Cost of dues impacts Greek membership

by Ester Cross | 7/8/13 10:00pm

by Anna Davies and Anna Davies / The Dartmouth

With 47 percent of students receiving need based financial aid for the 2011-2012 academic year, the high costs of Greek organization membership forces many students to turn to scholarship programs in their organization, apply for outside funding or abstain from membership.

The affiliated sophomore decided to become an inactive member during winter term when she could not afford her sororities dues. This decision prevented her from participating in sorority events, including weekly meetings and philanthropy.

"I think that if you had a sister who was having trouble, you would still try to support them and make them part of the community," she said.

Since she receives full financial aid, she qualified for work-study and worked at Late Night Collis, saving enough to rejoin her sorority as an active member during the spring.

Students receiving financial aid confront the same costs for Greek organizations as their peers, since federal law prohibits the College from subsidizing Greek dues.

"As long as there is one dollar of federal funding in their package, students cannot receive help from financial aid for funding Greek organization membership," financial aid director Virginia Hazen said.

To ensure fairness, the College also does not subsidize dues for students not receiving federal funding.

Individual organizations are responsible for providing financial assistance to students struggling to afford the cost of membership.

During last fall's pledge term, sorority dues ranged from $370 to $710, falling to around $300 for subsequent terms, according to a Panhellenic Council report. Neither of these estimates includes the funds required to attend formals, participate in some fundraising activities and purchase optional sorority clothing.

Dues vary according to national or local affiliation, as well as the number of members on campus in a given term.

Alpha Xi Delta sorority charges around $220 per term, $20 of which is diverted to a scholarship fund. In fall 2012, the sorority used 20 percent of its budget, or $4,000, for scholarship funds, president Victoria Townsend '14 said.

Members who apply for AZD's scholarship may receive up to $180 and must complete extra housework in addition to the chores expected of all members.

"We are asking them to pay back to the house, since the house is giving them the opportunity to not pay the full amount," Townsend said. "I think it's a great way for the house to help out sisters who can't afford the full dues."

Sigma Delta sorority sets its dues at the beginning of each term, knowing financial assistance will be required for some sisters, summer president Katie Gibson '15 said. Dues cover sisterhood events, philanthropy efforts, social events and house upkeep. Members applying for financial assistance work with the treasurer to create the most effective payment plan, including incremental payments or house chores in lieu of dues.

"Ideally, we'd love to assist to the maximum amount that every sister asks for, but realistically and unfortunately, it's not possible to do so," Gibson said.

Gibson declined to specify the amount of house dues and scholarships.

A sophomore who wished to remain anonymous in order to maintain her family's privacy said she decided not to rush during sophomore fall because of financial considerations and athletic commitments.

Although her family pays the full cost of a Dartmouth education, she said the extra costs associated with social life remained a challenge.

"They don't tell me how to spend, but I wouldn't want to waste money because I feel that I already owe it to them," she said.

After some reflection, she realized that the deciding factor in joining a Greek organization is meeting new people and becoming part of a sisterhood. She is considering rushing in the fall as a junior.

"At this point, the social benefits outweigh the costs," she said.

Fraternity dues cost between $300 and $400 per term, Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity treasurer Nicholas Desatnick '15 said. This does not include social dues, which are significantly higher for fraternities than sororities.

SAE's national and house dues are $350 per term, while social dues vary and are decided two weeks before the start of term, Desatnick said.

Dues are listed on tuition statements from the College, as they are submitted through the office of Greek Letters Organizations and Societies.

Members requiring financial assistance may defer payments or perform chores. SAE provides interest-free loans to students of good academic standing, to be repaid in installments.

Individuals send applications for assistance to the "scarlet chair," a financial management position held by a fraternity member, which are then evaluated by the organization's national office.

"People have found the financial assistance to be flexible and accommodating, and there hasn't been concern about any limitations," Desatnick said.

Psi Upsilon fraternity members pay termly dues of $300, with additional social dues calculated at the beginning of each term. Members who need financial assistance can perform chores for $15 an hour, overseen by the house manager.

Ian Woon '15 decided to join Psi U after members reassured him that the fraternity is flexible with dues when necessary. Woon found a job on campus to help cover the cost of dues.

Financial assistance from outside sources is limited, although the Panhellenic Council is considering an expansion of available aid. The new system would be need-based and funded by alumnae who joined sororities. The council's executive board and donors would collaborate on the distribution of the scholarships to students.

"Dues are expensive and choosing to join a house should never come down to socioeconomic status," Panhellenic Council president Eliana Piper '14 said. "These scholarships will be a variety of memorial scholarships, perhaps honoring a loved one who has passed away or an influential professor, as well as scholarships celebrating ideals such as diversity or accountability."

The Panhellenic Council currently provides two $50 scholarships per term for each sorority.

The Interfraternity Council does not offer scholarships, though fraternities receive financial support from alumni and their national charters, treasurer Nejc Zupan '14 said.

"At least in the recent history, no incident of a member being in jeopardy of losing affiliation eligibility due to issues with dues has been brought to IFC attention," Zupan said.

For Joe Carey '15, the decision not to rush was based on evaluating the costs and benefits of affiliation. Carey decided he would pay his dues without assistance from his parents.

Carey joined a fraternity in the fall, but, after one day, decided that membership was not worth the cost because as a varsity athlete, he would miss many fraternity events.

Carey lives in the track and field team's off-campus house and works on campus to pay rent.

"This seems more like a real-world experience," he said. "I am hanging out with my friends and not living in a frat and paying for other people to drink."