International Honorary Member
Dr. Martha Kanter
Executive Director, College Promise Campaign
As executive director of the College Promise Campaign, Dr. Martha Kanter leads the national initiative to increase college access, affordability, quality, and completion in American higher education, beginning in community colleges. The goal is to make the first two years of college — at a minimum — as universal, free, and accessible as high school.
“Phi Theta Kappa does vital work in helping inspiring and motivating students to excel in the community college,” Kanter said. “In doing so, they are known worldwide for showcasing the breadth of student talent driving America’s economic, civic, and social prosperity forward. I am humbled to receive this award and be recognized by an organization so important to unleashing the potential of our nation’s students.”
Kanter is also a Senior Fellow at New York University’s Steinhardt Institute for Higher Education Policy, focused on policies and practices to raise America’s high school and college graduation rates.
Before launching the College Promise Campaign, she was nominated by President Barack Obama in 2009 to serve as the U.S. Under Secretary of Education. She and her team focused on increasing college access and completion to implement the President’s American Graduation Initiative, reform federal student aid, and provide transparent information to students and families about the value and impact of higher education. She was the first community college leader to serve in this position, concluding her government service in 2013.
From 2003 to 2009, Kanter was chancellor of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District in California, one of the largest community college districts in the nation. Prior to that, she served as president of De Anza College for a decade. In 1994, she opened the first Advanced Technology Center and, in 2005, the first Platinum LEED-certified Kirsch Center for Environmental Studies in California’s community college system.
She previously held various leadership positions as a faculty member, dean, vice president, and vice chancellor of policy and research at the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office. After serving as an alternative high school teacher in Massachusetts and New York, in 1977, she established the first program for students with learning disabilities at San Jose City College in California.
“Dr. Kanter has dedicated her life to helping others, including those who are most disadvantaged, to gain access to higher education and to be successful,” said Dr. George Boggs, chair of the Phi Theta Kappa Board of Directors. “She has been a leader at the college, state, and federal levels, always working to remove barriers for students. I cannot think of anyone more deserving of this recognition.”
Kanter has received numerous accolades for her work. In 2011, she was appointed to the U.S. National Commission for the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), a federal advisory committee to the Department of State that supports worldwide humanitarian development and values by coordinating efforts and delivering expert advice on issues of education, science, communications, and culture.
Kanter holds a doctorate in organization and leadership from the University of San Francisco. She has a master’s degree in education with a concentration in clinical psychology and public practice from Harvard University and a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Brandeis University.