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“There are lots of reasons the Greek system makes sense to millennials,” said Katie Elfering, 31, who analyzes the generation for Iconoculture, a Minneapolis-based market research firm.
“Right from the start, they’ve been group-oriented, with play dates and day care,” she said. “They seek out niches and ways to personalize every experience; this generation finds a way to make everything their own. Joining a sorority or fraternity would be a way to make a large institution smaller.”
Today’s students also want to make the most of their college years.
In recruiting new members, Greek organizations always cite the power of a national network of sisters or brothers and the link to plugged-in alums.
Jean Twenge, a Minnesota native and psychology professor at San Diego State University, said that holds enormous appeal to today’s students, who will come into an uncertain post-recession workplace while often carrying a crushing debt.
“This generation rates financial success higher than boomers or Gen X’ers did,” said Twenge, who has written two bestselling books on the under-35 set. “In the annual American freshman survey from the fall of 2012, 81 percent of those entering college said they want to be ‘very well off financially.’ That’s the all-time high since the survey began in 1966. It’s still a challenging environment for getting started in careers, and they may think the Greek system can help them reach their goals.”
Connection at a cost
Of course, belonging comes at a price.
Levine said social membership in sororities and fraternities typically runs between $1,200 and $1,500 per semester for students who don’t live in their organization’s residence. He put the cost of sorority or fraternity houses — including dues, room, board and often a parking place — at around $7,500 for nine months, which puts it in line with the cost of a dorm bed or campus-area apartment.
Living in a chapter house has long been a central part of Greek life.
“I’ve loved living in the house,” said Julia Gross, a senior Delta Gamma and president of the Panhellenic Council, which governs Greek life. “Waking up with my best friends who share my values, studying together, working out. These are great times and will make great memories.”
But that, too, may be changing. While the U’s fraternity houses still have space to accommodate more members, the 10 sororities have more members than they have beds.
“What it means to belong to a sorority or fraternity is evolving,” said Levine. “Housing is not mandatory. We have to get creative with programming to find new ways to build the feelings of sisterhood and brotherhood so that more students can have this experience.”
Kevyn Burger is a freelance writer and a newscaster at BringMeTheNews.com.