Over the past two years, the North-American Interfraternity Conference has been advancing the message of what we have referred to as The Case for Fraternity Rights. The Case is an opportunity to have a new, productive, and data driven dialogue about the impact of fraternity membership on collegiate men. As we continue engaging in this discourse with our partners throughout higher education, it appears there may be some confusion related to the outcomes and findings of the University Learning Outcomes Assessment (UniLOA), so in responding to some of these concerns and questions, it may be best to start at the beginning.
In the fall of 2008, a few NIC member fraternities began engaging in a new assessment that would assist them in measuring the learning and growth that their members were experiencing throughout the undergraduate experience. This assessment was the UniLOA, and it was something new that asked students to self-report their behaviors related to seven areas of growth, learning, and development. The areas measured are: Critical Thinking, Self Awareness, Communication, Diversity, Citizenship, Membership and Leadership, and finally, Relationships. Anecdotally, one could argue that fraternity men should do well on such an assessment, as these seven areas of learning outcomes encompass many of the intended core outcomes of the fraternal experience.
During the summer of 2009, the NIC was contacted by Dr. Mark Frederick from the Center for Measuring College Behaviors and Academics at Indiana State University wanting to discuss the data he was seeing related to the UniLOA and fraternity men who were participating in the assessment. It was at this time that clear trends specific to the fraternity experience began to emerge as the researchers first compared fraternity men to non-fraternity men. Up until then, approximately 6,000 men had participated in the UniLOA, and the trends related to the fraternity experience showed a clear and positive impact on members relative to the time of joining their organization. Over the past two years, while nearly 150,000 additional students have participated in the UniLOA, and those initial trends related to the fraternity experience have remained consistent.
When discussing the trends related to a comparison between fraternity and non-fraternity men, and in the development of the Case for Fraternity Rights, we are specifically referring to the following three points of information illuminated by the UniLOA:
- Fraternity Members See Advanced Personal Growth More Rapidly: In each of the seven areas measured, fraternity members experience a spike in their development upon joining their organization, and then continue a trend of overall growth throughout their collegiate experience.
- Recruitment Timeframe Matters: The difference in growth between fraternity men and non-fraternity men is most pronounced during the first two semesters of a student's undergraduate experience. Through this, the UniLOA clearly shows how the practice of deferred recruitment can delay or negatively impact the potential for growth, learning, and development of first year men who are forbidden from joining.
- Fraternities Build Better Leaders and More Active Citizens: The areas that represent the greatest gains for fraternity men over non-fraternity men are Citizenship and Membership & Leadership. The differences in means between fraternity men and non-fraternity men in the latest report are 6.39 and 4.96 respectively (note - the authors state that a positive difference greater than 2 are significant and greater than 4 are cause for celebration). Furthermore, each of the other five areas has a positive mean difference that ranges from 2.13 to 4.27 in the latest report. These results have been repeated throughout the history of the UniLOA and provide clear support for the relevance of the fraternal experience in creating positive, well-rounded learning experiences for collegiate men.
It is true that the UniLOA is a new tool to assess learning outcomes and measure the desired behaviors of successful students. As the UniLOA has continued to be administered to students throughout the country, the initial findings from 2007-2009 have continued to be validated as the sample size has grown towards 180,000 traditional and non-traditional students. However, it is a tool developed independently by professionals who are most interested in measuring student behaviors related to learning, not justifying the relevance of fraternities or any other co-curricular experience. In regards to overall reliability, the researchers noted the following in the 2009-2010 National Report of Means (www.measuringbehaviors.com):
Over three years were spent in development and pilot testing before issuing the first annual report of norms. The authors were committed to assuring high reliability of the instrument before making it available for general use. Reliability has exceeded the authors' initial assumptions as themes and patterns emerge from its administration at institutions or within organizations with great consistency.
It is understandable and natural for any new instrument to be met with skepticism. Thus we believe it is imperative to share a few additional facts about the administration, collection, and reporting of the UniLOA as well as its use in The Case for Fraternity Rights:
- The UniLOA is a self-reported instrument. On the 2009-2010 National Report of Means, the authors note the following: As in any self-report instrument, certain inherent errors will exist as a result of attribution error, which suggest individuals tend to over-report "desirable" qualities while under-reporting "undesirable" qualities. To assume that fraternity members as a population consistently overrate their perceived desirable qualities and underrate their perceived undesirable qualities more than non-fraternity members is a reaction that cannot be supported through data.
- The findings for the UniLOA have been remarkably consistent throughout its seven years of measurement and the measures of validity are readily available both on the National Report of Means as well as the website for the instrument.
- Concerns have been raised regarding the UniLOA not accounting for socio-economic status, or other unmeasured demographic variables. It must be noted that the NIC is not aware of any study that supports fraternity membership as being overly represented by specific pre-college or demographic variables other than gender.
- The UniLOA is an ongoing, current assessment of the learning outcomes experienced by college students. It provides a current snapshot of how the students of the Millennial Generation are experiencing, growing, learning, and developing from the fraternity experience in the 21st century.
- Over the course of the past nearly three years, the NIC Staff has met with one of the authors of the report on multiple occasions to ask questions, critically assess the results, and better understand what the UniLOA does and does not tell us about the current learning outcomes as a result of the fraternity experience.
The UniLOA as we see it is not meant to end the conversation on the current state of the fraternal experience and the relevance of fraternities, and specifically related to the role NIC's mission as a trade association, the rights of fraternities. Rather, it is another important part of that conversation. It does not exist in a vacuum, nor stand alone, and the data must stand up to existing research that has shown the mixed effects that the fraternity experience can have on students. We believe that the fraternal movement has come a long way throughout its history. We are confident in this belief, yet recognize that as every year brings new members to our organizations. We must be vigilant in educating and providing resources that help all of us fulfill our charge as values driven organizations. The UniLOA provides a current snapshot of the effects of the fraternity experience, and as more data is collected, it will continue to identify opportunities for continuous improvement that are rooted in facts and research. This is important not to tout the benefits of the fraternal experience, but rather to collaboratively develop intentional programming and resources that promote development in lower scoring areas.
We stand by the belief that many policy decisions relative to placing restrictions on when men can join a fraternity are based on anecdotal data in addition to personal and institutional experiences. We believe such decisions should be supplemented by data. Recent data from the UniLOA clearly shows that joining a fraternity has a significant positive experience on the growth, learning, and development of men; and furthermore the impact of joining is more pronounced the earlier that a man joins.
We believe that as the trade association representing 75 men's fraternities; it would be irresponsible if we did not share this information with our members and partners in higher education. This enables us to engage in healthy discourse together about how best to support the overall fraternity experience in addition to the individual men who have much to gain from their ability to be a part of this experience we all believe in so much.
We look forward to continuing the conversation, sharing what we have learned and engaging our partners in this critical dialogue. To this end, please consider joining Dr. Mark Frederick and the NIC Staff for a session that will discuss the UniLOA and the Case for Fraternity Rights at the upcoming AFA Annual Meeting.