Host: Terry Thies
Terry oversees Parent & Family Programs and engagement at the University of Illinois, in the office, New Student & Family Experiences.
Panelists: Mari Anne Brocker Curry & Ashley Dye
Mari Anne is the Director of Housing Information & Marketing for University Housing
Ashley Dye is the Director of Fraternity & Sorority Affairs
Could you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what your office does?
Mari Anne: I'm happy to be here with you this evening to talk with you about all things University Housing and Private Certified Housing. We have some privately owned and operated residence halls that we are affiliated with the university and that also are approved to house all types of students. Some of our Certified Housing is also fraternities and sororities, which Ashley will talk about as well. We're happy to speak with you about housing options on our campus and some of how we support students throughout their time at Illinois.
Ashley: At Fraternity & Sorority Affairs, we work with about 90 fraternities and sororities that are on our campus. I'll talk about who those are in terms of who our office works with, who maybe we don't necessarily work with, and who we are affiliated with in a different way from the university.
Could you both share how the options you offer can benefit the students at the university? How does a Greek or housing experience help a student thrive while they're here at the University of Illinois, especially? How do your organizations support first-year students and benefit them as well?
Mari Anne: One of my favorite talking points about housing is that students who live in Certified Housing for two or more years are more likely to graduate and graduate in four years than student who moves out after their first year. Oftentimes I go on to talk about the reasons why we believe that to be true. We have the data to support that research, but I think that when it comes down to the programs and services that are offered in our certified facilities, they're just supportive wraparound services in conjunction with student affairs being part of student affairs on our campus and making sure that the students have what they need to be successful from the moment they join us. Like I said earlier, throughout our journey, in terms of first-year students, are required to live in either university-owned or Private Certified residence halls or houses for their first year so that they can get acclimated and transition. They have someone to go to in case they have an emergency. They have someone to ask for resources. All the staff and executive board officers who live in these facilities have training on how to be a referral agent. How to connect students with the resources they need when they need them. How to provide programming, and adjust in time programming for everything from homesickness to mental health to financial wellness. There's a variety of programs and services that are happening in these spaces to help support students and get them what they need when they need it. There's also a variety of staff, so resident advisors, resident directors, regardless of the title, there are folks that are there in the halls, in the houses helping make sure that the students have what they need to be successful. Then there's just community overall, right? One of the great things about life at Illinois is the learning that often happens outside of the classroom. Exposure to leadership opportunities, opportunities to join identity-based organizations, participate in those, lead a group of your peers, and get some great resume-building experience. But also, you're building these lifelong friendships that happen very naturally and organically in spaces where you're spending a lot of time together. Our residence halls and Certified Housing provide a space for students to meet and share about themselves, learn about others who aren't just like them, and build lifelong friendships and bonds that will serve them after they leave Illinois.
Ashley: I think maybe this is the best time to talk about the organizations that our office does work with. We work with four different governing councils and all the chapters that are part of those councils. That's the Black Greek Council, Inner Fraternity Council, Panhellenic Council, and United Greek Council. Together, those four governing councils have about 90 fraternity and sorority chapters. My office doesn't work with business fraternities or any Greek honorary. There are certainly a lot of student organizations that use Greek letters as a part of their name, way more than are affiliated with my office. We're talking, for the most part, about single-gender men's fraternities and women's sororities. For the most part, not all have housing either. Some do and some don't. Some of my comments I think tonight are going to be certainly about housing, but also just about membership and the membership experience in our Greek organizations to that point. We believe that membership in a fraternity or sorority can provide your student with a sense of belonging and connection on our large campus and that fraternities and sororities have a lot to offer like leadership opportunities and personal and professional development. They're engaging in community service and philanthropic work, while also strong focus on academic success. We've had Greek letter organizations at Illinois for over 150 years. It's certainly just part of the fabric of student life and an option for your students while they're here. In terms of first-year students, I would say we believe in options in the timing of affiliation, and it is available for your students to join a fraternity first semester of their first year if they want to. There are also other options, second semester, your first year, or as a sophomore or older, those aren't restrictive or require that they seek membership at a certain time. With just a few exceptions, our Greek organizations typically have their members live in their chapter house during their second or third year of membership. Most students stay put in their residence hall their first year, or wherever they might be in a certified unit their first year, and then move into their fraternity or sorority chapter house. After that first year? There are a few exceptions to that, but by and large, that's how that typically plays out.
What would you say are the benefits in terms of students developing those deep relationships? Friendships that they'll look back on and say, wow, I made that friendship in college. How does the Greek life play into that?
Ashley: I think that one of the main tenets of fraternities and sororities is this brotherhood sisterhood concept. Lifelong friendships, lifelong membership. There's a uniqueness to fraternities and sororities in terms of being a lifelong member. I’m many years out of being a student and am still engaged in my sorority in a variety of different ways, and certainly keep in touch with my closest friends from college, but I do think that when you are with a big group of your friends, whether you're living together or just as a member, that naturally lends itself to building those deeper relationships, and I think that belonging and connection piece are important. Everybody wants to feel like they belong and have a connection, and I think especially on our large campus, it's important that students just find their niche. Find the things that they want to get engaged with. Find people that they like spending time with. I think that connection can be enhanced. Mari Anne touched on it. When you live together, and you're just spending more time together, you're eating meals together, you're just around each other a lot, that just naturally lends itself to building those friendships and deeper relationships.
Both housing and fraternity and sorority affairs offer students many ways to get involved. Do you use a specific curriculum that helps guide the way students get involved? Are there certain types of programmatic goals that both organizations have so that students are drawn in and can experience everything that either housing or fraternity and affairs have to offer?
Mari Anne: We do have a residential curriculum model. It is a model that guides and facilitates the programming that we offer in response to student needs. There are areas of focus, whether that be wellness, and there are lots of dimensions to student wellness, academic success, social engagement, and social justice. There are a variety of different areas of the topic. That curriculum then guides how we measure students’ progress in those different areas. Oftentimes, the resident advisors that are on the floor, are having regular conversations with the students, and they're saying, “Okay, what do you need right now? How's it going? How are you feeling? How are you doing in class?” And then they're pulling from a series of lesson plans associated with that curriculum to provide the resources that the student needs when they need them. It's intended to be a nimble approach to consistent curriculum throughout the residence halls. Our Private Certified Housing residence halls do something similar, although it's not a curriculum per se, they're looking for and providing both educational and social programming for the residents to build community and get engaged, but also to provide those educational resources when students need them. On top of the curriculum, there are a variety of ways in which students can engage and get involved. Whether that be student employment, University Housing and Certified Housing are the largest student employers on campus. Then we have student organizations that are registered organizations sponsored specifically by housing. Many of those are leadership-based, service-based, identity-based, and Central Black Student Union, for example. Some large-scale programming for the entire population, but there's a core group of student leaders that are running that show and planning that show. There are a variety of different ways in which students can connect and engage. Even if it could be just that they're engaging with the RA in a one-on-one conversation and they're getting what they need. It could be that they're plugging into a student organization or joining an intermural team for their floor, and they're plugging in that way instead and getting those resources differently. The goal is that there's a variety of different avenues in which they can connect and there are a variety of different resources. If the RA isn't the connection, maybe the front desk is, or maybe the advisor for that identity-based student organization is the resource that ends up being the most comfortable for the students. Just making sure that we have a variety of those across the board and that wherever the student feels comfortable connecting is where they can get what they need.
What about fraternity and sorority affairs? I know maybe with every house it's a little different, but are there overarching goals for programmatic things that maybe your office guides the houses with?
Ashley: We provide a lot of resources but don't have a curriculum expectation per se. All our fraternities and sororities are offering programs to all their members, regardless of living in the chapter house or not, focusing on personal development, professional development, a lot of risk management and safety topics as well, as academic support topics. I would probably say those four buckets are the most common. We ask our chapters to report to us every semester, we do some data collection, and so we ask what they're doing, what kind of programs are offering, and what are the topics. To pull some of our data from the spring, they reported over 300 different membership development programs. The most popular topics were professional development and career readiness, and diversity and inclusion were some of the most common topics. Then there were another 200 risk prevention and safety programs on a lot of different topics. The most common topics are alcohol safety, sexual assault prevention, and mental health. A lot is going on with all those topics. It is up to each organization except one group. All our fraternities and sororities are chapters of national organizations. They have various resources at the national level and various programmatic expectations at the national level as well. And we see our chapters use national programming. They utilize campus resources for programming, and they tap their alumni to present on various topics as well, so they’re using different mechanisms, but it's pretty much up to them. There certainly are a lot of programming and development topics being offered.
I know a lot of parents sometimes are concerned about their student’s health and well-being. Are both of your offices doing things within the sororities and fraternities and within the residential setting to address mental health concerns?
Mari Anne: Yes. I think generally it's been such a focus for our campus overall, we want to make sure that students have access to the resources. We're even looking at hiring additional case managers. In some instances, we have embedded counselors in residence halls and the university-owned residence halls, and we're constantly collaborating with the Counseling Center on our campus, as well as McKinley Health Center, which has a counseling division of the health center.
Ashley: This is a topic of interest for our students. We’re constantly hearing about their interest in talking about mental health and offering different things. That is one of our most common topics that they are providing programming or resources to their members on. We also, as an office, certainly reach out to and use the counseling center as a resource or proactive things for responsive things, both, and they're a wonderful partner. We also saw students from fraternities and sororities create their organization of members. It's called Greeks Redefined and they do a variety of things all about mental health, whether doing yoga sessions in Frat Park, doing some educational programming, or fundraising to support a nonprofit in the area that focuses on mental health. It is a desired conversation that our students want to have.
It's just reassuring to know that that's part of the programmatic experience, either that you're offering or that you're making sure that students have access to all these great resources on campus. We do have a couple of questions, but we have a question about whether you can use your 529 for Greek housing.
Ashley: In general, yes, you can use your 529 for housing while your student is a student no matter what that housing is, so fraternities and sororities would qualify for that. Any specifics? I am not the expert there, but in general, yes, you may.
I know there are just so many resources on campus overall for students to use when they need some extra guidance, maybe tutoring. For instance, in university housing, residence halls have wonderful libraries in them. Tell us about the resources that you have as organizations that can help support the student’s academic success.
Mari Anne: In some of our living and learning communities, we even have four credit courses that are offered in the university-owned residence hall. They can take some other general education classes in the hall where they live. That's a great bonus. There are often academic advisors, in Weston Exploration, we have an advisor that is embedded with that community, so students can have access to certain advisors in certain locations. We have a scholar’s community in Lincoln Avenue Residence Hall. We have an honors community, we have a variety of different types of communities to support academic success, as well as being part of that curriculum where we're checking in on a student and how they're feeling and if they're getting the resources that they need, then some organic things happen, whether it's the RA or the students on the floor saying, okay, who's in Chem 102, let's get a study group together. There's a lot of that natural support that comes from peers, whether it's sharing notes talking about a particular question, or studying for an exam together. There are some great opportunities for that in the spaces as well. And then the space in and of itself, we have computer labs, learning commons, combinations of study lounges and computer labs together, and some library spaces. We have some opportunities for students to get in meeting spaces and do group projects together or get online and collaborate and join a class virtually. The space is also very intentionally designed to provide space outside of the resident's room for them to go and learn and work together, or just have a space that they can go to study if maybe their roommate has friends over, they need a floor lounge or a main floor lounge or community space where they can go and study. Oftentimes, over close to final periods, we will extend the hours of those public buildings where those study spaces are so students can stay longer and study around final time.
Can you talk about Living-Learning communities in case somebody isn't familiar with those?
Mari Anne: For next year, we will have ten Living-Learning Communities. They are from a variety of different disciplines. You don't have to be a particular major to join into a living and learning community. For example, we have the sustainability living and learning community which isn't linked to a particular major. We have Allen Unit One, which is Fine and Applied Arts. We have lots of engineering students who love to live in Allen because there are extra music practice rooms and ceramic labs and courses that they can take in their hall. It's an opportunity for students to participate in a program that relates to an academic unit, regardless of their major. They have an opportunity to take courses, an opportunity to do extracurricular retreats, and have special engagements with professors or faculty. They'll come and have dinner. Depending on the community, it varies by community. The only one that has any requirement or restriction is the honors community. You do have to be a campus honors or James Scholar, but otherwise, you can apply. As a returning resident, you can just pick a space in one of those communities and then take all the benefits of the extra programming and resources and access to the faculty that that program offers. There's information on our website about other living and learning communities. If there's one you have questions about, the Housing Information Office is happy to try to answer those questions for you or connect you with the program director for that community. It’s a great way, especially for first-year students, to make the campus feel smaller, connect, and just get extra academic resources as a part of their stay with us.
What about the academic resources that students will find in living in a Greek house?
Ashley: A lot of our chapters take their academics seriously and get competitive about it. They want to be the number one GPA sorority or fraternity. We do have high academic performance in general. In the fraternity sorority community, there are various things that they're doing. They're doing a lot of programming. From my data from last semester, I think most chapters did two or more academic-related programs in the semester. Common topics are study skills and time management. They try to provide that information to their members proactively. All our chapters with chapter houses reported that they have some space utilization in the fact of designated study space of some kind in their facility. That's what the purpose of the space is of the library, of the study room, whatever that might be. I think there's also a lot of positive recognition for their members that are doing well. Especially, I would say Panhellenic sororities love that. Gift cards, and other recognition things for the people doing well. Then also, a variety of different support strategies for members who might need a little extra assistance. Those vary from individual academic plans that are then reviewed with a leader in the chapter to try to expose a member who needs a little extra support to maybe what's on campus that can help them. We have a handful of chapters subsidizing tutoring and helping in that way. I think there are a lot of different support strategies for their members that might need a little extra boost. In the spirit of transparency. We have posted fraternity and sorority chapter GPAs on our website for a long, long time and encourage people to look at them and see how a particular chapter might be performing academically. I just want to put that out there and our students are fine with it because by and large, fraternity and sorority grade point averages have been higher than all campus averages for as long as we have been tabulating that information, which predates me. I don't know how long, but long before I started working here, that's been the case and our students are proud of that.
Mari Anne, would you also say that grade points are generally higher for students who return to live in University Housing for a second or third year, maybe even a fourth?
Mari Anne: It depends on the cohort. My stat earlier about Certified Housing didn't include our fraternities and sororities as well that are certified. Our Private Certified, Greek-certified, and then university-owned and operated within those different cohorts grade point average is higher depending on the different cohorts. But overall, the thinking that was consistent across all of them was the graduation rate, so the graduation rate is the piece that we have focused on most recently.
A parent would like to know when sororities usually inform freshmen about their housing agreements.
Ashley: That's a good question. It varies. But a lot of our sororities probably are doing that right now for students who just joined in this last handful of weeks as recruitment processes have been happening. First, for Panhellenic, the question was about sororities, if the student participated in the primary recruitment process, the structured formal process, each organization distributed a financial information sheet that also included their live-in requirement. Do they have a one-year requirement? Do they have a two-year requirement? Whatever that is, your student should be informed of what the requirement is for the organization that they have joined. If not, I could help answer that for Panhellenic Sororities since they have that process. The process of lease agreements or housing agreements probably is happening right now and for most of our sororities, that's going to be taken care of in the fall semester.
Mari Anne, would you mind touching on the housing reassignment process? I know that's always on parents’ minds too.
Mari Anne: University Housing started its reassignment process yesterday October 3. Students could pick their room. If they'd like to retain their room for next year, they can secure that. Then each week on Tuesday, a new phase is open. Students who couldn’t pick their room again for next year, maybe because we changed the gender of the room or we changed the program use of the space, and so they were unable to pick their room, will have special priority to pick the week of the October 10, starting at 1 p.m. At 1 p.m. on October 17th is what we call any hall, any room, so students can move around the system and pick a room other than their own, and then students who are not currently living with us that would like to come back to live with University Housing will be able to do so on October 31. So those are the times in which people can get into the system, but the system is open. Once those phases come and go, a student could go in and look around and see that they like a space select it, and then choose to cancel in a 30-day window in which students can cancel their binding contract after they've signed it. That cancellation window is available throughout our housing sign-up period, which is between October 3 and April 15, so there's some flexibility. Once you sign, you have 30 days to change your mind. After those 30 days though, you're locked in for next year, and that is a binding contract. Students are picking their spaces now, but as I said, it goes all the way till April 15 and people do cancel and there is space that's in flux. If you don't see something that you like right away, there's likely an opportunity that it will be available later. We don't want folks to feel pressured to sign up right now. We are available right now because our private apartment community is rather aggressive and they start leasing right away, so we also want to be available, but we want students to make an informed decision. We want them to do their research and think about what's going to be best for their second year before they sign a contract. Whether it's university housing, a fraternity and sorority, or an off-campus private apartment, those signatures are binding legal agreements. We want to make sure that students know what they're signing and that they're signing what they want before they sign so that they don't get into a contract that they can't get out of. Similarly, I'll say Private Certified residence halls like Bromley, Hendrick, Newman, Presby Hall, and Armory House have similar leasing timelines. Many of them have started their renewal campaigns in the last week or so. A few will start in November, but again, we kind of are trying to kind of keep up with the private market in terms of being available for next year, and this is unfortunately the timeline that we're working with. (Housing Sign-Up Calendar)
Do you have some staff that can assist students with information about the private market?
Mari Anne: To some extent. Off-Campus Community Living is also an office on our campus that is helpful for that. So, different entities do apartment comparison tools like the Daily Illini, but off-campus Community Living has been a resource on our campus for many years and they will do consultations like “I'm getting ready to sign this lease, does it look like a good one?” I don't know how much tenant landlord tracking they do, but they used to have an idea of which landlords were good and bad so that you can do a little bit of research before you sign with a private entity. When it comes to the certified facilities, they're privately owned, but they're certified. Our office can help you and get you connected with the staff there, but when it comes to those privately owned apartments, we have less information and would likely refer you to off-campus community living.
We’d like to note that your students have access to Student Legal Services. They're located in the Illini Union and are another resource for them when they're looking at living outside of University Housing or outside of maybe a fraternity or sorority house. It is a highly aggressive private market in Champaign-Urbana. As a parent myself with two daughters who eventually did move into private apartments. I can tell you that there is pressure from day one to move into private apartments. As parents, I think it's wise to make sure you're asking good questions of your students, so you know what they're looking at. They're asked to make a lot of decisions when they've only been on campus for a few weeks.
Ashley, are Greek houses already engaging new members in conversations about moving in for Fall 2024?
Ashley: Yeah, they are. I think that for similar reasons that Mari Anne described in terms of having that out there, as we know students are making decisions for next year. Now, I think the other component for our fraternities and sororities is the membership expectation part. I will just say if your student chooses to join a fraternity authority that has a chapter house, you should expect that they will have to live there. That's how that works, that's how they pay the bills. That's the expectation and it is going to vary. 1 year, 2 years, maybe two years if you're an officer. That's a question to ask and for your student and you to just be clear on what that expectation is. To join a fraternity or sorority that has a chapter house and not live there is not an option. That's not how it works.
Is there preference given to upperclassmen, juniors, and seniors to move in, or is it wide open for, say, a student going into their second year when they're moving into a Greek house?
Ashley: Yeah, I would say that it is most common probably for second-year students to move in. Our chapter houses are mostly, I would say, sophomores and juniors that are living there and most seniors then opt for some sort of non-chapter house off-campus option.
Are Greek houses required to offer a meal plan that is comparable to the university meal plans or do they have any kind of flexibility? Are they required to purchase that meal plan, or could they do something different?
Mari Anne: Absolutely. So, I'll talk a little bit about our certified chapters, and then Ashley, please hop in if I forget something for Certified Housing on our campus. If you want to be a Certified Housing facility, you are required to provide food service, study space, residential life staff of some sort, or referral agents, and that is part of what differentiates Certified Housing from the rest of campus. Those services are part of the value added because you don't have to worry about cooking, cleaning, or shopping. All those things are going to be taken care of for you. If you're in a Certified Housing facility for fraternities that are certified, they are required to provide ten meals a week, at minimum, to their residents. Many choose to provide more, but they are privately owned operations, so they have the autonomy to contract with a food service provider of their choosing. They establish the meal plan with the food service provider, so they have some flexibility in the details. We just set the bar at what is the minimum requirement to make sure that they do have meals. That's similar to university housing. Our lowest meal plan is going to get you about 14 meals a week, but 10 is the minimum that is required. Then they provide what may be ten meals provided by the food service provider and then continental breakfast is available all the time, cereal, and waffle machine and all those things. So it does vary from chapter to chapter based on the facility that they have. They also will have some variation because of the type of facility they have, whether the food is being prepared on-site by a chef or prepared off-site and then dropped off for the members, and that's just a different type of food service sanitation permit, but they are getting those ten meals one way or the other. If they're certified, then I think the other part of the question is if members living at the house are required to purchase the plan, I think for the most part they are required. I know all first-year students absolutely must have it. I don't know of a situation where it's not required if they're certified. Now, if they're not certified, that's a different ball game. But if they're certified, they're required.
Ashley: For all our certified chapter houses, it's room and board. You live there and you get the meal plan. There's no choice there. We do have some fraternities and sororities that are not part of the Private Certified program. That's also questions to ask your student and or check the fraternity & sorority affairs website for that information. (Map of Certified Sororities) (Map of Certified Fraternities)
Could you talk about how students can make suggestions on dining preferences and foods they would like to be served, and then talk a little bit about some of the special things you do?
Mari Anne: Yeah. We take student feedback. In fact, in the Illinois app, students can see the menu that's being served in each of the university-owned dining halls. There's a feature to provide feedback for that hall and that menu during that meal period. The tool is called text and tell, so literally a student can text us while they're eating and provide feedback on what was provided. We also have a long history of collaborating with students. We've even got some great stories of, you know, recipes from home or recipes from a particular culture that remind me of home that have been incorporated into our menu rotation. There are some great collaborations that we do with the cultural centers on our campus to make sure that if we are preparing a certain dish from a particular culture, we're trying to do it as authentically as possible. Oftentimes, that's some professional development, or staff development for our team. So that they're preparing the rice correctly or they're preparing the meat correctly as per the culture that the recipe is coming from. Lots of collaborations there. And then those collaborations do extend into specialty meals, theme meals that happen throughout the year. For Black History Month, we have a whole series of meals that are offered, Indigenous People's Day. We have a Latin American meal as well. There's a variety of them throughout the year, and typically, those are pushed out on our digital signs. They are listed in the menu in the Illinois app for that night, our housing insider newsletter, and other places to make sure students know. If they don't know and they go to dinner that night, then the specialty menu is going to be there as part of their meal plan. Oftentimes, if it is a specialty meal, the cultural center that we're collaborating with will come and bring a craft performance, or an activity so that residents who are living with us can learn more about the culture beyond the meal, through those additional activities, through collaboration with those departments. Then in Private Certified Housing, it does vary. Our privately owned and operated residence halls are doing similar things based on the population that they're serving. I think the other thing to mention is that in University Housing, our current director of Dining Services is working to build a dining student advisory board because we do value the student feedback and we want to make sure that it's getting incorporated.
If a student is not living in university housing, can they still purchase a meal plan?
Mari Anne: Absolutely, we would love to have you whether you're visiting your student or whether a student just wants to have a meal with us. Periodically you can always use a credit card, Apple Pay, or Google Pay at the checker stand to eat at any of our university-owned dining halls and many of our Private Certified Housing dining halls. In addition, you can buy a meal plan. You can buy Illini cash so that they can use it in a declining balance way as they need it. As an off-campus resident or a resident of the graduate upper-division residence halls, you often will have an additional meal plan option, so, six meals a week or six meals with 25 dining dollars instead of the base 12, 15, or 45 that most of our first-year students have.
Will returning University Housing students’ reassignment or re-choice be a lottery process?
Mari Anne: It is different, and it does give priority to the students who choose to return to live with us. Students can pick the same room, and by that, I mean students go in and find the room that they want and pick the space. Students who want to save and stay in the same room can do that if they want to go to another building, maybe one of the newer construction buildings, or maybe a building with a particular living and learning community, or a new dining hall or closer to the campus rec facilities. Whatever the reason is, they're going to be able to move to the facility that they want and choose it if space is available in that hall. We don't hold space for first-year students. In a few of the living and learning communities, we hold a small number of spaces for first-year students, but in those new construction spaces like Wassaja, Bousfield, and Nugent, we don't hold space for first-year students. Returning residents are going to get priority for that, so they can go in and pick whatever they like. Like I said, people have 30 days to cancel, so, if they go in and let's say you want to space in Wassaja, but it's a full wait, 30 days, 15 days, and check back. Periodically space does become available as people cycle and decide what they're doing for next year. So don't give up if you don't see it right away. We do have a constant rate program, so, students that live with us consecutively are locking in the rate structure, the rate table from the first year they live with us. So, if I lived in University Housing in a double in Lincoln Avenue, but I want to move to a single in Wassaja, I would pay the single room rate for Wassaja from my first year, not my second year, if I live in University Housing continuously. I would say that Private Certified Housing does similar things. They let you pick your space. They have incentives whether they're monetary or just a rate discount for students who come back and live.
Would you say that the Private Certified Housing rates are comparable to University Housing rates? And does financial aid cover private-certified rates?
Mari Anne: Yes. I think a big myth on our campus is that Private Certified Housing is always more expensive. I would say it's not. I'd say several properties have room types and meal plans that are very comparable to University Housing or to the financial aid amount that is estimated for housing, which this year was $13,938 for our average double room and the highest meal plan that you can have, you pick a different room type and a different meal plan. You might come in even lower than what financial aid estimates are the cost of housing. I always tell people we have PCH units, Private Certified units for sororities, and fraternities that are half the cost of university housing, and then we have some that are significantly more because you're buying out a double as a single and you have all these amenities: a swimming pool, weekly housekeeping, etc. It's important to compare apples to apples and see if this space has air conditioning. This space doesn't. This space has a suite with an in-room kitchen and an in-room bathroom, and that space doesn't. The cost will adjust for those different amenities and offerings, but there are several that are comparable to university housing, and financial aid does cover it. It is considered approved housing on our campus. There might be a private scholarship that might specifically designate that it must be university-owned, and then we would want to double-check that before we sign a contract. But for the most part, Certified Housing is covered in a student's financial aid package. And about 25 to 26% of the first-year class lives in Certified Housing.
Do you expect any increases in housing rights next year, Mari Anne?
Mari Anne: I do think we'll have a small increase. A little bit of an increase. Like everyone else, we are trying to manage the increase in the cost of doing business expenses like food costs staff wages, and minimum wage increases. We also have a long-term facilities plan where we regularly update our facilities, replace mattresses, paint, renovate, and hope to build new ones. So, all those capital projects must have a funding source as well. We are always trying to balance the cost the overall cost of housing with the need to keep our facilities up to the level of service that we want to provide and keep building new facilities that we know are in high demand from our residents. But I think that's also the great thing about the constant rate program because if you continue to live with us and you don't have to worry about that increase from year to year, you're going to be paying the rate from your first year.
Is there a different rate for a single room versus a suite where a student is sharing that with a couple of other students?
Mari Anne: Yes, on the University Housing website and the Certified Housing Website, there is a cost tab for university housing. You can go to cost, and you can see the rate table for all our different room types. The undergraduate residence halls board together in our graduate upper-division halls. You can see the room separate from the new plan because in some locations it's not required. Then in Private Certified Housing, you'll see on our Certified Housing website a range of rates. Oftentimes a triple or a quad is the lowest rate, and a single is the highest rate, and then there are room types in between. If you were interested in knowing what the double room rate is at Bromley, then you would contact Bromley directly. But at least a general range is available on the Certified Housing site. All the rates are available on a University Housing website for our room types. (Compare Options)
Could you define what Certified Housing is again for folks I know it's a little confusing. What's Private Certified versus University Housing versus Greek houses?
Mari Anne: Sure. Certified Housing in general, I always think of as having three components. University-owned residence halls, privately-owned certified residence halls, and houses, and then Greek-certified facilities that relate to a membership-based organization. Those are the three different types of Certified Housing that are approved for first-year students because we have a first-year live-on requirement. Certified means that a first-year student can live in any of those. With a fraternity or sorority, there's an extra layer of membership that is a part of that equation. Oftentimes, first-year students will be in university-owned or privately-owned residence halls. As I alluded to earlier, there is a set of standards that these facilities must abide by to be certified. And that means providing food service, residential education, residential support, student development support, staffing, and certain sorts of emergency reporting. We're meeting with them regularly; we're helping train their RAs. We're doing a variety of things to provide a comparable experience for first-year students. Then because there is a partnership, there, there is some opportunity to move between them. I think we have a lot of students who might start in University Housing and not want to be ready for an apartment yet but might do Private Certified Housing as their second year. Because they get a suite-style floor plan or a room with a kitchen, but they still have resources right around the corner if they need them. So, it's like that nice middle step between starting in a residence hall, having a little bit more autonomy, and then going out and being completely on your own.
Ashley, two questions for you that parents sent us. One, what is the daily life like in a sorority or fraternity? And then secondly, what kind of networking opportunities are there for members?
Ashley: Daily life, that's kind of a hard one because I think it depends on the student and the organization, but in general, living in a fraternity or sorority house is probably more like living at home in your own house than it is a residence hall because it's a little bit of a smaller self-contained facility in terms of hanging out in the living room and watching TV, going to your room to sleep. Those components are more like living in your own home. Some of our chapters have suite-style bathroom setups, but most have a community-style bathroom setup, more like a residence hall. I think eating meals at the Chapter house, studying there if the student desires, hanging out in the living room, watching TV or whatever, and sleeping there is what is happening daily. There are typically a lot of different activities, whether chapter meetings or activities are happening. For some of the member development programs that I talked about earlier, chapters that have housing are doing probably most of their meetings and programs in their chapter, then chapters that don't have housing are utilizing university spaces like classrooms or rooms in the Illini Union, etc. for those sorts of things like chapter meetings, programs, and different events that they're putting on. It depends on what's going on that day as to how involved the student is. Also, if they're involved in leadership in some way, they might have more meetings or more things to attend to engage in than a student who might not be involved in a leadership role or position. As for networking, back to this unique aspect of lifelong membership. Our alumni, a lot of our Greek alumni, have a real affinity to their organization as being a place that they come back to visit here. In a couple of weeks with homecoming, we will have a lot of fraternity/sorority activity and alums returning, but our chapters also are engaging alumni in various networking things. We have some chapters that have formalized mentoring programs with alumni that are career fields that the student wants to go into. Then we have a lot of informal mentoring happening. We have some different alumni-specific networking events that happen in our chapters as well. Our students are pretty career-minded and are thinking about what they want to do after school, and the alumni of our fraternities and sororities, in general, are supportive in helping students when they can with that network assist in formal and informal ways.
You can see that there are an immense number of resources that are offered to students, both in University Housing and through fraternity and sorority affairs. There is a lot of wonderful support for your students.