Interview with Phi Theta Kappa President and CEO

Dr. Lynn Tincher-Ladner, President and CEO of Phi Theta Kappa (PTK), the nation’s oldest and largest honor society for students seeking associate degrees and credentials from community colleges, discusses the the success of community college students who become members of PTK and later decide to transfer to traditional four-year colleges, including the Columbia University School of General Studies.

October 19, 2020

Forty-seven percent of students enrolled at GS transferred after attending community college. In honor of National Transfer Student Week, we are highlighting many of our students and alumni who transferred to GS, as well as offering insight into the unique role that community colleges play in making higher education possible for nontraditional students. Read more about their stories here. 


What are the most common traits of PTK inductees?

Phi Theta Kappa members are in the top 10 percent of students at their colleges, but they don’t only stand out academically; they are the students working to make their colleges and their communities the best places they can be. They are mentors to their peers, and they are leaders that faculty, staff, and administrators can trust. PTK members are motivated and goal-oriented, and many of them are involved in multiple student organizations. 

Demographically, PTK chapters are as diverse as the college campuses they serve. Our members range in age from 11 to 60+ and span all races, majors, and financial need. We serve nearly 240,000 active students each year in 1,300 chapters in all 50 states and 11 sovereign nations.

*Note: You can view the national member profile on the PTK website

Dr. Lynn Tincher-Ladner Headshot

What do you feel are the most common misconceptions about community college students and community college transfers?

Community colleges have long faced the stigma that they aren’t “real” colleges and that the students who attend them can’t succeed at a four-year institution. Those of us who have attended and worked at two-year colleges have known this to be false, and a recent report by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation confirmed it. Their study of undergraduate students at selective colleges and universities found that 74.5 percent of community college transfers graduated within six years, compared to 72.6 percent of native students and 61.3 percent of those who transferred from another four-year institution. 

The results were the same regardless of institutional selectivity: community college transfer students performed as well as and often better than those who entered a four-year college from high school.

We see this drive to succeed in our own members: 91 percent of PTK members will complete an associate degree and/or transfer to a four-year college, compared to 38 percent of non-members.

How does PTK help community college students prepare for success at four-year institutions, for those that decide to pursue that path?

Approximately 73 percent of PTK members plan to transfer to a four-year institution, and because we want all of them to do so successfully, we support them in several key ways. We developed Transfer Edge, a free online course that teaches them everything they need to know about transferring, including financial aid basics, conducting a successful college search, increasing admission to a selective university, submitting winning scholarship and transfer applications, and transitioning successfully. This is just one component of our PTK Edge curriculum, which also teaches workforce readiness, soft skills, and honors-level research methods.

Membership in Phi Theta Kappa is often the first recognition these students have received for their academic achievement. The confidence stemming from this affirmation creates a ripple effect that can lead them to pursue opportunities, scholarships, and fellowships they might not have otherwise — students who never before dared to dream so big now see an institution like Columbia as a real possibility for them. 

Dr. Lynn Tincher-Ladner

PTK Connect™ is a free online platform that enables students to search for four-year institutions by major, cost, total enrollment, and more. This database also lists transfer scholarships that are available, including those that are exclusively for PTK members (more than $38 million) through our partnerships with more than 800 four-year colleges and universities across the country. Colleges create Transfer Profiles that give students a snapshot of what the transfer student experience is like at their institution, and students can add colleges to their list of favorites and reach out directly to admissions reps.  

Through our unique partnership with the National Student Clearinghouse, a college can have its data automatically populated into its Transfer Profile each year. These Transfer Profiles give the colleges a Transfer-Friendliness Rating that students can use to gauge how friendly their admissions and recruitment strategies are. The top 25 percent highest-rated colleges are named to PTK's Transfer Honor Roll.

For many years, we have invited college recruiters to attend our Senior College Transfer Fair, held during our annual convention each April. This brings recruiters face-to-face with nearly 3,500 students from across the country—a unique and unmatched opportunity. When our in-person event was cancelled in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, we transitioned to a series of virtual transfer fairs. Twelve of these were held over the summer with 325 colleges participating and more than 1,000 students attending (more than 2,300 students registered and had access to the recordings). Twelve more will be held in October, November, and December through a partnership with the Coalition for College.  

Why do you think so many PTK students end up (successfully) applying to Columbia?

Membership in Phi Theta Kappa is often the first recognition these students have received for their academic achievement. The confidence stemming from this affirmation creates a ripple effect that can lead them to pursue opportunities, scholarships, and fellowships they might not have otherwise—students who never before dared to dream so big now see an institution like Columbia as a real possibility for them. 

We have intentionally developed equitable and inclusive programs and opportunities from which all students can benefit. They can conduct bachelor’s degree-level research that impacts their community; hold leadership positions for large-scale service projects; and work with college administrators to affect change on their campuses—we believe this kind of experiential learning helps push PTK members toward elite universities like Columbia and makes their applications more competitive. Recruiters can see the difference that PTK membership makes.


Dr. Lynn Tincher-Ladner is President and CEO of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, the nation’s oldest and largest honor society for students seeking associate degrees and credentials from community colleges.

Most of Dr. Tincher-Ladner's time is spent creating opportunities for some of the nation’s hardest working students by connecting them to life-changing scholarships and family-sustaining employment. With nearly 30 years in higher education, she has been a community college math, chemistry, and physics instructor; computer programmer; database administrator; institutional researcher; and university faculty member.

She serves on national boards for the College Promise Campaign, the Center for Community College Student Engagement, the American Association of Community Colleges’ Commission on Student Success, and the advisory board of the Woodward Hines Education Foundation. As a passionate champion for community colleges and community college students, she loves using data to tell their stories and to advocate for the support of these amazing students and quality institutions of higher learning.