Comparable living costs make greek life affordable

Sorority houses can be more expensive, more varied in room/board fees

Incoming freshmen circle around for an introduction from Kappa Sigma members during a visit to the fraternity. The cost of greek living is comparable to KU residence hall room and board fees, making it affordable for interested students.

Mark Rigby, Marion, Iowa, freshman, second from right, talks with Kappa Sigma member and Paola junior Mike Thompson, right, as Overland Park freshman Jared Lindsay, left, gets a tour of the house from fraternity member and Prairie Village sophomore Derek Hoefer during a recent visit to the fraternity.

Membership in a Kansas University greek house can bring a host of different costs for students: local chapter dues, national organization dues, social event fees, service fees, new member fees, insurance coverage, and room and board if students live in their chapters’ houses.

But when they’re added up, the costs are often no more imposing than the cost of a year in a KU residence hall.

Live-in fraternity and sorority members will pay an average of about $6,000 for the 2007-08 year, including all dues and fees.

The average cost of a room in the residence halls and a meal plan will be $6,100, according to the KU student housing department.

Jay Benedict, a KU junior, said the lower cost of living was a big reason he chose to live in a greek house.

“The summer before my freshman year, I participated in formal recruitment simply because I saw that some fraternities cost less than the dorms,” he said.

Benedict is the president of the KU Theta Chi fraternity chapter, where members will pay $5,800 to live this year.

This cost is typical for a KU fraternity, said Michael Gillaspie, the KU Interfraternity Council’s vice president for recruitment. He said most of the fraternities cost about $6,000 for live-in membership. The costs at the different chapters range from about $5,200 to $7,200, and new members generally pay a one-time fee that’s usually less than $500.

Costs for KU’s sororities are similar, but they have a wider range. The average yearly live-in cost is $5,918, but the costs range from $3,350 to $7,720, said Christy Steinbrueck, the KU Panhellenic Association’s vice president for recruitment.

First-year sorority members cannot live in their chapter houses, but they pay another fee to take part in chapter events. The fees range from $1,184 to $2,780 and average about $2,000, Steinbrueck said.

Each chapter sets its own cost for each year, according to its financial needs. Gillaspie said a number of factors can contribute to the cost of membership: distance from campus, the size and age of the house, and utility costs can all play roles.

“People think, ‘Oh, well, whoever has the nicest house pays the most,’ but it’s a huge range of factors,” Gillaspie said.

Laura Bauer, KU program director for fraternity and sorority life, said a chapter’s choice of activities also affects its members’ costs. For example, the Rock Chalk Revue, an annual United Way benefit where chapters perform short musicals, can be expensive for a chapter, she said.

“Most people who go through the recruitment process have found a place they can afford,” Bauer said. “Some of them are lower than living in the residence halls. Some of them are significantly more expensive.”

She said costs at fraternities and sororities have increased in recent years, but they have increased at about the same rate as residence hall costs.

Greek membership at KU has fallen in about the last five years – from about 18 percent of the KU Lawrence undergraduate population in fall 2002 to about 13.6 percent in fall 2006.

Bauer said she had not extensively studied the greek membership decline, and she did not mention increasing cost as a potential reason.

She pointed out that fraternity membership had decreased more than sorority membership. Sororities recruit mainly from a formal recruitment process overseen by the Panhellenic Association. But fraternities recruit mostly through an informal process, meaning that individual chapters must organize their own recruitment activities. Thus, a fraternity chapter’s recruitment numbers can depend on the work of its leaders.

“If you have poor leadership in a chapter, and they don’t go out and do the work, numbers are going to go down,” Bauer said.

Also, three fraternities and two sororities have left campus since 2002.

Another KU Greek council, the National Panhellenic Council, oversees historically black and Latino fraternities and sororities. None of the NPHC chapters has a house.

Zackary Webb, NPHC public relations director, said NPHC chapters charged dues to fund chapter activities, but the dues weren’t usually more than a few hundred dollars per year.

“I’ve never heard of it being a problem,” Webb said.