Enrollment declines on college campuses are not news at this point, and universities, colleges, and member organizations all continue to feel the effects of COVID-19. In order to sustain membership numbers, fraternities and sororities have had to adapt the experience they provide for both current and future members. In the past, sorority growth looked very similar from campus to campus – registration opens, potential new members sign up for recruitment, recruitment happens, everyone gets new members, and the year goes on. Now, on some campuses, it is a constant struggle to even pique interest in joining a sorority. The way organizations recruit members is going through a state of change. The value and importance of the sorority experience is still just as relevant; however, the way in which it is marketed and how organizations continue to grow must change.
Local College Panhellenics and individual member organizations can promote an experience that appeals to these Gen Z students by adapting marketing efforts, adjusting the style of recruitment, and allowing time for deeper, more personal connections. The traditional, four-round recruitment process does not work on all campuses, nor does it match what some students are looking for. When many think about the traditional college experience, bustling dorms, packed food halls, and crowded sporting events all come to mind. While much of that may still be true, students are reporting a decrease in their desire to attend social events (Hamlin and Barney, 2022). In order to meet students where they are, local College Panhellenics may need to adapt to the environment they are asking potential new members to step into. By doing this, they will have a greater reach to even more students – bringing in the “never joiners” and sharing with them the benefits of the sorority experience.
In the last three years, the promotion of the sorority experience has become a vital part of growth for National Panhellenic Conference (NPC) organizations. To support this, NPC has facilitated the Growth/Marketing Pilot, recruited individuals to be NPC marketing coaches, and launched Join a Sorority Week in 2021. Some campuses that participated in paid ad campaigns saw an increase in the open house pool in just one year, including Berkeley, North Florida, Vanderbilt, and Butler, just to name a few (L. Good, personal communication, September 19, 2022; D. Weatherford, personal communication, January 31, 2023). But the work shouldn’t stop here. In all these efforts, members and organizations need to reflect on the experiences they are promoting and find new ways to market to the needs and wants of today’s potential new members. This wave of students headed to college is looking to join something bigger than themselves; they need to see the value and authenticity behind the experience. The Chronicle of Higher Education states, “Gen Z is the most diverse generation in modern American history, and its members are attentive to inclusion across race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender identity” (Selingo, 2018). These students are in tune with the world around them and strive to contribute to their communities. When they are coming to college, they are seeking support systems that will challenge their personal development (Selingo, 2018). If only there was an opportunity to join a community that empowers women to be civic leaders, give back to their communities, facilitate their personal growth, and so much more.
NPC has been working over the past year to identify campuses that could benefit from a change in recruitment style. Many campuses that have made a switch to partially structured recruitment or continuous recruitment have seen increases in the number of women joining NPC organizations. As one example, Willamette University moved to a continuous style of recruitment in the last four years and has seen a 186% increase in its new member classes. Moving to a different recruitment style, as well as adapting marketing language on campus, allows organizations to widen the net of potential new members and can break down some of the many barriers to sorority recruitment. The promotion of the sorority experience should not just appeal to the women who already know this is something they are interested in. It should appeal to the students who didn’t know this was an opportunity for them; it is an opportunity to challenge their personal growth and be a part of an impactful community.
Being a sorority woman is about empowerment. It is about showing women all they are capable of. Recruitment expands the reach of the sorority experience, bringing in members who are going to continue developing and sharing the values of the experience. It is critical that Panhellenic leaders are willing to adapt their recruitment styles and reevaluate how they are promoting the sorority experience in order to welcome the next generation of empowering women who will continue making an impact on college campuses and local communities.
Hamlin, A. R. & Barney, S. T. (2022). The Impact of COVID-19 on U.S. College Students, and How Educators Should Respond. Research in Higher Education Journal, v42 July 2022, p. 1–16. Retrieved from http://www.aabri.com/manuscripts/213493.pdf
Selingo, J. J. (2018). Executive Summary from The New Generation of Students. The Chronicle of Higher Education. https://connect.chronicle.com/rs/931-EKA-218/images/NextGenStudents_ExecutiveSummary_v5%20_2019.pdf
About the author
Holly Brown currently serves as the assistant director of collegiate growth for Alpha Chi Omega headquarters. In this role, she oversees the recruitment strategy and recruitment data analysis for the organization as well as executes Collegiate Growth Academy, an Alpha Chi Omega training opportunity for student leaders to acquire new recruitment and marketing strategies. In her time working for Alpha Chi Omega, Holly has had the opportunity to provide specialized recruitment support to over 35 Alpha Chi Omega chapters.