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Old 07-07-2004, 07:14 PM
hoosier hoosier is offline
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TKE-Iowa State rebuiding

Refusing to give up: Tau Kappa Epsilon's membership shrank so much last year that members considered selling the house. "With the aspect of not being in a house, I think people miss out a lot," said Jeff Engh, above.

Ames, Ia. - College fraternities survive on tradition.
But the men of Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity at Iowa State University knew they needed to toss tradition to survive.
Their first target is the oldest and largest symbol of their brotherhood: the fraternity house.
This month , as fraternity recruiting reaches its peak, crews have gutted Tau Kappa Epsilon's 70-year-old house for the summer. Suites with private bathrooms eventually will replace tiny rooms.

Next on the list is the fraternity's image. Leaders will overhaul some rules to make sure grades and leadership come before beer. They'll add new scholarships and a program to help members pick classes, whip up resumes and find jobs.
Call it a new marketing plan. Fraternities and sororities across the country are developing them as membership continues to plunge.
"We're trying to set ourselves up for the future," said Ryan Burchett, a 1997 graduate who advises the Tau Kappa Epsilon chapter.

The makeover isn't cheap. Private donations, most of them from Tau Kappa Epsilon alumni, are expected to cover the $1.5 million price tag. The fraternity's board of directors also will change its nonprofit status to make money.
Nationally, fraternity membership has dropped 30 percent in the past decade. At ISU, where fraternities and sororities have strong roots, membership has slipped by 14 percent since 2000. The University of Northern Iowa has seen a similar dip, while numbers are more stable at the University of Iowa.

Explanations for the trend vary:
Fraternity leaders have found a new competitor nationally in university housing programs, which spent about $1.5 billion in 2002 alone to replace small, outdated dormitory rooms with suites and private bathrooms. Universities also carved a niche with learning communities, where students with similar academic or social interests take the same classes, live together and study together.
At the same time, apartment complexes have multiplied in university towns.

"The universities are really targeting the market that used to be monopolized by the fraternities and sororities," said Rod Barleen, marketing director for Pennington and Co. in Lawrence, Kan., which specializes in fund-raising and public relations for fraternities and sororities. The company formed in 1993 and has grown as student membership has declined.
A University of Nebraska survey of new freshmen showed some students assume they don't have the time or money to join fraternities and sororities, which groom leaders and philanthropists.

Fraternities also have battled a public relations problem spurred by a series of high-profile student deaths, lawsuits and hazing reports in the 1990s. A subsequent crackdown on alcohol, parties and other longtime rituals has turned off potential members, some students believe. More than half of ISU's fraternities went dry. U of I officials gave fraternities an ultimatum: no booze or no university recognition.
Barrels of "jungle juice," a homemade liquor concoction, disappeared from the lawns of fraternity houses. Student fraternity councils started saying no to toga parties.

Low membership and financial problems have prompted at least two ISU fraternity chapters to close since 2000, ISU officials said. More closed in the late 1990s. One fraternity house recently turned into a women's shelter. An Ames landlord took over another defunct fraternity house and rented rooms to students.
Tau Kappa Epsilon's membership had shrunk so much last year that "some members of our board were like, 'Should we sell the place and move into a smaller house?' " said Burchett, a television meteorologist from Marion. "But it's a great piece of property that we've been in for almost 70 years. We weren't ready to give that up."

Tau Kappa Epsilon's members and alumni agreed to follow the lead of ISU's department of residence, which has pumped millions into dormitory renovations.
Today's students "have grown up with their own bedrooms at home, cable TV, their own computer . . . for most of their lives," Burchett said. "Trying to get them used to communal living isn't the easiest thing to do."
The fraternity house closed, and old trophies and photographs were tucked away in storage.

Construction began in April. Fraternity brothers use e-mail to stay in touch.
"With the aspect of not being in a house, I think people miss out a lot," said Jeff Engh of Ankeny, an ISU senior who is Tau Kappa Epsilon's chapter president.
Two other ISU fraternities have followed suit.
Phi Kappa Psi is making a comeback after low membership in the mid-1990s forced the fraternity to close.
Alumni and members will launch a fund-raiser this summer to renovate the old house. They expect to get a charter next year.

Lamda Chi Alpha members borrowed about $750,000 for fraternity house renovations. Construction started last month.
Members "are itching to move in," said ISU senior Nick Renner, the fraternity chapter's president.
The trend has picked up at UNI, where members of at least one fraternity expanded their house, while other fraternities beef up volunteer work in Cedar Falls. U of I fraternities are more focused on updating fire prevention systems and Internet access, but advisers predict the renovation trend will pick up in a few years.

Barleen, of Pennington and Co., says success will take time.
ISU fraternity members have been patient.
"It's the old saying with marketing," said Renner, 20. "If you have a good product, it will sell."
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