Greek Life

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Greek LifeCurrent trends shaping the future of Greek life at Penn State

Penn State has been at the center of the debate over the future of Greek life in higher education. With the creation of the Timothy J. Piazza Center for Fraternity and Sorority Research and Reform, the university has made a commitment to leading a national conversation on meaningful reform.

Trends at the chapter level and among alumni associations show a system in flux, working hard to maintain strong connections to Greek life’s founding principles, while finding ways to adapt to new challenges.

Recruitment is up

With so much negative publicity for fraternities and sororities, you might think new students would be shunning Greek life in favor of other activities. In fact, fraternity and sorority recruitment at Penn State is at an all-time high, with more than X students participating in rush, and X joining a Greek organization.

Why? Sororities and fraternities have a rich history at Penn State dating back to the 1870s, rooted in founding principles that foster academic achievement, student involvement, community service, and life-long friendships. Today’s students continue to see the advantages of membership, such as:

  • Finding a support group that helps with adjusting to college life
  • Gaining access to resources that help students achieve their academic goals
  • Learning leadership skills through hands-on experience
  • Gaining confidence to get involved in other campus organizations and activities
  • Dedicating time to philanthropy and community service projects

Likewise, alumni of all ages still describe their participation in Greek life as a life-changing experience that yielded lifelong friendships and exceptional preparation for work and life.

THON remains strong

Despite changing rules on how organizations can fundraise, THON hasn’t lost its momentum or impact. Since banning the practice of canning, THON’s total has dipped slightly, but the largest student-run philanthropy in the world—led predominantly by fraternities and sororities—still raised more than $10 million this year. The event continues to make national headlines and illustrates the positive impact of Greek life on its members and on the worthwhile cause of curing childhood cancer.

Houses helping chapters weather challenges

As rules around Greek life activities have tightened, some chapters have struggled with compliance. As they struggle with the financial implications of suspended chapters, some fraternities have implemented innovative solutions.

When Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s House Corporation Alumni Board decided to close its Penn State chapter house following a suspension by the university, the alumni board and the national organization committed to working with the university to implement new regulations. While SAE plans to reconstitute, the house has been empty and the fraternity was losing revenue from rent.

SAE’s circumstance created a unique opportunity for sorority Phi Sigma Sigma. The sorority couldn’t find a house with the correct zoning for a large amount of unrelated in habitants in State College Borough. Until now, the chapter has rented a floor and a suite in South Halls, like many sororities on campus. Phi Sigma Sigma recently announced that it will move into the SAE house starting next school year. The agreement is for a three-year term but allows the SAE Alumni brotherhood use of the first floor and Mid-Century Room during each summer recess. SAE will continue raise funds and make capital improvements as it plans to reconstitute. 

SAE isn’t alone. Kappa Delta Rho has been renting its house to Kappa Sigma for the last 4 years. Sigma Nu is renting its house to the Western Golf Association for the next 4 years, housing Penn State students with Caddie scholarships. 

Alumni giving less consistent

As housing corporations are strategically navigating to preserve and perpetuate their real estate for the next 100 years, alumni members seem uncertain about the future of Greek life. Across the board, alumni giving participation is mixed. Some groups are maintaining levels of participation, while others are experiencing a notable decline.

Alumni associations committed to consistent communication and transparency in messaging are faring best. Giving a clear indication about the critical role of alumni in the future of fraternities and sororities is more critical now than ever. Coming together in support of volunteer leaders and undergraduate chapters will is key to ensuring that the positive aspects of Greek Life, enjoyed by thousands of students across the country, will be enhanced and preserved.

Investing in reform

Penn State has pledged an initial $2 million for the Timothy J. Piazza Center for Fraternity and Sorority Research and Reform, with an additional $3 million in matching funds from private donations. The goal is to establish an $8 million endowment.

The interdisciplinary center will provide nationwide assessments to guide students and parents, and will study Greek life in order to spur national conversations about ways to improve safety. This initiative will put Penn State at the forefront of important reforms that can carry fraternities and sororities into the future.

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