Students involved in Greek life show low GPAs, higher retention

Spencer Harsh

Involvement in Greek life can be the cause of lower grade point averages, according to recent national research. However, Greek life at WKU produces strong retention and graduation rates, according to research done by WKU officials.

Nationally, undergraduates who join Greek organizations on average lose a quarter of a letter grade on their overall and incoming GPAs, according to research done by Andrew De Donato and James Thomas.

De Donato and Thomas also found that students involved in a fraternity or sorority have an algorithm for choosing classes in an attempt to salvage their oftentimes lower GPAs.

“There are strong negative effects in some periods but smaller effects in others,” the study said.

The study shows students earn lower GPAs after becoming associated with a Greek organization, which is typically during their first or second semester of college.

Charley Pride, director of Student Activities at WKU, has recorded data associated with Greek students dating back to 1994.

Pride said he agrees there is a drop in overall GPA among students who join a fraternity or sorority, but he said it is not the same for every organization and there are many other things to take into account.

“College does allow your GPA to go down,” Pride said.

Pride said students, Greek or not, are prone to lower GPAs when they are in college. Students who are in “Greek-lettered organizations” are simply more identifiable, he said.

WKU Greek Affairs has a 2.5 GPA requirement in order for any student to become a prospective new member, Pride said. He said individual chapters can also have their own GPA requirements for new members, most of which are typically 2.7, although some chapters have the requirement as high as 3.0 for incoming freshmen.

In spring 2016, the average GPA for women in a sorority was 3.06, with new members in their respective organizations bringing in averages ranging from 2.3 to 3.5. Additionally, the average GPA for a male student in a fraternity was 2.7 last spring, with GPA’s averaging from 1.4 to 3.6.

While some Greek organizations do show lower academic performance, the same cannot be said for every Greek organization, according to grade rankings from WKU Greek Affairs.

Pride said he thinks people often overlook positive qualities Greek organizations provide, such as strong retention and graduation rates.

“There’s a phenomenal relationship between being Greek and staying at WKU,” Pride said.

In fall 2010, the most recent year with complete graduation data, WKU had an overall 51.9 percent graduation rate. However, 57.8 percent of the men who graduated were Greek, as well as 72.9 percent of graduating women, according to Pride’s research.

The average high school GPA for first-time, first-year students starting at WKU is 3.27, according to the fall 2016 Quick Facts. However, the GPA for all undergraduate students at WKU is not currently available.

Andrew Rash, coordinator for Greek Affairs at WKU, also kept track of GPA rankings since starting his position this year. Rash said he believes that GPAs can go down when students join Greek organizations.

Rash said he also believes that going into a Greek organization doesn’t “mystically save people’s GPA’s.”

“I find this stuff terribly interesting,” Rash said. “Having an understanding of grades can encourage positive change.”

Rash said he believes that Greek GPAs are a “conditional thing.” Organizations that attract students with high GPAs have members who maintain higher GPAs, he said. Occasionally, there are “anomalies” with some organizations, but research done by both Pride and Rash reinforce this theory.

Such anomalies can include a low incoming GPA in a Greek organization ending with a high GPA by the end of the semester and vice versa, Rash said.

“You reap what you sow,” Rash said.

However, senior Matt Millay, president of WKU’s Phi Gamma Delta chapter, said national research may not help others see the whole picture when looking at the Greek community.

“The research is a rightful cause for concern,” Millay said. “It paints a less-than-pleasing picture.”

Millay said knowing what type of image the national research creates makes “an opportunity to rise to the occasion.”

Millay said his chapter and the cabinet for his chapter have always strived for excellence. Phi Gamma Delta, or Fiji, has a national award called the Jordan Bowl that is given to the chapter that has the best grades. In 2016, WKU’s Fiji chapter won the Jordan Bowl, Millay said.

In spring 2016, WKU’s Fiji chapter had a 3.4 overall GPA, according to WKU Greek Affairs.

“Excellence not being achievable is sometimes a theme in society,” Millay said. “I disagree with that. It’s achievable in the little things.”

Millay said “the little things” can be as simple as how a student takes care of themselves or how they keep up with their study habits.

Earlier this year, another Greek chapter at WKU won a national award within their organization. WKU’s Kappa Delta chapter was awarded the 2017 Council Award on July 1. The award is given to Kappa Delta chapters with the best overall performance in many aspects of Greek life, according to a press release from WKU.

Millay said while WKU can be stereotyped as a “party school,” the Greek community as a whole works well together.

“There’s a strong sense of community here,” Millay said. “One accomplishment for one is an accomplishment for all.”

Louisville sophomore Tori Poppe, a member of a sorority at WKU, asked for her sorority to not be named because of their guidelines for talking to the media. Poppe said Greek organization GPAs need to be understood in a more case-by-case context.

“Some organizations prioritize it more than others,” Poppe said. “Greeks always claim to hold high values.”

Poppe said she also thinks it’s not remarkable that students can earn lower GPAs while being a part of Greek organizations. She said when a student joins a fraternity or sorority, they are choosing to make being social a priority in their life.

“It makes sense because you put different relationships above other things,” Poppe said. “It’s really no surprise.”

Laura Bunning, a senior and member of Phi Mu sorority, said students who join anything on campus will have limited time to get things done.

“I have a strong GPA,” Bunning said. “Being in a Greek organization has taught me how to manage time effectively.”

Bunning said she believes any student organization, Greek or not, requires students to prioritize things in life.

“Anything people get involved in makes it challenging to find a balance,” Bunning said. “It helps more than it hurts.”

Bunning said she finds the amount of support that the Greek community can provide to a student is surprising.

“It demonstrates to me the strength of Greek life,” Bunning said. “I think a lot of times people see what’s in the media and assume students in Greek organizations only party.”

Senior Jordan Bybee said he can believe the correlation between being in a Greek organization and retention at a university. Bybee said he can understand the relation between being Greek and staying enrolled at a university because being in a fraternity could indicate that a student has money, which makes it easier to stay in a school.

“Being a senior, it can get tough because your friends transfer sometimes due to money,” Bybee said.

Bybee said he is a part of Christian Student Fellowship, or CSF, and finds it easier to stay at WKU because he has a sense of community. He said that a sense of community can help students stay at school, which is something he sees in Greek organizations.

Freshman Kat Tyler, however, said that the good retention and graduation rates from Greek students are a surprise.

“It’s unexpected,” Tyler said. “It breaks the Greek stereotype.”

Copy Desk Chief Spencer Harsh can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @ActualSparsh.