Fraternities and sororities are closely related to American collegiate culture. Across the country, these organizations are currently planning for a spring semester rush that will look quite different from previous years thanks to COVID-19’s obstacles. 

Recruitment this year is coming off the heels of mass disaffiliations taking place on campuses across the country, including UR and broader discussions of abolishing Greek life

As fraternities and sororities prepare to welcome new brothers and sisters to their ranks, they are also preparing to justify the price. 

The fees of joining a Greek life organization can add up, and while UR’s Greek life dues aren’t as high as those at other universities, it is still an added cost to the $57,188 yearly tuition. 

Junior Heidi Budd, the former Archon (president) of Phi Sigma Sigma, said she always acknowledged this during the recruitment process. “Giving the financial presentation during recruitment is always kind of awkward,” said Budd. “We are trying to make $500 dollars seem not like $500 dollars.” 

Greek-life benefits can differ depending on the organization, but the general benefits include a support network, scholarship opportunities, academic support, networking help, leadership opportunities, internships, and more.

The cost of joining a fraternity or sorority can be a limiting factor for prospective members, and the full cost may not be revealed until later in the recruitment process. 

Because of this, there has been a push to be more transparent about what a member is paying for and receiving in return, such as the National Panhellenic Conference’s (NPC’s) Financial Transparency program. 

“Our parents and caregivers often feel uninformed about the events of becoming a sorority member,” NPC Chairwoman Carol Jones said. “We do have an NPC financial transparency program to help educate new members and their parents before they do join a sorority, and then from there the member organizations can talk […] to the potential new members [about] what their dues and fees are.” During the standardized Panhellenic recruitment, there is also a day dedicated to disclosing financial information. 

Out of the 16 NPC and Interfraternity Council (IFC) UR chapters contacted for an interview and a request to see their dues, four interviewed with the CT. The other 12 either did not respond, did not want to contribute, or were restricted from participating in the article by their national offices. 

So, what are you paying for when you join an NPC/IFC Greek life organization? 

The dues of a Greek life organization can be broken down into three categories: national conference dues, national chapter dues, and local chapter dues. 

The NPC is the umbrella UR’s Panhellenic sororities fall under. The UR Panhellenic Association is a board that represents 26 sororities nationally, eight of which are at UR. The UR Panhellenic Association coordinates and somewhat standardizes training, resources, recruitment, and programming. 

“We are the advocacy and support organization for the advancement of the sorority experience,” Jones said. “We advocate for the sorority experience on the behalf of our member associations and the Panhellenic Association.” 

The UR Panhellenic Association pays an annual due to the NPC which is based on the number of sororities on campus. The UR Panhellenic Association pays $55 per chapter which each chapter is responsible for. If there are more than 10 chapters, that amount would increase to $65. 

The UR Interfraternity Council pays an annual due to the North American Interfraternity Council. According to the North American IFC website, UR’s fraternities fall under Tier 3, which requires that the UR IFC pays at least $750 to the North American IFC. The basic package includes resources such as coaching, crisis communication support, NIC guidance, recruiting materials and guidance, and insurance. 

Greek life members pay two different insurances — one to the IFC/NPC, and one to its national chapter. The difference between the two is whom the insurance covers. If an event has NPC/IFC involvement, such as NPC recruitment, then the insurance paid by the councils can be applied. 

If the NPCs/IFCs do not have a role in an event or situation, such as a fraternity-specific event, then the insurance from the chapter’s national organization will cover the event. 

All fraternities and sorority organizations at UR are required to have general liability insurance that covers at least $1,000,000.00 dollars and general aggregate coverage of $2,000,000.00 dollars. In addition, the University of Rochester must also be covered under these insurance policies. 

The insurance usually extends to members, collegiate officers, the University, and advisors of the chapter. The liability insurance can also cover the property of the chapter. To be covered by the insurance, all parties must be able to prove that they were acting within their responsibilities and roles

For liability coverage in matters involving alcohol, if the fraternity or sorority proved they followed the policies set by the NPC/IFC and their national chapter, then the insurance may be applicable.

Once a new member accepts a bid/invitation to join, a new member fee is tacked on top of normal semester dues. This new member fee can pay for new member education, apparel, membership processing to the national chapter, and a formal pin/badge. 

Based off of the dues received from chapters who participated in this article and the national websites, new member fees can range from $50 to $200 dollars.

Local dues are set by each individual chapter, and make up a chapter’s budget.

Fraternities and sororities are given guidance by their national programs, alumni advisors, and the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs on their budget composition and dues. 

The chapters will decide upon the budgets for the committees that lie within the chapter, which can be things like programming, philanthropy, social events, recruitment, and more. 

The Greek life organization can choose how much apparel, like T-shirts and sweatshirts, a member will pay for. The organization can also choose how much a member will be responsible for if the organization chooses to have a social event such as a dance, dinner, or fun activity (like bowling or laser tag).

The active members of the chapter will then vote on the budget, and therefore vote on the dues for the semester. 

Each member of a Greek life organization on campus must pay a $20 dollar fee each semester to the office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs. UR covers staff salary, but the fee is implemented to help with the cost of managing fraternity and sorority programming. The fee can be used towards costs such as community events, leadership programming, and campus printing. 

In addition to the dues paid each semester, some chapters charge a fee if a member commits certain infractions, such as alcohol-related incidents. 

While these numbers can add up, many organizations have means of offsetting the costs. A big method for doing this is with alumni donations. 

Illustration by Jane Pritchard

These donations, which are managed and regulated by UR, are put into gift accounts. Gift accounts are limited to academic mission-related activities only. Approved expenses, for example, are building repair, leadership development programs, retreats, and hosting education speakers.

The donations can also be used to pay national fees for insurance or scholarships for prospective members with financial need, but these are set up through a different account. 

The level of alumni involvement is different for each fraternity and sorority on campus, which translates to a significant difference in who is receiving donations. 

For example, the UR chapter of Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) chapter has enough alumni donations to cover the fraternity’s insurance fee, putting their national chapter dues at $70.50 dollars. But a younger organization such as the UR Beta Theta Pi chapter doesn’t yet have this network. 

“To be honest, [donations are] like almost none at the moment because our fraternity is really new,” Beta Theta Pi Vice President of Risk Management and senior Alec Tapia said. “I think we started maybe 2016, 2015 […] it’s very new and our alumni are still very young, and we’re starting to get [a donation plan] set up. So I think typically [the donations] have been a hundred dollars here or there.”

For Phi Sigma Sigma, their donations were non-existent. 

There are scholarships and payment plans outside alumni donations to help with the costs. 

“You have the option to split it up into a couple of payments; they’re pretty rigid on when those due dates are, though, and what the plans they offer,” Budd said on Phi Sig’s payment options. “There’s scholarships, but it can be hard to get all the stuff if you need a rec letter or something […] But I think as of right now, people’s best bet are payment plans and maybe applying for scholarships.” 

The choice to join Greek life can be confusing and complex, and it’s a different road for each prospective member, especially now as the role and history of Greek life is being challenged across universities in the United States. 

Before the recruitment process begins, a prospective member should not only know exactly what they are going to be paying for, but what they will be paying. 

Currently on UR’s Fraternity and Sorority Affairs website, the only information available to potential Greek members is the following: 

“This […] varies between each organization, though amounts typically range between $400 and $700 a semester. Dues cover things like national insurance, leadership development, scholastic resources, and programming. Most fraternities and sororities offer chapter and national scholarships to individuals with difficulty paying membership fees. Students are encouraged to ask questions about membership fees before joining an organization to understand the group’s cost structure.” 

Of the 16 NPC and IFC chapters at UR, three NPCs and three IFCs explicitly state a number about dues on their websites. 12 groups either would or could not participate in this article. 

There is a clear need for clearer financial transparency, from the NPC and IFC, but also from the national and local chapters. The full cost of Greek life and what members are committing to pay should not be revealed halfway through the marathon, or when a contract is already signed. 

A step towards financial transparency being taken this year during the UR Panhellenic spring rush is a handbook containing a copy of each sorority’s transparency form, which is currently being put together for distribution to potential new members. The handbook will be shared before recruitment of new members begins. 

In order to hold a productive conversation on the future of Greek life, the full picture of the financial impact must be painted. The cost of Greek life is a deciding factor for many of its participants, and there are ways to lessen it. Full transparency on dues may be what is necessary.

Correction (2/8/21): A previous version of this article referred to a fraternity as Beta Phi. Actually, their name is Beta Theta Pi. The printed version of this article still contains the error.

Tagged: Greek Life

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