By Steve Good, Senior Director of Engagement
Sound Learning. It’s why college exists.
Learning occurs in many different fashions during one’s time at college. Whether it’s learning about different subject matters in the classroom or strengthening vital soft skills outside of the classroom, it’s a fact that around every corner on campus, there is an opportunity to learn.
The age-old argument comparing the importance of in the classroom learning versus outside of the classroom learning will always exist. Truthfully, for the majority, both are extremely important. Luckily, for members of the Greek community, the fraternal experience inherently cultivates the many soft skills needed to successfully work with others. If structured correctly, the Greek experience can also be that extra push needed to succeed in the classroom.
When looking at averages, members of Greek organizations do succeed in the classroom. However, we’ve all witnessed members who struggle to maintain their GPA for a variety of reasons, and their struggle brings down the whole.
In an ideal Greek community, only those who are committed to academic success would be recruited. If this was the case, there wouldn’t be a need for academic programs or policies within our walls. However, we all know that this isn’t reality.
Having been a fraternity scholarship chairman and from working with many chapters on their academic goals, I’ve seen a plethora of techniques implemented with the hope of improving the chapter’s GPA. Some work better than others, but what I’ve realized is that most academic programs are way too complicated. They have great intentions, but they are generally very difficult to manage.
I’ve found one simple academic policy that trumps any other, and I recently saw it succeed in action. I’m the Chapter Advisory Board Chairman for the Iowa Gamma Chapter of Phi Delta Theta at Iowa State University, and improving academic performance has been a main goal for the chapter. At the beginning of the Fall 2014 semester, the chapter ranked 18th out of 29 fraternities on campus with a 2.90 GPA. After one semester using the policy, they rank 6th with a 3.09. Yes, it has only been one semester, but the policy’s positive cultural changes are already being realized.
So what is this secret academic success sauce? We call it the “3 Strike Policy.” It’s simple. The chapter started by selecting a 2.5 threshold. If a member obtains a semester GPA below 2.5, he receives a strike. Three strikes and he is no longer a member of Phi Delta Theta. No questions asked. It’s really that simple, and the policy is the ultimate measure of accountability. Each individual must look himself in the mirror and determine what he must do in the classroom to remain a member of Phi Delta Theta.
You may be wondering how to create buy-in for such policy. It can be done with one simple phrase for each class:
Seniors –You only have two semesters left. You’re safe!
Juniors – You’re telling me that in your four remaining semesters, you can’t achieve a 2.5+ GPA once?
Sophomores (The only tough-ish sell) – Do you see any negatives that can come out of us pushing to you to succeed?
Freshmen – Here is our academic policy. If you don’t like it, we’re not for you.
At the end of each semester, the scholarship chairman can divvy out the strikes to those below a 2.5. If it’s strike #3, we’re sorry, we think you need to focus your energies elsewhere. For those who receive their first or second strike, require them to meet with your chapter’s scholarship chairman and academic adviser to develop a plan. Another smart move is to hold a membership review after the second strike. Doing this gives the chapter the opportunity to take action a strike early if the academic case is severe or if that members is causing other issues.
A chapter can do all of the programming it likes (study hours, time management seminars, competitions, incentives, etc.), but without a policy with a backbone, these practices will never create long-term success. Long-term chapter academic success will only occur when each individual has something to lose and must take on personal responsibility for his performance. Membership standards always win.
After a few semesters, begin to increase the minimum threshold. Change that 2.5 to a 2.6 and see what happens. Your chapter GPA will without a doubt increase as the threshold increases. Ultimately, you’ll begin to recruit those who are more likely to succeed academically, and the policy itself will become an afterthought.
But we’re brothers, some may say. Pause, smile, and calmly say, “Real brothers challenge each other to become the greatest version of themselves.”