Greek Housing – The William & Mary Solution

This question was submitted by one of our readers. If you have a question you want me to answer go here to submit it: Fraternity Advice.

Question:

I’m currently an undergraduate student at William and Mary, and I’m writing a column about changes in Greek housing. To give you a bit of background, W&M is transitioning its fraternity housing from the units, a complex of over a dozen, split-level dorms with 36 beds spread over 2.5 floors, to a new Greek Complex in 2013-14.


The units have been the home of fraternity life on campus for over 40 years, and as membership in fraternities has decreased, it is becoming harder and harder for chapters to fill their individual units. (Chapter size ranges from 20-80 members).

As there is a housing shortage at W&M, the administration started making fraternities pay for any vacancies in their units. This proved to be cost-prohibitive, so some fraternities resorted to sharing a unit, and others moved off-campus completely.

The new Greek complex will have only 17 beds per chapter house, which will obviously be easier for each individual chapter to fill.

So I had a couple questions about fraternity housing nationally:

Is this move towards less beds per chapter house part of a larger trend nationally?

The conventional wisdom, as I have heard it, is that the number of fraternity men has been steadily decreasing. Is this true?

Any other thoughts you have about this change?

Answer:

Fraternities were at their membership peak in the 70s.  Numbers have been in the decline ever since.  A lot of that is attributed to the boom in student population during/post Vietnam.  This is when a lot of universities built houses for their chapters.  Obviously they were built to house the chapters for the membership sizes they were back then.

Two things have happened since.  First, fraternity membership started to decline.  Second, the houses became old.  Houses from this era are now 40 years old, and have had a tough life.  Most need to be renovated or replaced.

Both of these things has had a profound impact on the health of the fraternity.  Chapter membership is down, and because of that they can’t fill their houses.  However, they still have to pay for the empty rooms, which is an extreme drain on chapter budgets.

Think about that impact.  More and more of the brotherhood dues are going to pay for empty rooms.  This means less funding for the programs the fraternity wants to have.

As a result, the fraternity has a tougher time during fraternity recruitment because they don’t have as much to show for the expense of the fraternity.  Membership numbers decrease even more, making this problem worse.

And let’s not forget that these old houses are becoming older by the day.  Students often have much ‘better’ living options out there, and living in the fraternity house is seen as a sacrifice.  This is obviously not a good situation for anyone involved.

I commend W&M for proactively addressing the issue with a housing plan that addresses the needs of their membership.  It looks like they are putting their chapters in a position to succeed, which they undoubtedly will.

I hope this becomes the trend on other campuses because the problems you are seeing at your school is common across the entire Greek Community.

This question was submitted by one of our readers. If you have a question you want me to answer go here to submit it: Fraternity Advice.

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