New Pike Study: Fraternity and Sorority Members Significantly More Engaged, Satisfied

August 31, 2020

Indianapolis, IN—Long-time prominent higher education researcher Dr. Gary R. Pike of Indiana University recently presented conclusions of a study on fraternity and sorority membership at the Foundation for Fraternal Excellence Seminar in advance of publishing these results. The study finds fraternity and sorority members are significantly more engaged than non-members, report greater gains in learning and are more satisfied with their college experiences.

Dr. Pike finds that fraternity and sorority membership is associated with significantly higher levels of engagement on a number of measures including high impact practices, collaborative learning, student-faculty interactions, perception of a supportive campus environment and discussions with diverse others.

For this study, which is one of the largest of its kind, Dr. Pike replicated his 2003 research which utilized National Survey on Student Engagement (NSSE) data to determine whether levels of engagement and learning outcomes changed over time. He used 2014 and 2017 NSSE data to create two different snapshots. According to Dr. Pike, the NSSE is a good instrument to understand students broadly and fraternity and sorority members specifically.

“A couple of reasons (to base the research on NSSE), the first is the theory upon which it is based. The survey grew out of the work of C. Robert Pace, Alexander Astin and George Kuh,” said Dr. Pike. “The theory of the survey can be summarized that students learn what they do. So, it asks students what they are doing in college in terms of what they are involved in. It also tries to get at institutions and organizations what kinds of opportunities they are providing for students and though that may be a college or university or it could be a fraternity or sorority.

“The second reason that NSSE is a good instrument is just simply the size of the survey. Each year, approximately 700 institutions participate in that survey and we get complete responses from over 200,000, either first-year students or seniors. It is a tremendously robust and representative data set.”

Unlike studies conducted at single institutions, the scope of the NSSE data is significant to these findings.

Some specific conclusions found in Dr. Pike’s study included:

  • Fraternity/sorority membership also indirectly improved learning gains, acting through higher levels of student engagement.
  • Despite being less diverse than students in general, fraternity/sorority members reported higher levels of interaction with people different from themselves than did other students.
  • Membership in a fraternity or sorority is associated with greater involvement in curricular and cocurricular activities, promotes student learning and development, and promotes satisfaction with the college experiences.
  • The largest positive effects were generally found for first-year students, arguing against deferring recruitment until the second semester or second year.
  • The findings of this study indicate that fraternities and sororities are not antithetical to the values of American higher education.
  • Problems found throughout higher education including alcohol use and abuse, hazing, sexual assault and academic achievement (i.e., grades) remain in Greek-letter organizations as well. Effectively addressing these issues will better allow fraternities and sororities to contribute to the academic and social life of American colleges and universities.

“These results are clear: Fraternities play an integral role in helping new students successfully transition to college life,” said Judson Horras, president and CEO of the North American Interfraternity Conference. “We strongly encourage our campus partners to embrace the value fraternities provide young men in the areas of retention, collaborative learning and appreciation for diversity.”

According to Dr. Pike, the collaborative learning effects were most dramatic for first-year students. He saw much higher participation and interaction with faculty in first-year fraternity members compared to first-year non-affiliated students. These interactions with faculty included discussions about career choices, classwork and, frequently, personal issues.

There was also significantly higher perception of a supportive campus environment for first-year fraternity members.

“The first year of college is a time of transition for students,” said Dr. Pike. “It’s not surprising that the first year of college is where we see the greatest number of dropouts. It is double what we see in the second year, four times what we see in the third year and eight times what we see in the senior year.

“Engagement during the first year, one of the research results that George Kuh and others have reported, tends to help students stay in college. It also positively effects their learning. So, to the extent that we have students involved in fraternities and sororities becoming more engaged, it is very beneficial. When you have deferred recruitment, you are losing benefits in these areas.”

The study also found that while members of fraternities and sororities were more homogeneous than the general student population, they reported significantly higher levels of discussions with diverse others than non-affiliated students—including people from different races, ethnicity, economic background, religious beliefs and political views. Moreover, the relationship was strongest for fraternity members.

Through this study and his previous studies, Dr. Pike’s findings show a consistency of the impact of fraternity and sorority membership over a 20-year period.

“There have been several studies, including mine, that find positive relationships between fraternity/sorority membership and student engagement and student learning. While specific findings on a scale differ from study to study, the overall results are consistent about fraternities and sororities having this positive effect on students’ engagement in college,” said Dr. Pike.

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