Since the establishment of Phi Beta Kappa at the College of William and Mary in 1776, the Greek letter societies have played an important role in American education and training.   

Today several hundred honor, professional and recognition societies and their chapters are active at some 3,000 colleges and universities across the country. The liberal arts, medicine, law, education, music, arts, engineering, architecture, pharmacy, economics, textiles, agriculture, forestry, journalism, science are all represented. Generally, they seek to encourage and recognize excellence in classroom, laboratory and research work. To have a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa (liberal arts), Tau Beta Pi (Engineering), or Sigma Xi (Scientific Research), is a mark of distinction for a college or university and membership is highly prized by individuals as a recognition of merit.
Most trade, technical, business and vocational schools and colleges were established in the Twentieth Century as an outgrowth of the Industrial Revolution. Many were small and they offered highly specialized short practical courses. The majority of these institutions were proprietary and until the organization of associations of schools there was no system of accreditation. Now we have certificate schools, junior colleges, and four-year degree granting institutions. Although many of these institutions currently have Honor Rolls, Dean's Lists and special recognition events for exceptional students, there was no national academic honor society until the National Alpha Beta Kappa Honor Society was officially established.
The purpose of the society is to help private postsecondary schools, institutes, colleges and universities, and their students and alumni, through the encouragement and recognition of superior academic work and shop, studio, and laboratory training in honorable fields of endeavor. Alpha Beta Kappa seeks to promote and reward personal integrity and excellence in mental and physical work and skills without regard to race, color, sex, creed, or national origin. Membership is based on merit. Charters for chapters of Alpha Beta Kappa are granted to accredited schools, colleges and institutes which offer programs or courses in generally recognized fields of study or training; or which qualify for State or Federal assistance. The quality of the program and not its grade level is paramount in considering applications for Charters.
The qualifications for membership are: excellence in classroom, shop, studio, and laboratory work; leadership and service in class and school activities; and personal integrity and good moral character. Although grading systems vary, student candidates should have marks of "A" or rank in the upper ten percent of the graduating class. Each member receives a personalized Certificate of Membership, Gold Key with the words "Excellence" and "Integrity" stamped thereon, Alpha Beta Kappa Narrative, and special Letter of Congratulations from the society.
Alpha Beta Kappa helps to recruit and retain students, encourages them to reach their potential, recognizes their achievements, and affords a measure of evaluation for graduates and their Alma Mater. It is hoped and believed that Alpha Beta Kappa will do in its field much of what older societies have done for their institutions.