Earlham retention and graduation rates

I’m helping a young relative with the college admissions process, and she was just admitted EA. I won’t go into personal details, as I know I can’t post about a student who isn’t my own child; but there’s so much about the college that looks like a great fit, and it’s looking like it may add up financially too. The biggest concern I have is the relatively low first-year retention rate (80%) and graduation rates (54% in 4 years, 64% in 6 years, per the common data set.) Even after you take out the 20% who don’t return after the first year, that’s only 67.5% of the remaining cohort graduating within 4 years, and 80% within 6 years.

This is quite a bit of attrition. I’m sure financial pressures must be part of the picture, since Earlham’s median family income is only around 85K/year (compared to at least two dozen elite schools where median family income tops 200K, and over 690 colleges nationwide with higher median family incomes than Earlham). But the school is well-endowed (51st in the nation in endowment per student) and reasonably generous with financial aid, so money can’t be the whole issue.

Are there a lot of “upwardly mobile” transfers doing well at Earlham and then transferring to more competitive schools? Are a lot of students leaving because they find the school isn’t the right “fit?” Are there other sources of dissatisfaction or “failure to thrive” at Earlham?

I’m concerned about how this level of attrition affects morale and the social fabric of the college community. Would love to hear from anyone with firsthand experience or insight. Thanks!

I have known about a half dozen kids who have gone to Earlham over the last 5 years. All have stayed (and one transferred in!) except one. It is not unusual for students to take time off to work and/or travel. They all seem to have had good experiences. Teaching is supposed to be excellent.

I really can’t speak to the attrition. The one I know who left had gone to Africa to study midwifery in several cultures there. Met another student studying there, stayed longer than expected, then returned to his home city where she finished college and studied to become a midwife. I can’t say if she is representative of the “leavers”.

If you have the patience for it, you might find Paying for the Party an interesting read. It’s about IU. It’s non-fiction and follows a group of freshman girls. While the authors make a number of points, one of the things that comes out is that many students of lesser means return home, often to finish their studies locally. Wondering if it’s a similar cohort who leave Earlham.


U.S. News provides information on expected graduate rates. In Earlham’s case, after academic and socioeconomic aspects have been accounted for, Earlham underperforms by 7 percentage points by this measure.

USN also shows Earlham’s 4-year graduation rate in the context of other colleges:


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Earlham is in the tiny, not very exciting town Richmond, IN. My daughter’s friend, who loves Earlham, nontheless described the tpwn as depressing. Also, Earlham itself is tiny. I suspect many students move on because they find it suffocating, or they figure out what they want to do and there are more opportunities elsewhere. Also, as a Quaker school, I suspect there is more of a culture of noncomformity and service, so perhaps some students just move on to pursue less conventional paths.

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