Saint Anselm College

We’re #96! We’re #96! . . . . Now What?

Now that the dust has settled and we’ve collected our t-shirts celebrating the fact that Saint Anselm College has broken into US News and World Report’s list of the top 100 liberal arts colleges in America (tied at #95), it’s time for a sober assessment of what our newfound status actually means. As recently as two years ago, Saint Anselm College was ranked #115. Last year, the college reached #106. Are we that much better than two years ago? What’s going on?

The short answer is that while we may be getting better, we’re not getting that much better that fast. In large part, our rise in the rankings has to do with modifications that US News and World Report (USN&WR) has made to its calculations. The weights in the ranking formula break down into the following manner:

Outcomes (35%)

  • social mobility (5%)
  • graduation and retention rates (22%)
  • graduation rate performance (8%)

Faculty Resources (20%)

  • class size (8%)
  • faculty salaries (7%)
  • full-time faculty with highest possible degree in field (3%)
  • student-faculty ratio (1%)
  • proportion of faculty that is full-time (1%)

Expert Opinion (20%)

  • peer assessment (15%)
  • high school counselor assessment (5%)

Financial Resources (10%)

Student Excellence (10%)

  • standardized test scores (7.75%)
  • high school class standing (2.25%)

Alumni Giving (5%)

These weights represent a change from last year:

  • Outcomes were upgraded from 30% to 35%. This was done by adding the social mobility category (5%) which is based on the graduation rates of those with Pell Grants. Graduation and retention rates were lowered from 22.5% to 22%, and the category of graduation rate performance was raised from 7.5% to 8%.
  • Expert opinion was downgraded from 22.5% to 20%. In the case of liberal arts colleges, this was mainly because the high school counselor assessment was nudged downward from 7.5% to 5%.
  • Finally, Student Excellence was pushed down from 12.5% to 10%. This change was accomplished by eliminating the acceptance rate (1.25%) and reducing the weight of standardized testing as well as class standing.

These changes undoubtedly played to our strengths and downplayed our weaknesses. First, we have always done rather well with outcomes. USN&WR measures this category rather narrowly, but in other rankings—Forbes, Money Magazine, and The Economist—which look at postgraduate experiences, Saint Anselm College always ranks fairly high in return on investment. In other words, our alumni go on to get higher-paying jobs than one would expect from looking at their backgrounds. Second, diminishing the value of the high school counselor assessment probably did us no harm; Saint Anselm College has a very good regional reputation but is largely unknown outside of New England. Third, lightening the weight of the student excellence category probably helped. Saint Anselm College is not terribly selective, while the test scores and class ranks are above average but not spectacular.

There’s no denying that the USN&WR rankings are problematic. They are a strange mix of fact and personal opinion. USN&WR claims that “hard objective data alone determine each school’s rank” but it relies on “expert opinion” which is hardly hard or objective. Moreover, the weight assigned to each category is arbitrary, the product of somebody’s opinion. One Thing after Another is not terribly original in pointing out these problems; one can find many criticisms of the rankings.

Having said all that, Saint Anselm College has earned this recognition, even if that recognition is based on faulty premises. The faculty, by and large, is conscientious and strives to do its best by students. For example, in recent years, the History Department has made a number of changes to the major—including the introduction of new courses, an emphasis on student research, and a stress on internships. And our department is not alone in making such changes. On paper, we are not a selective college. Nonetheless, we obtain good classes because half of our students come from Massachusetts which has the best public schools in the nation (New Hampshire, from which another quarter of our students hail, ranks very highly in this category as well). And we can see in the classroom the good results yielded by Admissions. The curriculum, while not without its defects, still provides students with a broad liberal arts education along with an appreciation for learning. Our alumni go on to lead valuable, productive, and fulfilling lives. Several years out, our former students earn more than graduates from our peer institutions. This blog knows all of these things first hand; One Thing after Another has taught at the college for over fifteen years, and it remains in touch with many alums. It is often satisfying to contemplate the works of our students and graduates. This blog won’t claim that Saint Anselm College has discovered some magic formula for success, but what we do here generally seems to work. We take above-average students and make them better. As we strive to improve, let’s keep in mind that we seem to be pretty good at undergraduate education; it might not be the worst idea to double-down on what we do best.

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Labbe and Miller Transcribe the Kimball Diaries

Psychology major and History minor Lisette Labbé ’18 (left) and History major Dena Miller ’20 (right) spent part of their semester in the Saint Anselm College Archives transcribing the 1891-1892 diary of Edwin C.H. Kimball.  One Thing After Another caught up with them to learn more about this campus history project.

Q: Can you tell us a little more about the project and how you got involved?

Dena and Lisette:  We are working on producing a literal transcription of the Edwin C.H. Kimball Diaries. Kimball recorded his day-to-day activities from January 1891 to December 1894. For our class project, we are focusing on the 1891-1892 diary. The ultimate goal of the project is to transcribe and digitally scan both diaries to have original pages of the dairies aligned with their transcriptions for viewing on the web.  We were both interested in being involved with the history of Saint Anselm College. So we chose this project as the final project in our History 363: Public History course.

Q: So, what did you know about Edwin C.H. Kimball when you started, or what have you learned about him?

Lisette: I did not even know he was a young farmer of 23 until about 20 pages into the diary. I assumed that he was much older and a parent based on how serious he was and his involvement in local and national politics. After reading further into the diary, it appears that he had a mother, a father, and a sister named Ethel. He was also unmarried. He was very interested in politics and would report voting rankings of political candidates from local and national elections. He would also report events that happened nationally which made me wonder if this was information he learned from his visitors who would stay at his family’s inn. He did not seem to deal much with the inn, focusing most of his efforts on the farm. It was interesting to see him interact with the Monks of the college as he was not Catholic but perhaps Baptist.

Dena:  I get the impression that Kimball was a very intelligent man. So much so that I did not even realize how young he was when I started reading his diary. I would have sworn that the diary was written by someone in his 40’s until he mentioned celebrating his 23rd birthday. Despite this initial confusion, I feel that as the project progressed I got a clear picture of who Kimball was. Kimball seemed to be a very family-oriented young man, judging by the amount of work he did for his family on their farm and in their house. Along that same line, he also seemed to care deeply about his community and his neighbors, since he spent hours a day working on their behalf, especially for Rev. Fr. Hugo Paff, O.S.B. Kimball also seemed to be very interested in politics, both local and national. Overall, my impression of Kimball is positive and I think that, judging by his political interests and community sensibilities, he would fit right in on the Saint Anselm College campus today.

Q: So, no juicy details in these diaries?

Lisette:  The psychology major in me wants to know more about the man behind the diary. But I have learned from this project that his diary was more of a journal or a records book than what we view as a diary in the 21st century.

Dena:  The Kimball family owned the property on Shirley Hill Road that was once used as an entrance to the College. Kimball recorded in his diaries the comings and goings of friends, family, and guests at his family’s inn and boarding house, the Maplewood Farm. Kimball also recorded his economic exchanges with the Monks of the college, usually days spent plowing or haying the monastic fields.  These diaries are essential to the school’s history because they are the only primary documents that recorded the fire that burned down the only college building where Alumni Hall is located in 1892.  But we only got through 1891, so we did not get to read that part!

Q: What does an average day of transcription look like?

Dena and Lisette:  So one of us will go into the Archives and typically Keith has printed out the other person’s transcriptions for us to edit. We will edit them by looking at the original document to check for errors, like a missed or an accidently capitalized letter. Afterwards, there may be edits on our own transcriptions for us to review and fix in the transcription document. So we would have to look at our partner’s edits and the diary to cross-compare before fixing the errors on the transcription document. There is also a working log where we post comments, questions and concerns for our partner, such as “what do you think this word is on page 54 line 4?” After all these steps are done we start transcribing again. If we have any questions, we typically ask Keith, or just text each other.

Q:  That is a lot of detail work! What skills do you think you have acquired through this work?

Dena and Lisette:  We learned how to transcribe exactly from a handwritten source to a digital file, which requires careful detail orientation, an understanding of cursive, and specialized knowledge of Microsoft Word. We also learned many other work-flow and project management skills. The diaries needed to stay in the College Archives, and digital pictures and copies could not be made. Hence, we had to go into the archives to do the transcriptions with the College Archivist, Keith Chevalier. Unfortunately, we could not go in at the same time because we were both working on the same diary and the same transcription document. As a result, we had to learn to schedule shifts around our three different schedules. Because of this problem, we learned how to collaborate as a team, even when the team was never in the same place at the same time. We also learned how to create a transcription and editing log to track our work as well as a style and process guide to help those who come after us maintain a consistent transcribing process.

Q:  You make it sound pretty easy. What obstacles did you encounter?

Dena and Lisette:  One of the major obstacle we have is his handwriting. Kimball forms his letters in very confusing way, where letters could look very different on different pages or pieces of the letters could look like punctuation. For example, when he writes an “a”, it often looks like “,a” because he connects the beginning of the letter to the line on the paper. This has caused confusion and in some cases has made punctuation a judgement call. Other obstacles that we’ve found is that he misspells words and we often find ourselves writing the correct word instead of the literal transcription of his misspelled word.

Q:  What do you think is important about your project? 

Dena and Lisette:  This project is important to the college’s history because we are preserving essential parts of the early life of the college. We are also working towards having the diaries online for the public to view. This initial process is to have the metadata of each page image. Metadata is data that describes and gives information about other data. We have created a catalogue record of each page. Ultimately, when each page of the diary is uploaded, typing keywords will cause all relevant pages and items to appear. These transcriptions are just the first step towards this major archival project.

Q:  So what are possible next steps for continuing this project?

Dena and Lisette: There are many ways in which future students could expand upon the work we have done. First they could continue the transcription—there are three more years to go!  After that, they could create annotations within the text of the diary. Annotations could be used to give context for the people and the situations that he describes in the diary. For example, annotations could shine a light on the political importance of James G. Blaine [a congressman and senator from Maine who was the Republican nominee for president in 1884; he served as secretary of state under President Benjamin Harrison from 1889 to 1892], who was mentioned many times. Another way that the project could be expanded upon would be the creation of a searchable index. If a future researcher wants to find all the times that a name or a term is mentioned in the diary (for example, Ethel), the index would refer the researcher to every mention of her name. This index could be expanded even further to include the misspelled versions of common words that would typically be left out of a common search because it was misspelled.

Furthermore, I consider that the myth of the unemployable History major must be destroyed.