Research shows how fraternity membership enhances personal growth

Sigma Nu Leadership conference

Chapter presidents share best practices at College of Chapters, Sigma Nu’s flagship leadership training conference.

By Merritt Onsa

The UniLOA assessment is a 70-item, self-reporting instrument designed to measure student growth, learning and development or “GLD” of college and university students. The research is conducted by the Center for Learning Outcomes Assessment at Indiana State University.

UniLOA measures behavior at key points in a student’s college career and focuses on seven critical domains: critical thinking, self-awareness, communication, diversity, citizenship, membership & leadership and relationships. In the last few years, this diagnostic tool has provided a rich source of new data to inform program development and support services on campuses across the nation.

To ensure high reliability, the authors spent three years developing and testing the instrument before reporting their findings. Now, after six years of data collection, themes and patterns have emerged about the impact of fraternity membership on the development of male students.

The spike in development—especially in the first 15 credit hours—is not seen in athletics, student government or residence life; it’s found uniquely in fraternity members.

Five national fraternities have participated in this research along with more than more than 300 institutions of higher education. Students—not just fraternity members—from across the campus life spectrum have participated in the study.

However, the results confirm what many fraternity members have known all along—the fraternity experience positively influences the personal development of male students. This is demonstrated in three key outcomes from the research:

  • Fraternity men experienced higher net gains in growth over their academic lifespan in each of the seven critical domains.
  • Average growth of fraternity men was higher than non-affiliated men during the first semester of their first year in college, which is often the “pledge” semester.
  • Fraternity men scored substantially higher in “citizenship” and “membership & leadership” than non-affiliated men.

The spike in development—especially in the first 15 credit hours—is not seen in athletics, student government or residence life; it’s found uniquely in fraternity members. And the North-American Interfraternity Conference President and CEO, Peter Smithhisler, says it’s the best argument against deferred recruitment. “The earlier a man can join, the more significant his development,” he says.

Sigma Nu Leadership conference

Director of Leadership Development Scott Smith facilitates a discussion at the 2014 College of Chapters in Roanoke, Va.

Of course, the authors of the UniLOA acknowledge that growth, learning and development happen naturally through the maturation process; but meaningful and consistent engagement in organized activities like fraternities tends to accelerate the rate of GLD for those students.

The NIC has been aware of UniLOA for the past five years; however, the organization waited to react to the results until the data could be replicated. Now that it has been deemed a reliable and valid instrument that consistently reveals the same overall patterns, the NIC is working to help undergraduate members and college administrators understand the total impact of the fraternity experience on male student development.

“While we own, acknowledge and are dealing with the issues that are out of line with the values of the fraternity experience, we also have to start identifying what’s going right. As a result of the new member experience, young men have leadership opportunities, interact with a diverse group of students and develop personal relationships. If we can eliminate the negative aspects and enhance the positive aspects, I expect the fraternity experience to become even more impactful,” says Smithhisler.

Sigma Nu Leadership conference

Chapter presidents discuss ways to positively influence their campus at the 2014 College of Chapters in Roanoke, Va.

And that opportunity rests in the hands of our current chapter members. “Our current undergraduates are entrusted with the future of fraternities. What they do today in the ways they recruit, create expectations and how they lead, all of these things will determine the focus of fraternities in the future. And it’s up to the undergraduates to ensure our future,” says Smithhisler.

At the same time, alumni play an important role in the development of young men. Smithhisler challenges all fraternity alumni to reengage with their organization as role models and mentors. “Undergraduates need positive role models to provide guidance and encouragement along the path to becoming fraternity men. It’s through mentorship that student leaders are taught the value of fraternity membership and how to live out those values in their daily lives,” he says.  Equally as important, “alumni must resist perpetuating the myths and stereotypes through their interactions and expectations of the young men in our chapters.”

Sigma Nu Leadership conference

Vice Regent John Hearn stands by to assist chapter presidents during a goal-setting session.

To continue to share the research outcomes, the NIC created The Case for Fraternity Rights website and is working through multiple channels to disseminate the information therein. They are communicating directly with IFC and campus leaders, especially those campuses with deferred recruitment. And they’ve translated the research into a 60-minute presentation that their 75 member organizations can use at national conventions or provide to traveling staff members to share with individual chapters. In case you’re wondering, the NIC is not affiliated with UniLOA and does not commission, finance or influence the research in any way.

In addition to communicating the good news about fraternity life to those closest to the experience, the NIC is working to share this research with other stakeholders like the media, government officials, parents and potential new members.

To learn more about the research visit http://nicindy.org/fraternityrights/ and help us spread the word about the dramatic positive impact fraternity life has on student growth, learning and development for the young men who join.

This story originally appeared in the fall 2012 issue of The Delta.

One thought on “Research shows how fraternity membership enhances personal growth

  1. timothy gaspard says:

    I completely agree that people in the greek system see spikes in development over the rest of the student population. The fact alone that people join greek life to become a part of something bigger than oneself is all the proof a person needs to see that these are people who are actively searching for the bigger things in life.

    Timothy Gaspard
    University of Louisiana at Lafayette

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