Greek life paywall limits student involvement

Cost is a rising barrier for undergraduate students interested in Greek life. A 2022 study from The Journal of Sorority and Fraternity Life Research and Practice indicated that “loss or reduction of scholarship or grant aid” and reduced personal or household income were among the most common factors that posed obstacles “to a Successful Transition to their Educational Context during the COVID-19 Pandemic.” The authors’ recommendations included reducing dues and fees and making payments more flexible.

On behalf of the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life (OFSL), Assistant Director for Student Involvement Amanda Riehl stated in an email, “Approximately 5% of the undergraduate student body is a member of a fraternity or sorority on campus.”

22 fraternities and sororities have active chapters at Ramapo. “Each organization’s dues structures are different but most initial costs for joining an organization lie between $200-$500 and can vary after that depending on [the] chapter,” Riehl stated.

Some of the money members pay is given to the national fraternity or sorority to uphold the chapter’s affiliation. To prevent these costs from scaring away recruits, organizations must adapt to the financial situations of their incoming and continuing members.

The fraternity Tau Kappa Epsilon (TKE) currently has 18 members at Ramapo. Recruits can expect to pay $300 during their first semester as a member.

The Ramapo News interviewed TKE about leeway given to students under financial strain through the chapter’s official Instagram. Costs are not reduced, but the deadlines for payments can be extended “as long as a brother gives an explanation as to why they may not be able to meet a certain financial price.”

The sorority Sigma Sigma Sigma (Tri Sigma) has 24 members at Ramapo. Recruits can expect to pay between $445-575.

Treasurer Danielle Martinez stated in an email, “Tri Sigma is able to adapt to members who can not afford the payments of dues by putting them on financial specials where they will meet with the current treasurer and discuss different payment plans (different amounts of installments of taking certain charges off).”

The service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega (APO) has 15 members. Dues are $40 each semester, far lower than most other Greek life organizations.

In addition to offering payment plans, last semester the APO e-board started designating funds in the budget to completely cover the dues of students who cannot spare the money.

APO has 375 chapters and over 500,000 members across the U.S. Photo courtesy of @rcnj_apo, Instagram

APO President Natalie Mara made it an early agenda item. “Nothing had been talked about previously it seemed, and once I had taken a bigger role on the executive board, I was like, ‘I have to talk about this.’”

Mara believes in making Greek life more accessible. “In order to make sure that everybody can be in the fraternity if they would like to, the chapter has to take it upon themselves to make that so. We’re a service fraternity, we’re not some elite group, everyone should be able to have a resource for community service if they would like to.”

So far no members have needed total coverage, but several have paid in installments.

Alumna Kristina Hollosi praised the development and wished it was available when she was active. “I think it’s a good thing. I don’t think it’s fair to not allow students to join just because they can’t afford it. Especially if APO and other organizations want more people to join and want diversity, that could be really helpful.”

Hollosi witnessed many active members switch to being associates following the pandemic, in many cases for the sake of reducing costs. “It might help people stay active, too.”

Mara described how the development furthers APO’s mission. “We have four fields of service we work under. Service to our country, service to community, service to campus and service to chapter… Giving our brothers the respect and the kindness they deserve is a service in itself I believe.”

Mara encourages other Greek life leaders to take similar steps but acknowledges that it may be harder for organizations with higher dues.  “Make it well-known within your chapter that if any brother needs any help monetarily, that you’re able to help them. Work with your treasurer to create a payment plan for any brothers who may need it or… budget out a few due payments in your budget.”

Featured graphic courtesy of the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life