s 50th anniversary, the first Honors Institute was held at Endicott College in Beverly, Massachusetts.
The first Distinguished Alumnus Awards were presented in 1970 to Apollo XIII astronaut Fred Haise and to The Honorable Howard Pollock, Alaska’s first United States Congressman.
Rod A. Risley of the Mu Omicron Chapter at San Jacinto College in Texas is elected 1974-1975 National President. He would go on to join Headquarters staff in 1977 as Director of Alumni Affairs. In 1985, he became Phi Theta Kappa’s second Executive Director.
In 1975, the first transfer scholarship specifically for Phi Theta Kappa members was established by Dr. Jack Guistwhite at Florida Atlantic University. Today, more than $37 million in transfer scholarships are available for members.
The first Phi Theta Kappa chapter chartered outside of the United States, the Alpha Nu Alpha Chapter, was chartered in 1987 at the University of Maryland’s Mannheim, Germany campus.
Phi Theta Kappa inducted its 1 millionth member in 1993. The 2 millionth member was inducted in 2006.
CollegeFish.org was introduced in 2007 at the Annual Convention. In 2012, Phi Theta Kappa received a $2.9 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to enhance the website.
The Community College Completion Challenge and the Community College Completion Corps were established in 2010, beginning an initiative to gain commitments from college students, administrators, faculty and staff to make college completion a priority.
Dr. Risley was appointed to the 21st-Century Commission on the Future of Community Colleges in 2011. The Commission was established by the AACC and charged with making recommendations on how community colleges can help meet the challenge issued by President Obama to graduate an additional 5 million students with college degrees, certificates or other credentials by 2020.
In 2012, Phi Theta Kappa charters its first exclusively online chapter at Ashford University.