1999 HEDS Senior Survey

Qualitative Report

Prepared April, 2002, by Mary Ann Weaver and Jamie Miller

In the spring of 1999 an invitation to participate in a senior survey was issued to all seniors.  The survey instrument used was designed by the Higher Education Data Sharing Consortium (HEDS).  The report provided by HEDS gives comparative data from our peer institutions.  We have attempted to summarize such aspects as the seniors'  future plans and expectations, an evaluation of their undergraduate experience,  information on their undergraduate work experience and their finances.

The 82 Earlham seniors who responded represented 42% of the senior class.   More than half (63%) of the respondents were female.  The majority (96%) ranged in age from 21 to 24.  Most all of them lived in college housing, though 15% lived off campus within walking distance of the campus.  They participated in many activities while at Earlham.  A large percentage (78%) performed some volunteer service and many were involved in some sort of performing art.  Almost half of them participated in intercollegiate or intramural athletics.  The majority of the respondents were white, although several other ethnicities were represented in the sample.  It is not surprising that only 3% of the respondents characterize their political views as conservative.

Most of these students come from educated families with 76% of their mothers  and 68% of their fathers having at least a bachelor's degree and  many of the fathers having doctorate degrees.  However 11% came from families where their parents had only a high school diploma or less.  The majority of these students estimate their parents' income as less than $100,000, with 25% of them in the $50,000 to $75,000 category and 13% under $25,000.

Future Plans

Students were asked about their plans for the upcoming fall.  The majority of the seniors indicated they were planning on working.   Nineteen percent have already accepted a position, while the others will be searching for a job during the summer.  Earlham responses were similar to those from our peer group institutions.

Only a small percentage of these seniors anticipated attending graduate school in the fall.  Though some have already been accepted to the school of their choice, eighty-four percent of the seniors said they had not applied to any type of school.  This may be the result of students waiting until closer to graduation (possibly after comps) to decide where to apply for graduate school and what they want to do.  For those who were planning on going to graduate school in the fall, their fields of study included architecture design, biological sciences, law, medicine, physical science and theology.  These responses are similar to those from our peer group institutions though there was a higher percentage of students from the peer group who have applied for admission to an MA or MS program (34% of peer group compared to 15% of Earlham students).

Regardless of their fall plans, thirty-two percent of students plan on pursuing a Ph.D. sometime in the future and twenty-three percent will seek a Master’s degree.  This compares favorably to our peer institutions where twenty-three percent planned on pursuing a Ph.D.   Eighteen percent of the peer group indicated an interest in either a medical or law degree compared to nine percent from Earlham. 

Students were asked to rank the importance of various career expectations.  It is essential or very important to most of these students to pursue a career that is intellectually challenging.  Many of them also want to feel they are working to promote social change.

It was somewhat important to over half of the students that there not be much pressure or stress associated with the work, though it was not important at all to 22% of the respondents.  Over half of the students felt that being interested in the day-to-day work involved and the opportunity to be creative and exercise initiative were essential in considering a career.  The social recognition or status of a career was less important to these students, as was a career requiring a long-term commitment.  The amount of  training beyond college that is required of a career is not important to them.  This would possibly reflect their desire to be “life-time learners”.  While most of the Earlham student responses were very similar to students from other institutions, it was somewhat more important for students from other institutions for a career to have a high income potential, provide for a secure future,  and have social recognition or status.  It was somewhat more important for Earlham students to be working for social change and to have limited working hours that allow time for other activities.

Education was the most popular career choice for these students when they entered Earlham.  Although many of them anticipate that their first job after leaving Earlham will be in teaching, a high percentage of these students expect to be working in social services.  When compared with our peer group institutions, there was a much greater percentage of Earlham students interested in careers in social work.  Students from other institutions were anticipating jobs in business or industry. 

When it came to long-term career goals, fourteen percent of the Earlham seniors would like to teach at a college.  Again, seniors at peer institutions indicated careers in business and industry as their long-term goals.

Evaluation of Undergraduate Experience

The overwhelming majority of Earlham seniors who responded to this survey were satisfied with their undergraduate education at Earlham.  Fifty percent were very satisfied compared to forty-two percent of the seniors from peer institutions.  Most of the Earlham seniors would choose Earlham again, but it is disturbing that eleven percent of them indicated they definitely would not choose Earlham again.  This compares to four percent of students from other schools who felt they would not choose the same institution again.

Ninety-two percent of the Earlham respondents indicated the average grade they received during their college career overall was a B or better.  Thirty two percent have an average grade of A in their major compared to sixteen percent of students at other schools.

Seniors were asked about their satisfaction with various services or aspects of their college.  Earlham seniors were very satisfied with their opportunities for study off-campus or abroad.  They also appreciated having the opportunity to do independent study and/or research.  The majority of them indicated they were very satisfied with faculty availability and faculty attitude which compared favorably with our peer instituions where a smaller percentage felt the same.  Over half of the Earlham respondents were very satisfied with Humanites, Arts, Science, Math and Social Sciences.  The biggest differences between the Earlham seniors and seniors from other schools related to their satisfaction in student voice in college policies. Only 55% of the seniors from peer schools were satisfied or very satisfied with student voice in college policies compared to 79% of Earlham seniors.  Earlham also had a higher percentage of students who were satisfied with the religious/spiritual life on campus, career services, and campus safety/security.  About half of the Earlham seniors were generally dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with ethnic/racial diversity on campus.  The senior respondents from other peer institutions were more satisfied with their food service than the Earlham students.

Most of the Earlham students feel they can write more effectively as a result of their Earlham education.  They also feel their analytical thinking ability has been enhanced.  They are more aware of social problems which may account for their increased interest in careers in social services.  Most of them indicated their communication skills have been moderately or greatly enhanced and that they have improved their ability to acquire new skills and knowledge on their own.  Only four percent feel their ability to relate well to people of different races, nations, and religions have not been enhanced compared to fifteen percent of the seniors from peer institutions.  It is alarming that twelve percent of Earlham students feel their ability to use quantitative tools such as statistics and graphs was not at all enhanced by their undergraduate experience and that fourteen percent of seniors at our peer schools indicated the same.  Earlham seniors rated their enhanced ability to read or speak a foreign language higher than seniors from peer schools.

It was encouraging to learn that almost half of Earlham seniors remember their college years as some of the most enjoyable times of their life so far.  

Undergraduate Work Experience

Most Earlham seniors worked up to fourteen hours a week as did seniors from peer institutions, however there was a greater percentage of students from peer institutions who worked twenty hours or more (24%) compared to Earlham students (10%).    The vast majority of this work was performed on-campus for both Earlham students and those from other schools.  When asked to compare their hours of employment as a senior to the number of hours per week they would recommend to a senior in circumstances similar to theirs,  most Earlham senior respondents indicated they would recommend about the same number of hours. 


An issue that many students face while attending Earlham is finding resources to pay their tuition and housing costs.  Earlham attempts to provide healthy financial aid packages, but sometimes it is not enough.  Thirty percent of seniors receive no loans to aid them while at Earlham, while 37% owe from $5,000 to $20,000.  Another 11% have over $25,000 in outstanding loans.  Ninety-one percent of these seniors will have to pay back their loans personally.

The seniors were asked how concerned they were about their ability to repay their loans.  Sixty-one percent said they felt some concern about the situation.  The remaining students felt confident that they would be able to pay back their loans.  The students were asked about the effects of having educational loans.  Eighty-five percent of seniors said that the loans allowed them to get their degree at an otherwise unaffordable institution.  Sixty-one percent felt their loans caused anxiety about their financial situation.  Seventy-seven percent felt their loans necessitated immediate employment after graduation while only 64% of the seniors graduating from peer institutions felt the need to do so.  Having student loans caused only 6% of Earlham seniors to focus their job search on higher paying fields, compared to 15% of the seniors from our peer schools.  The effect of having educational loans encouraged fourteen percent of Earlham seniors and 25% of seniors from peer schools to enroll in further education to postpone repaying their loans.

Supplemental Questions

Additional questions were added to this survey in order to compare responses of seniors to their responses as entering freshmen.  We do not have comparison data to other institutions on these questions.

As entering freshmen these students put less importance on influencing social values and helping others who are in difficulty.  After completing four years at Earlham, only 20% of these students felt raising a family was somewhat important compared to 30% when they were freshmen.  Apparently their Earlham education had a positive influence on their willingness to help others who are in difficulty.  Thirty-nine percent of the seniors considered helping others essential.  As freshman, only 27% felt it was essential.  Although there were 17% of these students who felt keeping up-to-date with political affairs was not important when they were freshman, only 4% felt the same as seniors.  In fact 26% of the seniors felt it was essential.


These data provide us with one perspective on the characteristics, experiences, and future plans of our graduating seniors.  As is often true of Earlham graduates, these seniors have become interested in working for social change.  They have a desire to help others who are in difficulty and to develop a meaningful philosophy of life.  Keeping up-to-date with political affairs and helping promote racial understanding were also very important to these students.  During their time at Earlham, they were very satisfied with faculty availability and faculty attitude. This speaks favorably of our institution. 

But questions remain.  Why did 11% of these seniors indicate they would definitely not choose Earlham again?  Why were over half of the Earlham seniors generally dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with ethnic/racial diversity on campus?  And why did only a small percentage of these seniors anticipate attending graduate school in the fall? 

Comparisons to our peer institutions have revealed significant differences in some areas and similarities in others.

As we attempt to interpret the data presented in this report, it is to be hoped that it will result in ideas for ways to improve our educational practices so as to further enhance the development of Earlham students.


Created by Mary Ann Weaver
April, 2002