Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Educational Leadership and Policy Studies
Enrollment in American community colleges has increased dramatically over the last few decades. Currently, close to one half of all undergraduate students in the United States are enrolled in a community college. Historically, community college students were often viewed as at-risk for noncompletion of their educational program. A component of the educational experience identified by researchers that can be used to predict college persistence is the existence of high levels of student engagement (Astin, 1999). Many student behavior variables may be used to quantitatively measure student engagement. These variables include: time spent preparing for class, participation level during class discussions, level of interaction with an instructor outside of the classroom, and participation levels in college-sponsored activities and organizations.
One opportunity available to community college students that can assist with establishing high levels of student engagement is membership in Phi Theta Kappa. Phi Theta Kappa is recognized as the international honor society of 2-year colleges. It is the largest honor society in American higher education with a membership of over 2 million. Phi Theta Kappa's purpose is to recognize scholarly achievement while also offering opportunities for personal growth and development by sponsoring a variety of programs centered on the hallmarks of scholarship, service, leadership, and fellowship.
As membership in Phi Theta Kappa is by invitation only based upon a minimum cumulative grade point average of 3.5, it is broadly assumed that Phi Theta Kappa members are actively engaged in the learning process at the 2-year college level. Determining the level of student engagement for Phi Theta Kappa members was the purpose of this study. The unit of analysis was the Phi Theta Kappa members currently enrolled in an Iowa or Texas community college who responded to the Phi Theta Kappa member survey.
An electronic survey instrument, created for this study to collect data from the target population, focused on background information, academic achievement, level of involvement, and types of involvement. Of the 16,777 sample set, 822 surveys were completed resulting in a 4.9% response rate. The low response rate was disappointing but provided a viable sample size.
Results indicate the sample population consisted primarily of White/Caucasian female students between the ages of 25 and 29. In addition, those responding self-reported having high academic achievement and spending a substantial number of hours per week studying. Phi Theta Kappa members are academically engaged and academically successful. Classroom participation is strong but students spend little time on the community college campus. High academic engagement levels relating to the classroom experience exist, but limited involvement occurs outside the classroom. Additionally, the majority (78%) spend at least some time volunteering or engaging in community work but not in a service learning capacity. The engagement level of Phi Theta Kappa sponsored activities is low as only 15% of the sample responded as participating in any of the program of study events recommended by Phi Theta Kappa headquarters. Results of this study indicate that, although membership in Phi Theta Kappa may reflect intellectual competence and active involvement in the classroom, low integration of civic engagement occurs
The findings of this study provide valuable information to Phi Theta Kappa program directors and community college campus administrators. The information from this study provides empirical data that can be used to guide curricular and co-curricular planning within the community college.
Marjorie Maye Welch
Welch, Marjorie Maye, "The role of Phi Theta Kappa membership in community college student engagement" (2011). Graduate Theses and Dissertations. 12109.