If everyone strived to embody the core values listed on fraternities’ and sororities’ websites, the world would be a lovely place, full of “true friendship,” “mutual support,” “personal integrity,” and, of course, “scholarship.” The hundreds of thousands of undergraduate students currently in Greek organizations, a new study suggests, could stand to focus a bit more on that last one.
The study, from the economists William Even and Austin Smith of Miami University, in Ohio, examined data on about 34,000 students at a large public university in the Midwest from 2007 to 2017, and found that joining a fraternity or sorority hurt students’ grades. On average, the GPAs of the students who joined the Greek system were 0.1 points lower in the semesters after they joined than what would have been expected based on their grades before. Smith described the effect of joining a fraternity or sorority to me like this: “You can think of it as having all of your professors be worse than average.”
Smith and Even found that the grade drop-off was larger for the students who just barely made the university’s 2.5 GPA cutoff for Greek eligibility. The researchers compared these students to students who fell just under that threshold of 2.5, since all of their GPAs were very close numerically, just on the opposite sides of an arbitrary cutoff. When comparing those two groups’ performance, the researchers calculated that the cost of joining a fraternity or sorority for those with these lower eligible GPAs was an average of about 0.25 points in the semesters after joining. That’s almost the difference between, say, a B and a B- average.