The Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society (PTK) is opening membership to select students who are in prison or on probation.
The PTK board of directors has unanimously voted to allow these students to join the international honor society for community colleges.
“This decision speaks to the core of both Phi Theta Kappa and the community colleges we serve,” PTK President and CEO Lynn Tincher-Ladner said in a press release. “It’s our desire — our mission — to be part of the solution to a set of very complex social problems. It’s our way of ‘unchecking the box’ — saying to students that their mistakes shouldn’t follow them forever.”
To be eligible to join PTK, students must have a minimum 3.5 GPA and complete at least 12 hours of coursework. For many members, the invitation to join PTK is the first sign of their hard work being recognized. The organization wants to extend that to second-chance students and inspire them to continue with their education and career choices.
PTK comprises more than 3.2 million members and nearly 1,300 chapters in nine nations.
A growing movement
Last year, the Obama administration started a pilot program that provides Pell grants to eligible inmates scheduled to be released within five years. Most of the selected participating higher education institutions are community colleges.
PTK’s decision supplements such efforts to help these individuals, with the organization citing various studies that show recidivism rates drop with more education.
As members of Phi Theta Kappa, this new group of students will tap valuable benefits to help them succeed, such as job skills training and leadership skills through research and service projects that result in increased workforce readiness.
PTK members can also access scholarships on the associate, baccalaureate and graduate levels, as well as transfer scholarships.
“The goal is to open the door to opportunity to people who are starting over,” said Daniel Phelan, president of Jackson College in Michigan and a member of the PTK board of directors. He also serves as chair of the American Association of Community Colleges board of directors.
Jackson College is one of 67 colleges and universities across the country participating in the federal Second Chance Pell pilot program. The college began offering courses in prison in 2012 and currently has about 550 students from 10 facilities across the state enrolled in its Prison Education Initiative (PEI).
“From what we’ve seen, the largest benefit is their major breakthroughs in self-esteem,” said PEI Director Kevin Rose. “Many of our students never graduated high school and therefore didn’t see themselves as college material.”
In 2015, 81 percent of the students in the PEI program were on the dean’s list — more than that of the college’s general population.
“Knowing that they are not just passing their classes but exceeding the performance of our general student population is a major boost to how they see themselves in society,” Rose said.