As I begin my term as the 2017-19 chairman of the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC), I look forward to two years filled with opportunity and promise. I also look to what’s ahead with clear eyes and honest expectations.
Over the past 10 years, NPC member organizations have benefited from a strong, consistent expansion of the sorority community. Now research shows we are entering a more challenging period.
The number of college-aged students will decline. Moreover, the geographic make up of students will be a mismatch with the geographic locations of the strongest fraternity/sorority communities.
Beyond that, NPC and our member organizations will face six trends arising from generational change:
-Financial stress. Tuition costs continue their steep rise. Fewer parents will be able to financially support their children’s aspirations and students will need to borrow more for educational expenses. As a result,
financial obligations will remain an obstacle to sorority membership.
-Diversity. The racial and ethnic makeup of college students is rapidly changing. Soon, the largest groups of high schoolers will include students of Hispanic heritage, students with lower family incomes and students who are the first in their family to attend college. Historically, these segments have been under-represented in undergraduate ranks and unable or unwilling to travel far for college.
The good news is women continue to outnumber men in incoming freshman classes. The expected increase in students of color provides opportunities to broaden the appeal of sorority membership.
-Technological acceleration. Our expectations for and use of technology will continue to grow. Yet members of each generation – baby boomers, Generation X, millennials and Generation Z – view technology with different utility. NPC and our member organizations must recognize each generation’s technological needs and preferences and identify where we can use technology to our benefit.
-The redefined family. The definition of family continues to change, with more divorces, remarriages, single parenting and same-sex relationships. Families also are more mobile. These changing family dynamics will affect the behavior and needs of our members as well as impact our ability to attract and retain volunteers.
-“Me” branding. In the college course “The Branding of Me,” Gary Kayye, adjunct professor at the University of North Carolina School of Media and Journalism, notes how many Gen Z students have put personal brand building into overdrive. The expression of their personal identities is central to the world in which they live. They harness social media to build an online brand to help them get that first job or prove their potential worth to employers.
Still, this generation came of age during the Great Recession and have already faced life’s setbacks. Many care about social causes, but they might express their passion differently. Rather than joining organizations, they often first turn to the digital world to promote change.
- Changes in work/life balance. Baby boomers are rethinking their “work, work, work” mentality as they grow older, while younger generations say “no way” to working 24/7. Knowledge workers want to work remotely, a trend enabled by technology. These changes impact what we ask of volunteers and challenge us to create meaningful, rewarding volunteer experiences.
These six trends are just the beginning. Student alcohol consumption remains problematic, and heavy drug use is rising. Many students struggle with mental health issues. High rates of sexual assault threaten all students on campus, primarily women.
All these trends and issues underscore the importance of NPC and member organizations working together to meet these challenges head on and embrace the opportunities.
We must all read widely, consider deeply and take action where we can together to advocate for the sorority experience and work to preserve the single-gender experience.
I am grateful to serve alongside each of you. I look forward to our bright, promising future together.
Carole J. Jones