NEW #1, ALABAMA TAKES OVER AS NATION’S LARGEST GREEK COMMUNITY

alabama-logo Dynamic Recruitment Spotlight, June 2012

by Josh Orendi

Wait!  You thought University of Illinois was the largest fraternity and sorority community in the nation? Us, too.  It looks like there’s a new #1.  Roll Tide!

In fall 2011, 7,217 Alabama students proudly wore Greek letters. That’s 28% of the student population on a campus of nearly 27,000 undergrads.  To be fair to our friends at Illinois, Alabama does not have the most chapters.  The Illini still hold that record.  Alabama has 55 chapters and growing … fast.

We had the pleasure of interviewing Kat Gillan, Director of Greek Affairs, and Dr. Lowell Davis, Assistant Dean of Students.  They gave us the inside story on how Alabama’s fraternity and sorority community has more than doubled in size over the last 14 years to become the largest Greek campus in the country.

Phired Up: More than doubled!  Really?
Bama: It’s true.  We’re growing fast.  We’ve more than doubled, nearly tripled in size since 1998.  We’re relentless about tracking around here.  I can give you just about any number you can think of in the last 10 years.

Phired Up: I’d love to see the big picture numbers.
Bama: Here you go.

2011- 2012 Alabama Fraternity & Sorority Community by the Numbers:
26,234 undergraduate student population
7,217 total students in Greek letter organizations
32% of women are affiliated with a sorority
23% of men are affiliated with a fraternity
32 fraternities
24 sororities
98 members average fraternity chapter size
267 members average sorority chapter size (formal recruitment groups)
24 of 27 IFC chapters housed (23 average house capacity)
18 of 18 NPC sororities are housed

Phired Up: With growth like this you must be the target of a lot of expansion and extension inquiries.
Bama: Yes, and we embrace it!  On the women’s side, Delta Gamma (Fall 2011) and Alpha Phi (Fall 2008) recently colonized and we’re eager to open for more sorority extension.  On the men’s side, we have 6 national fraternities scheduled to expand in the next 4 semesters.

Phired Up: Are you scared about growing too fast?
Bama: No. We focus on supporting our existing groups, but we also value what new colonies bring to our campus.  We’d love to have more sororities, but housing is proving to be a challenge since we don’t have existing buildings large enough to hold them.  On the fraternity side, we honor the NIC Standards of open expansion and work with the national fraternity headquarters to create plans that will allow them to better communicate with each other.  That way we can help maximize their success when they believe it’s the right time for their organization to be on our campus.

Phired Up: No doubt we have people reading this article who can’t imagine the size of your average chapters or scale of your total community, but can you speak to the “quality” of your groups?
Bama: I believe that we’re a case study proving that “quality” and “quantity” are not mutually exclusive.  For example, our sorority women have had a GPA above the all-women’s GPA for 84 consecutive years.  Our fraternities and sororities rallied together after the April 27, 2011, tornadoes to establish what became UA Greek Relief – a project that contributed more than 1/3 of the total relief to Alabama families and volunteers in the early weeks of the disaster.  Individual chapters and the UA community as a whole have been recognized for excellence by national organizations and association award panels.  From the classroom to the chapter house and from the community to the brotherhood/sisterhood experience, we’re proud of what we’re seeing.

Phired Up: How big are the largest groups?
Bama: At their largest, Alpha Tau Omega had around 180 men on their chapter roster and Phi Mu had 302 members.  The men’s groups will add approximately 30 members in the fall.  The average sorority will take a new member class of around 100 women.

Phired Up: That thud you heard was my chin hitting the table.  302 members?  100 new members!!?
Bama: [courtesy laughing] Those are big numbers.  We know.  Our office is putting a lot of emphasis on new member education and making sure every member has a quality brotherhood/sisterhood experience.

Phired Up: How big are the houses?
Bama: The newest sorority houses that were recently built are around 40,000 square feet and sleep roughly 70 women.  Most of the men’s facilities are around 27,000 square feet and sleep at least 20 members.  12 new chapter houses have been built on campus since 2008 and nearly every existing chapter house has undergone some level of renovation.

Phired Up: 12 new chapter houses have been built in less than 5 years!  How is that possible?
Bama: The University of Alabama really partners with Greek life in this area.  The University views these houses as additional on-campus housing and has added around 500 new beds to Greek Housing. With increased memberships, the Alumni housing corporations can develop business plans that allow them to financially support the housing projects.

Phired Up: My chin was already on the table, now my eyes are bugging out.  Seriously!?
Bama: It’s happened fast but it didn’t happen overnight.  We’ve been preparing for growth.  The University of Alabama is very pro-Greek.  We believe in the fraternal movement all the way up the chain of command.  We also have amazing Greek alumni and strong vendor partnerships.  For example, Pennington and Company has led nearly every chapter fundraising campaign in the last decade.  They were an important part of helping us craft our current policies.  More recently Laurus group has done a few, too.  We count on our business partners, alumni volunteers, undergraduates, headquarters, and university staff all working together.  It’s working.

Bama: We gotta jump in and highlight something we’re really proud of.  An honorary member of Phi Delta Theta Fraternity, Dr. Robert Witt [former University President and now UA System Chancellor], is a recent recipient of the NIC Laurel Wreath Award, and UA’s interim President, Dr. Judy Bonner, a member of the Beta Psi Chapter at UA, was instrumental in Delta Gamma’s recent colonization.  We are so blessed to have an administration that is so supportive of Greek life.  That’s critical!  So much of our success would be impossible to re-create without the support we see from the upper administration.

Phired Up: You mentioned “university staff.”  Do you have a large team of campus professionals charged with supporting Greek life?
Bama: [chuckling] No.  We have 3 full-time professional staff members funded by the University and 2 graduate students funded by our Councils.

Phired Up: How are you able to do so much with so few staff members?
Bama: We work really hard, but we also lean heavily on our partnerships with other campus departments.  For example, I think a major part of our growth is due to our close relationship with the Admissions team.

Phired Up: Tell me about that.
Bama: Here are three examples.

1.    Our office collaborates with the UA Office of Undergraduate Admissions and members of the Greek Governing Councils to host out-of-state recruitment events in Texas, Florida, and Georgia.  These Greek-specific events introduce hundreds of incoming students and their parents to our fraternity/sorority members and the idea of joining a Greek organization.

2.    Greek Preview Day has become a huge success, and is now an annual tradition that potential members look forward to attending each year.  This year our IFC and Panhellenic Councils hosted 3,001 incoming students and their parents, providing a weekend full of house tours, meals, information sharing, and building relationships.

3.    The Regional Recruiters who work in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions always help our office identify potential members. When prospective students indicate to their Recruiter that they are interested in Greek life, those students are offered the opportunity to meet with someone from our trained team of Greek Ambassadors.  Last year UA Greek Ambassadors toured 339 students around campus, walked them through Greek housing, and talked to them about the recruitment process.

Phired Up: You’re building a recruitment machine.  How many new members will join this year?
Bama: We’re projecting and planning for 2500+ new members to join the UA Greek community.

Phired Up: Does everyone join in the fall?
Bama: The women use a formally structured recruitment process in the fall. Release Figure Methodology (RFM), which was first implemented in 2005, has worked wonders for our campus. Since 2009, all Panhellenic sororities are consistently achieving Quota and Total. The IFC men’s process is not formal at all.  Most of the fraternities recruit throughout the spring and give bids in the summer.  Incoming students, transfer students, and even upperclassmen can either choose to hold their bids, accept it or decline it.  Our only requirement is that pledging cannot officially begin until the fall semester and no program may last longer than 8 weeks.  Our NPHC and UGC organizations host Membership Intake throughout the year.

Phired Up: So every new member joins in the fall?
Bama: No, but most men join early in the year.  There is also a smaller spring recruitment push in January and February.  Some chapters choose to recruit throughout the year.

Phired Up: How big do you think the Greek Community can get?
Bama: We’re a growing institution.  The goal is for UA to reach 35,000 students by 2020. Our projection is that fraternities and sororities will grow at least as fast as student enrollment.  The Greek Community brings a lot of value to our students, alumni, community, and the culture of The University of Alabama experience.  Given that, there are no plans of slowing down anytime soon.

Phired Up: Roll Tide.
Bama: Roll Tide!

Interview Date: June 11, 2012
Interview Conducted By:  Josh Orendi, Josh@PhiredUp.com
Interviewing Kat Gillan and Dr Lowell Davis

Do you think your growth story is worthy of a Spotlight Interview?  Contact us at Info@PhiredUp.com.

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