For first-semester freshmen pledging a fraternity at the University of Pittsburgh, more will be riding on final exams this week than just relief or regret about their own academic success or failure.
If they finish the semester with a grade point average that's too low, it will cost their fraternity cash.
The Interfraternity Council, a group composed of fraternity chapter presidents across campus, instituted a policy this fall that calls for fining organizations $20 for every tenth of a percentage point below a 2.5 grade point average that an individual pledge earns.
Zachary Patton, president of the Interfraternity Council, said the idea is part of a push by the organization to achieve a long elusive goal: An average GPA for fraternity members that is above the average for all males on campus.
The effort, if successful, would help push back against a rowdy Animal House stereotype that hinders recruiting, he said. Beyond that, the policy is a demonstration that the fraternities and their members intend to demand more of themselves including their GPAs.
"We're better than the numbers we're being given," he said.
Mr. Patton said the average GPA for fraternity members at Pitt is 3.024, just below the 3.042 average for all males on campus.
One reason, he said, appears to be recruitment and the performance of pledges, most of whom rush during their first semester when they do not yet have a GPA and thus are not covered by a university rule requiring at minimum a 2.5 GPA to join.
He said most pledges do well academically, but those who struggle bring the average down. He added that fines are a way to ensure two things: fraternities give adequate attention to academic resolve when recruiting pledges, and the organization follows through with help when those pledges need it.
"In a chapter, everybody should be able to put their heads together to help the maybe one or two kids in a pledge class who are struggling," said Mr. Patton, 21, a senior philosophy and communication and rhetoric major from Kittanning. "We see that as the fraternity's responsibility."
He said the move is not a response to any pressure by the university.
Summer Rothrock, assistant director of leadership development and Greek affairs at Pitt, declined an interview request to discuss the policy, but issued a statement through the university that read in part: "Academic excellence of all students is our goal, and we are encouraged to see the Greek organizations making this a priority."
Sororities at Pitt do not have a fine policy for grades, said Pitt spokesman John Fedele. He did not have grade averages for their organizations.
Policies to encourage good grades -- if not actual fines -- are common among fraternities and campuses.
A statement from the North-American Interfraternity Conference says it and its member fraternities "have established minimum 2.5 GPA as an academic requirement in order to be eligible to join a fraternity. It is not uncommon to see Interfraternity Councils raise these minimum standards to improve the academic performance of their communities."
The group was unaware of similar fine policies like the one at Pitt, nor was Mic Wilson, executive director of Kappa Sigma, whose national headquarters is in Charlottesville, Va. He said in general he believes education programs and incentives are the best way to improve grades.
Just the same, he added, anything that helps with the difficult adjustment from high school to college is welcome. Kappa Sigma has a chapter at Pitt.
"I'm glad to see they're trying," he said.
Some schools do not allow first-semester students to pledge, among them Duquesne University. Officials there say participation in any student organization requires at least a 2.2 GPA, but most fraternities require a 2.5. Fraternity members on academic probation for two consecutive semesters are let go from the organization.
At Carnegie Mellon, national and international Greek organizations have minimum GPA requirements that can vary from a 2.0 to 2.5 for continuing and transfer students, or a high school cumulative GPA of 2.6 to 2.8 for freshmen, spokeswoman Abby Simmons said.
She said responses when minimum grades are not met can vary from establishment of academic assistance plans to removal from membership.
Penn State University says fraternities unable to maintain at least a 2.5 cumulative GPA lose recognition as a student organization.
Indiana University of Pennsylvania requires at minimum 2.25 GPA to join a fraternity, but some have higher GPA requirements. Members must remain in good academic standing.
At Pitt, about 1,300 members belong to the 18 fraternities and one colony on campus, said Mr. Patton, a member of Sigma Chi. He said the first-semester freshmen initiative is "a baby step" that gained unanimous support among the council and could expanded if it proves successful.
Bill Schackner: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1977 or on Twitter @BschacknerPG.