More than 350 students became members of Phi Theta Kappa at Ozarks Technical Community College (OTC) in Missouri in fall of 2017 at no cost to them — the college is now covering all membership fees for eligible students.
It’s a move by OTC Chancellor Dr. Hal Higdon, who has set aside money in the school’s general fund. He even refunded the 100 or so students who had already accepted membership and paid their fees, back to July 1, 2017.
“With the leadership opportunities, the professional opportunities that PTK provides, I didn’t want a student to not have those opportunities if they qualify for Phi Theta Kappa because of money,” he said.
Higdon has been involved with Phi Theta Kappa for 25 years in his time as a college administrator. He previously worked at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and Alabama’s Faulkner State Community College. He also serves on the Phi Theta Kappa Presidential Advisory Board (PAB).
It was at a 2017 PAB meeting that Higdon was inspired to cover membership fees. While talking with PTK President and CEO Dr. Lynn Tincher-Ladner and Dallas County Community College District (DCCCD) Chancellor Dr. Joe May, he learned that May had set aside $100,000 in his budget to pay for PTK membership.
PTK itself sets a $60 one-time membership fee, but a one-time regional feed is also added, and individual chapters may add local fees to help cover expenses, making the average cost of induction $85. For some chapters, the cost can be over $100.
“To someone with a good job, $100 doesn’t always sound like a lot of money, but to someone in school it can be,” Higdon said. “In the big scheme of things, when you look at a college budget, this isn’t a lot of money.”
The results have already been significant. Of the 1,200 students typically invited to become PTK members in a fall semester, around 120 usually join. But in fall 2017, the chapter induced 358 new members. Co-advisor Steve Fritts expects it to only get bigger.
“We’ve already seen increased membership and visibility on campus,” he said. “On a humorous note, our biggest concern is now how to provide the induction ceremony to such large numbers, since our current venue does not accommodate such a large group. We are looking at multiple induction ceremonies.”
Around 1,700 students are usually invited to join PTK in the spring semester at OTC, and around 600 in the summer. Fritts believes the increase in membership will impact the chapter in several ways.
“The increased membership allows us more visibility on campus and no barriers for students,” he said. “The increased amount of chapter funds will allow us to take more members to Honors Institute and PTK Catalyst, as well as do more on campus.
“We hope to offer more academic opportunities for students on campus through lectures and events.”
Higdon also hopes to see an impact on the college’s graduation rate.
“We do know that students who are involved in things like PTK are more likely to be engaged, more likely to make better grades, and more likely to graduate,” he said. “It could affect the number of students going on to get a degree.”
Higdon’s decision to cover the membership fees for all eligible students is among a growing trend in community colleges and foundations offering assistance. In addition to DCCCD, Cuyahoga Community College in Ohio, Redlands Community College in Oklahoma, Montgomery County Community College in Pennsylvania, Snead State Community College in Alabama, Harrisburg Area Community College in Pennsylvania, and the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, among others, each offer some form of financial assistance to eligible PTK members.
This move has also been a way for Higdon to reward the chapter and its advisors for their hard work. The college has supported members in other ways, such as funding travel and helping with induction ceremony costs, but a decision this big sends a clear message about the impact Phi Theta Kappa membership can have on a college and its students.
“Any college president that’s not supporting their chapter, or any college that doesn’t have a chapter, isn’t serving their students in the way they should,” he said. “As long as I’m here, we’ll be doing it.”