November 10, 2005

Money Talks in the Greek System

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The stereotypical fraternity boy or sorority girl sports a German-made car, lots of Abercrombie, and a Long Island accent. But not all stereotypes are true, and many members of Cornell’s Greek system don’t fit that mold. Especially when it comes to financial resources.

From chapter and national scholarships to individual payment plans, a number of Cornell houses work with members to ensure that they are not excluded from the Greek system because of personal financial constraints.

Steve Grossman ’07, treasurer of the Interfraternity Council, explained, “We want to make sure financial considerations are not a condition of membership.”

That said, there is no blanket rule on how chapters must handle financial issues. While Grossman said he likes the “self-governance in the system,” the absence of official rules allows some houses to be much less welcoming of students with overstretched bank accounts.

Going Greek a Luxury?

One sorority girl, who wished not to be named or have her house identified, insisted that joining the Greek system is a “luxury” and “it would not be fair to the other sisters if one’s dues were reduced.” Although she said her sorority’s national organization offers some educational scholarship awards, there are no such offers at the chapter level.

“It is [her sorority’s] policy not to accept a sister that cannot meet her financial obligations,” she said.

The sister said that upperclassmen with otherwise good financial standing can sometimes claim “alumni status,” in which the dues are significantly reduced but attendance at formals and social events is prohibited.

Some sororities are more accommodating of students with financial difficulties. Nicki Kravec ’06, president of Kappa Alpha Theta, said her sorority “absolutely assists sisters who need financial support to remain a member.” In addition to providing access to a national fund and scholarships, she said the chapter can sometimes pay members’ dues.

Jillian Dorans ’07, vice president of finance for Delta Delta Delta, said her sisters can attain Emergency Financial Status if they have trouble paying their dues. She stressed that it is “completely confidential” because only she and the president of the house are informed of the sister’s situation.

Help from the Office of Financial Aid

Not all Greek students in tight financial situations even need to approach their houses, though, because of the flexibility of financial aid packages.

In most cases, semi-annual membership dues and room and board expenses appear on a student’s bursar bill at the beginning of each semester. The Office of Financial Aid provides an allowance based on its calculation of room and board costs ($6,080 and $4,220, respectively), and this allowance can be put towards rent and dining at any location, including Collegetown and Greek houses.

The average rent for members of the Interfraternity Council is $5,043 annually, and board costs $2,358, according to Lisa Blockus Brown, assistant dean of students for leadership and development at the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs.

Member houses of the Panhellenic Association are usually less expensive, with rent averaging $3,958 and dining costing $2,748.

These expenses come well within the aid limits of University grant and loan packages, so many brothers and sisters do not worry about how to pay for housing in the chapter.

Angel Ramirez ’06, a brother at Delta Tau Delta, said he works closely with his financial aid officer and the treasurer of his house to make sure he can afford continued membership.

A single room in his house costs $5,800 and the full meal plan runs to $2,000. In addition to room and board for those who choose to live in the house, all brothers are expected to pay dues of $425 to $500 per semester, depending on how many brothers are active. Ramirez said other expenses, like tickets to formal, are covered by dues.

The average annual dues for initiated members in Interfraternity Council houses are $1,187.59, according to Blockus Brown.

Delta Upsilon treasurer Randy Shayler ’07 said his fraternity also has no out-of-pocket fees and all expenses are covered in the initial bursar bill.

As at Delta Tau Delta, seniors can live in the fraternity house. Shayler said there is no pressure to live in Collegetown and a number of seniors do choose to stay in the house to keep costs down. Living at Delta Upsilon costs $4,880 per semester, Shayler said.

Pi Kappa Phi brothers are also welcome to live in the house.

Brothers there have a unique way of making extra money, said treasurer Joey Zielinski ’07. Two students are hired each semester to clean the four house bathrooms for $25 per week.

“Usually people do it for extra spending money, so there is no stigma for the bathroom cleaners,” Zielinski said.

He said brothers who do not want to put their fraternity expenses on their bursar bills can wait until the end of the semester, after they have earned a significant amount of money, to pay their fees. Zielinski said his house has no clear divide between wealthier and poorer brothers.

“We don’t recruit based on financial status,” he said.

Brothers often go out to eat on Friday and Saturday nights, when the cook is off duty, but if members do not want to spend the $5 or $10 each night, there are always sandwiches and leftovers in the house kitchen.

“On a whole, I think it’s cheaper than Collegetown and could even be easier,” Zielinski said, citing the fact that brothers don’t have to cook their own meals or buy take-out regularly.

Alumni Aid

Alpha Delta Phi has a tremendous support system for brothers and other Cornell students with financial difficulties. The McVoy Alpha Delta Phi Scholarship, named for former brother Martin M. McVoy, Jr. 1892, awards financial prizes for members of the fraternity that vary depending on the students’ needs, grade point average, and size of current loans. The scholarship is given to brothers with leadership roles in the fraternity so those with work-study obligations are not excluded from participating in the house.

Steven Ritchey ’81, who is involved in the Adelphic Cornell Education Fund, stated in an email that the incentives associated with Alpha Delta Phi “make it financially more attractive for those with reasonably good to excellent scholarship and/or financial need to be members.”

All brothers in the fraternity also receive scholarships every time they make the Dean’s List.

Another major source of funding for members of the Greek system is the Dyson Fraternity and Sorority Scholarship Award, established in 1998 by John S. Dyson ’65. There are 16 participating chapters, as well as four chapters that offer Dyson Tradition Fellowships. As with the McVoy Scholarship, the Dyson award relieves a significant portion of recipients’ work-study requirements.

Howie Schaffer ’90, alumni president of Alpha Delta Phi, said the University’s Residential Initiative has given chapters competition in providing attractive housing options, so Greek houses must now offer new financial incentives.

“Savvy freshmen are looking – for more than just social programming,” Schaffer said. “Fraternities who turn their backs on this new emphasis on assisting with financial aid do so at their own peril.”

Archived article by Melissa Korn
Sun Senior Editor