Phi Theta Kappa is the oldest honor society for community college students, and the only one founded by college presidents. In 1918, at a meeting at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, eight community-college presidents created this academic honors organization, using the historic senior honor society Phi Beta Kappa as their model, to recognize their outstanding students. The Society grew, expanding into other states, and into coeducational and public institutions. In 1929, the American Association of Junior Colleges, now the American Association of Community Colleges, recognized Phi Theta Kappa as the official honor society for two-year colleges.
In the early years, Phi Theta Kappa membership was conferred to students at the time of graduation, and few programs and services were offered. The explosive growth of community colleges in the 1960s led Phi Theta Kappa to expand its mission to reflect the nurturing philosophy of the institutions it served. Students were inducted as freshmen, and study programs were offered.
Phi Theta Kappa today includes 1,250 chapters in all fifty of the United States as well as in Canada, Germany, and other countries. The Society is constantly growing, and approximately 100,000 students are inducted annually.