From the flags flown high outside fraternity houses to the myriad of event flyers stamped with Greek letters, Greek life leaves its mark on Miami University’s campus and on retention rates as well, according to data that shows higher rates among Greek-affiliated students than non-Greek students.
In 2010, the Cliff Alexander Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life reported 100 percent retention from first-year to sophomore year for sorority women compared to approximately 81 percent of non-affiliated women and 87 percent of non-affiliated women academically eligible for membership in a sorority-those with a GPA greater than 2.49.
The Cliff Alexander Office also reported 99.8 percent retention from first-year to sophomore year for fraternity men compared to approximately 83 percent of non-affiliated men and 90 percent of non-affiliated men academically eligible for membership in a fraternity-also a GPA greater than 2.49.
Barbara Jones, vice president for Student Affairs and co-chair of the Retention Steering Committee, said surveys have shown there are three common reasons students transfer: personal or social reasons, academic reasons and financial reasons.
She said social reasons include family issues or feelings of not fitting in on campus.
According to Jenny Levering, director of the Cliff Alexander Office, fraternities and sororities connect students to campus, which may account for the higher retention rates.
“Once students get involved, it connects them to Miami at a deeper level,” Levering said. “I think they’re more likely to come back to school if they have something they care or are passionate about. That sense of belonging and commitment to an organization is part of the reason people come back their sophomore year.”
Senior Trent Gilchrist, president of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, said he thinks the higher retention rates among Greek-affiliated students are attributable to social activities.
“I would say that it’s probably directly related to just the social aspect of Greek life, whether it be parties or all those events,” Gilchrist said. “Another smaller portion of it would just be the academics, professional development and philanthropy [opportunities].”
First-year Alex Harris said she thinks the higher retention rates among Greek-affiliated students have to do with the sense of community sororities and fraternities offer.
“I think they have higher retention rates because they have a community that they are specifically a part of at school while people who aren’t a part of Greek life don’t necessarily have that community,” Harris said.
According to Jones, overall, Miami’s retention rate is among the highest in the country for public institutions. In 2011, the overall retention rate was 88.9 percent, according to the Office of Institutional Research (OIR). The retention rate is defined by the OIR as the percentage of a group of first-time college students in the fall semester, a cohort, who return to the same institution the following year.
However, Miami still tries to improve overall retention. According to the Retention Steering Committee Report, President David Hodge charged the committee in 2011 with the goal of increasing the retention rate for undergraduate students, particularly for first and second years, and achieving a graduation rate of 85 percent.
The current graduation rate stands at 81 percent, according to Jones. The graduation rate, in contrast to the retention rate, tracks an initial cohort, composed of full-time students, for six years. It is the percentage of this cohort that graduates within six years, according to the OIR.
According to Miami professor Carl Paternite, who served on a larger retention committee at Miami, a smaller steering committee is now implementing the strategies developed by the larger committee.
Strategies include initiatives specifically aimed at first-year students on the Oxford campus, Paternite said, in order to keep them coming back to Miami. One of these initiatives includes the University Studies program, started last fall, which is comprised of students who are undecided about a major and students who did not receive direct admission to the business school, according to Paternite.
These students are assigned faculty advisors who work with them from summer orientation until they ultimately select a major, Paternite said.
According to Paternite, another initiative to improve university retention is a campaign or communications strategy that helps faculty and staff understand the key ingredients for academic success. There are four items that increase the likelihood of students completing their college degree, including discovering they can be successful, feeling connected to the university community, understanding themselves in the context of a diverse world and engaging in personal reflection about their place in a changing world.
“We sent out a communication to students early this year with some tips about being successful at Miami called ‘Succeed at Miami,'” Paternite said. “There were eleven suggestions that we offered to students about what they themselves can do. We had a similar set of messages that we sent to faculty and staff about what they can do and the Office of Student Affairs also had a similar correspondence that they sent to parents.”
Paternite said these initiatives are too new to assess their impact on retention or graduation rates.
Gilchrist said he thinks Miami can better address overall retention by providing students with more social events that are open to everyone.
“I think that maybe if CAC [Campus Activities Council] had more concerts, more events that all students could go to, something that’s not just a fraternity party, that would help a lot with the social aspect,” Gilchrist said. “Students would be more inclined to stay if they had more to do.”
Harris said many students are eager to get involved at the beginning of the school year, but become less involved as the year progresses or as they get older. She said Miami could do a better job of keeping students committed to their clubs and activities throughout the year and keeping upperclassmen involved.
She also said the social aspect of Greek life could be made more open to all students in order to improve retention rates.
“I think a lot of people who aren’t in Greek life are intimidated,” Harris said. “They don’t go to the parties that sororities and fraternities put on because they’re intimidated by the fact that they’re all Greek people, so maybe [Greek parties and events could be] more open to everyone.”