Written by Mike Taylor (UCSD, ’86) SAM 2030 Committee Member
In 2019, the first Generation Z, born after 1996 and before 2012, students graduated from college. Like all generations before them, they are different and share experiences that will shape them, their future, and the Fraternity. In the Gen Z age, there has always been the Internet, television is hundreds of stations, their first cellular phone was a smart phone, and they were too young to remember — or born after — 9/11. They have lived through an almost unparalleled financial meltdown, the resulting boom, and now a once-in-a-hundred-year pandemic. The fraternity, collectively, has been watching.
Why is Gen Z, and the Gen Alpha group that follows them, so important to the future of the fraternity? There are many reasons, some of which you may know and others you may not. The well known issues surrounding Greek organizations continue. There is a decline in reputation due to high-profile hazing, assault, and alcohol abuse cases. Universities, our insurance carriers, and society all appear to view fraternities as high-risk. Tension exists between students who participate in Greek Life and those who do not. The cries of elitism, privilege, and loss of values are pervasive in the court of public opinion. Student debt now sits at over one-trillion dollars. While there is focus on the issues listed above, it may be the trends of the future that are more dangerous to the viability of Greeks.
Fraternities do not exist on their own; they are a piece of higher education, and what affects higher education directly affects fraternities. There is a predicted decline in population due to a decrease in birth rates. To be more precise, higher education has been tracking 2025 as the year that enrollment is expected to go over a cliff due to a projected 15 percent drop in birth rates. The only bright spots are in the South and West. Tuition costs continue to rise and there is a shift in the demographic picture of where students will come from, a geographic shift in the institutions they will attend, and a transformational shift in the type of university that will be viable within a decade.
Since 2007, there have been 86 institutions who have closed their doors. Students who go to the elite schools in the Northeast will predominantly come from states outside of the Northeast. The inescapable truth is that these challenges are exacerbated, perhaps accelerated, by the most devastating event of the 100-years COVID 19.
It is too soon to tell what will happen with enrollments in the fall of 2020 and future school years, but it seems clear there will be a new normal. Did the pandemic advance the ticking clock on higher education by five or ten years? Every day there is another story about colleges and universities losing tens of millions, unemployment rivaled only by the Great Depression, and students re-evaluating their attendance due to a potentially virtual start of the year.
What is clear is that we cannot continue doing what we have been doing as a fraternity. Our approach must change. It is time to rethink how we operate, to challenge our own core beliefs in what ΣAM is, and to magnify what a college fraternity can be, for its members.
It has probably never been more important for the Fraternity to come together on a shared vision and strategy for the next decade. Fortunately, our prescient Octagon assembled a group of fratres to begin work on the future of ΣAM. As we’ve looked to the future, it is clear that the actions we take today will drastically impact the health of the fraternity in the next decade and beyond. We’ve called the plan ΣAM 2030.
The cadre of alumni volunteers and our fraternity’s professional staff met in Indianapolis in April of 2019 to kick off our planning. Essential research, presented by a leading industry thought leader, about the future of higher education was shared with the team. They began to explore the impact of birth rates, high school graduation rates, Gen Z, geographic and demographic changes, and the disruption of the university as we know it.
The team of fratres is diverse; having various professional backgrounds and fraternal experience that includes former and current Consuls of the Octagon, Endowment Fund Trustees, Foundation Directors, and staff. The committee facilitated activities over the past year with various stakeholders to gather feedback and input based on the initial data, observations, and assumptions.
The committee continues to engage stakeholders in this process to develop a successful strategy and vision. It is their goal to honor our past while transforming our future.
We look forward to presenting the final.
ΣAM 2030 plan in August of 2020 to help the international fraternity, local chapters, and our constituents rally together to achieve the success that we know is critical to sustain the fraternity for years to come. We are going to ask for your help after we release this plan at the 2020 Convention in August.