A 28.7 percent member acceptance rate for the Theta Iota Chapter at Snead State Community College in Alabama wasn’t good enough for college president Dr. Robert Exley – as a member and former National Officer, he knows all too well the opportunities that students are passing up. Why weren’t more of his students saying, “Yes!” to Phi Theta Kappa? How could he get that number up?
Dr. Robert Exley, Snead State Community College President and Phi Theta Kappa alumnus and former National President
He found his answer at a meeting with the college’s Foundation Board. As he presented the acceptance rate, the board members unanimously pledged to help pay the membership fee and committed $4,000 per semester to help pay for 50 percent of the $80 registration fee for up to 100 students.
“I want to make sure our students know there’s a bigger world out there, so we work hard to get students in Phi Theta Kappa and to get them to Convention,” Exley said. “Phi Theta Kappa totally changed everything for me. I never looked back, and I’m very grateful.”
Exley was content earning C’s in high school. After graduation, he worked five years in a petrochemical plant before deciding he wanted a safer job. He enrolled at San Jacinto College in Texas, although he said, “I didn’t think I belonged there.” He befriended the janitor, and the two often had coffee together.
One day, a faculty member asked Exley if he planned become a Phi Theta Kappa member. They went together to talk to the chapter advisor.
“For the first time in my life, I found I could learn things just to learn them, not for the sake of a grade in a class,” he said. “It was like somebody had turned on an intellectual curiosity in me.”
He attended Honors Institute, and his relationship with Phi Theta Kappa “went to another level.” In 1979, he was elected National President. He went on to receive his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Houston-Clear Lake and his doctorate from the University of Texas at Austin.
“And I met my wife through Phi Theta Kappa as well, so there you go,” Exley said.
Since joining Snead State Community College, Exley has watched the number of Phi Theta Kappa inductees grow regularly. He remembers only about eight new members at his first induction at the college; at his most recent induction, there were 80.
“We applaud Dr. Exley’s effort to ensure that no student be denied membership because they cannot afford it,” Phi Theta Kappa Executive Director and CEO Dr. Rod Risley said. “The Phi Theta Kappa membership experience, programs and scholarships are life-altering. The providing of funds to help those students to accept membership is consistent with our colleges’ mission of providing access to education with the support and resources necessary to succeed.
“For students who are eligible to accept membership, their student success rate nearly doubles.”
Student success has been a major focus on Snead State’s campus in recent years. The college recently increased its graduation rate to 32 percent in 2014 from 18 percent in 2008. A recent nationwide study by Phi Theta Kappa has found that Society members are four times more likely to graduate than their non-member peers.
Exley hopes the move by the Foundation Board will encourage an even larger number of new Phi Theta Kappa members. He’s also looking at other ways to encourage students to accept their membership invitation, including possibly having faculty and staff members sponsor a student by paying half or all of their membership fee.
“I’m excited about this opportunity, and I think we’re going to see a big spike in our membership numbers,” said chapter advisor Brittany Goble. “I think there’s definitely been a need, because $80 at the beginning of a semester is a lot of money for a student to have to come up with.”
Before becoming chapter advisor in 2010, Goble worked at Snead State with the National Advisory Corps as a transfer advisor. Phi Theta Kappa membership was an organization she pushed students to work toward and take advantage of.
She and her chapter officers are now working on a plan to promote the Foundation Board’s decision and to recognize the students in need. They hope to start implementing the aid this spring.
“(The Foundation’s decision) shows a continuation of the administration’s support,” chapter advisor Brittany Goble said. “It really makes it possible for some who couldn’t do it otherwise.”