This weekend, hundreds of women coming to K-State learned which sororities they will participate in for the next four years.
Meanwhile, the university’s men won’t have quite the same experience. Fraternity recruitment is a much less centralized experience at K-State. Prospective members already may have joined a fraternity, and some may still be waiting to find out. Others may not have even started the process of joining an organization yet.
Some fraternities, including Tau Kappa Epsilon, don’t even know if they will exist this upcoming school year.
TKE, also known as TEKE, sold its 75-person house at 1516 N. Manhattan Ave. to the Alpha Gamma Delta sorority, which has a membership of 79.
The sale of TKE’s house, which has put the fraternity chapter’s future in jeopardy, is the fourth fraternity house to be sold within the last 10 years, said Tim Lindemuth, a long-time adviser for K-State’s greek community.
Conversely, none of the 13 sorority chapters on campus have sold houses in the same time frame, and in two instances, sororities bought the houses fraternities were selling.
Lindemuth said the sale of the house is symptomatic of a fraternity “not doing its job” to recruit new members. In the spring semester, TKE reported a total of 28 active members, not enough to continue as a fraternity that owns a house, or possibly as a K-State chapter at all.
But the sale of TKE’s house does not mean all fraternities are struggling, Lindemuth said.
“Pi Kappa Alpha, Theta Xi and Sigma Chi have put in many, many millions of dollars of renovations into their chapter houses,” Lindemuth said. “Those are three examples of their membership is such that their alumni invested many millions of dollars to upgrade their properties.
“Some have closed, and some have changed hands to sororities,” Lindemuth added. “But likewise, chapters are actually thriving, growing and greatly improving their properties.”
So why do some fraternities seem to do well while others struggle to keep the lights on? And why do some fraternities struggle while the sororities seem to have no trouble at all?
THINNER MARGIN OF ERROR
Recruiting members to a fraternity or sorority is the lifeblood of the greek system, but compared to sororities, fraternities have a thinner margin of error.
At K-State, there are 13 sororities, which all own houses, available for students to join. Conversely, there are currently 24 fraternities, 19 of which own houses.
Sororities on average are bigger than fraternities, though. This past spring semester, sororities reported a total of 1,921 active members, according to K-State student organization records. During the same semester, fraternities reported a total of 1,462 active members. That’s a difference of 459.
Members pay fees to help cover the costs of owning a fraternity or sorority house. Naturally, the more members in the organization, the easier it is to make sure the bills are paid.
Because all 13 sororities own houses and recruit more members, they have a much larger average membership per house. K-State sororities average 148 active members per house during the spring 2018 semester, according to K-State documents. The fraternities averaged 65 active members per house during the same semester.
One of the major differences between the sorority and fraternity organizations are their recruiting strategies.
Sororities use a highly organized process. The week before fall classes begin on campus, K-State women who are interested in joining a sorority spend the entire week meeting with all 13 chapters and participating in several events.
At the end of the week, the prospective members receive bids to join a sorority. Some women will not receive bids but have the opportunity to continue recruitment through the school year in the “continuous open bidding” process. Most, though, get matched with one of their top choices.
Fraternities use a much more informal recruitment method. Each chapter recruits members on their own and can use the entire school year to attract new members. While prospective members can sign up in a database to make it known they are interested in being recruited, the fraternities do not have an organized week to allow those seeking a fraternity to meet all of the chapters.
Jeremy Campbell, president of K-State’s Interfraternity Council, said each recruitment process has its caveats. While fraternities may have to deal with low recruitment years, sorority chapters have their own stresses, too.
“We recruit people over months,” Campbell said of fraternities. “With sororities, they do it all in a week. They have conversations, but how much do you really learn of somebody in a week? And it’s not an ordinary week. It’s a very stressful week. We take it a little slower.”
K-State’s fraternity recruitment process is not the norm, Lindemuth said, noting it more typical for American universities to use a recruitment process similar to K-State sororities’ recruitment week for fraternities, too.
Campbell said it’s possible that an organized rush week could help fraternities boost membership, but there aren’t any plans for that yet.
“It’s always something that’s talked about,” Campbell said. “I think when you have students who turn over every single year, it’s really hard to do really huge changes to anything, especially recruitment.”
With a new director of the greek system — Jordan Kocher, who was hired over the summer — Campbell said the groups may explore their options.
“We don’t know exactly how other universities do it, but the way we do it works for us,” he said. “I’m not saying it’s perfect by any means, and their may be better ways to do it, we just haven’t explored them yet.”
TAU KAPPA EPSILON
With only a couple of days left until the beginning of the falls semester, Campbell said on Wednesday he didn’t know if TKE will continue as an active chapter at K-State.
“I’m still waiting on a response to whether they are going to have enough members,” Campbell said. “Technically, as a national organization, they have to have 20 active members, and I’m not sure they are going to have that number until school starts.”
Campbell said a representative for the TKE’s national organization will visit Manhattan soon to assess the situation and make a decision on the K-State chapter’s immediate future.
But a local leader and alumnus of the chapter does not seem to be worried at all. Brian Rassette, whose term as president of the TKE building association recently ended, said the chapter may seem to be struggling at the moment, but it will be stronger in the future.
“A lot of people think the building is the fraternity, but in reality its the guys who are the fraternity,” Rassette said. “Sometimes you have to make a tough short-term decision for the long-term future.”
Additionally, Rassette said the group’s former house may be too large for the fraternity anyway.
“Ever since I was on the board, everybody was saying ‘I wish we were a smaller fraternity,’” he said. “That’s where fraternities are headed. New ones coming on campus are smaller.”
Rassette, who was a member of the fraternity when he was a K-State student in the 1970s, said part of the reason TKE may have struggled to recruit are the recently new pressures on college students: university tuitions have skyrocketed and many students need to work throughout their college careers to pay the bills. Another aspect is the increasing need of internships, taking up many students’ summer time.
When it comes to recruitment processes, Rassette is open to the students changing to a rush week. Better yet, he thinks they could use a hybrid of both systems.
“There are going to be a lot of people that can’t get to campus throughout the year who are in high school because they have sports, academic competitions and they are working as well because they have to pay for college,” he said. “It’s harder to get kids on campus than it used to be. So I’m thinking you kind of have both.”
Recruitment of new members to TKE has been a struggle in recent years, but the sale of the house also came down to the fraternity owning a property with a lot of maintenance it could not afford and a facility much larger than it actually needs, Rasette said.
While the future of TKE is not known, Rassette said he is confident the fraternity will again recruit members and purchase a new house, albeit a much smaller one.
“I know the alumni are going to keep an active chapter going somehow, someway,” he said.