Dr. Steven R. DiSalvo had a long list of goals for Saint Anselm College when he arrived on campus five years ago. He wanted to increase the school’s visibility and produce a strong brand, create greater financial stability, and upgrade the campus’ infrastructure. According to DiSalvo, he has achieved all of these things.
DiSalvo set out to utilize the New Hampshire Institute of Politics to improve name recognition of the college and strengthen Saint Anselm’s brand. “It clearly worked,” DiSalvo said.Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, Saint Anselm College played a prominent role. Campus visits increased 46% after the primary season.
He also discussed the extensive upgrades to campus infrastructure that have occurred under his administration. Since the construction of the Living Learning Commons, the campus has grown to include the grotto, a new campus entrance, and the Roger and Francine Jean Student Center Complex. Additionally, the college has updated the plaza in front of Alumni Hall and is currently working on updating classroom spaces across campus.
Yet one of the accomplishments of which DiSalvo is most proud is also the most controversial. He is excited that the college has experienced greater financial stability under his administration. DiSalvo says he and his team achieved this goal by increasing enrollment, improving the retention and graduation rates, and unveiling the Faith in the Future campaign, which is near conclusion.
In particular, DiSalvo notes the growth of the college’s endowment. The year before he arrived at the Hilltop, Saint Anselm’s endowment stood at $83 million. Today it stands at $157 million. The interest on that endowment is used to offer financial aid packages to students. As DiSalvo prepares to leave, Saint Anselm is better positioned to attract a more competitive field of applicants because of this increase.
Some of that financial stability came about as a result of the college’s decision to eliminate 13 positions, a story The Hilltopper first reported on in May 2018. In his first on-the-record interview with the paper about the issue, DiSalvo explained the reasoning behind the decision. “When we looked at budget forecasting,” DiSalvo said, the administration could see there was going to be stress on the budget. “The board’s direction,” he explained, “was to address that last year.”
DiSalvo insisted that the process was handled well. “That exercise was handled professionally, gracefully, and we worked with those individuals to make sure they had everything they needed to find a landing spot,” he said.
He also pushed back against the idea that the decision was done through a top-down approach. “Each department head,” he explained, “was charged with finding at least one full-time position they could live without. So it was really up to the department heads to determine which positions they wanted to focus on.”
This statement contradicted previous understanding of the firing process. According to an August article from the New Hampshire Union Leader, “DiSalvo informed the Union Leader that the 13 eliminated positions were decided by the administration with input from the institution’s vice presidents.”
Further, DiSalvo maintained that the impact on students always remained at the forefront while the decisions were being made. “We wanted to make sure the student experience was central,” he said.
In retrospect, DiSalvo said, he would have held off on announcing the voluntary resignations of the Vice President of Administration and the Vice President of Student Affairs. “Those were separate from the 13 and because they were announced at the same time, people assumed those positions were eliminated but they weren’t,” he explained. Overall, he maintained that the process was handled “pretty well.”
DiSalvo believes that, because of a number of factors, Saint Anselm is on firmer financial footing than when he arrived five years ago. That success combined with greater brand recognition and the upgrades to infrastructure that he initiated have contributed to Saint Anselm entering the Top 100 Liberal Arts Colleges, according to U.S. News and World Report. DiSalvo says that entering the top 100 is his proudest accomplishment here from his time on the Hilltop.
DiSalvo admits to falling short in one category. He had hoped to establish a program for advanced degrees. “I think it’s critically important that the next president move that forward,” he said. As DiSalvo explained it, “By offering graduate programs, there’s greater financial stability.” He continued, “Knowing what I know now about the stress on the current infrastructure for undergraduates, the only other way to grow is at the graduate level. And that’s what I would have done had I stayed.”
Now, as his time at Saint Anselm comes to a close, DiSalvo prepares to take what he called the “great logical next step” in his career, being inaugurated as the seventh president of Endicott College. The college made the announcement via a video posted to their Twitter account at 6:15 AM on March 27th.
After being “recruited by several institutions,” DiSalvo decided on Endicott for a number of reasons. Mostly, the college represents a new challenge for Saint Anselm’s outgoing president. He noted that he is moving to a larger school of more than 5,000 students. In addition to a greater student body, Endicott consists of nine separate schools and has double the operating budget with about 30% more employees. He was further drawn to Endicott’s experiential learning component. Students there are required to take internships, beginning freshman year, and the program culminates with a full-semester internship during a student’s senior year. He said he very much likes the “entrepreneurial approach” that Endicott takes to ensure its students’ success. Additionally, Endicott allows DiSalvo to remain in New England, where his family has called home since arriving in New Hampshire in 2014.
As DiSalvo leaves the hilltop, he is confident in his legacy at Saint Anselm College. He sees now as the right time to move on, confident in what he’s accomplished and excited for what lies ahead at Endicott. “The comfortable thing would be to stick around where you know everybody and try to coast it out,” he said, “but I am also a big believer – if you look at my track record – I don’t like to overstay my welcome. I really did feel that I’m going out on top, given everything we were able to accomplish.”
DiSalvo intends to begin his time at Endicott as he began it here at Saint Anselm – with a listening tour. He hopes to meet varying constituencies across campus in an effort to understand their expectations for his presidency. He said that every Thursday night during his first year as president he sat in the pub to meet with whichever members of the faculty came to talk with him. He joked that the process would be easy to replicate because “[Endicott] also has a pub on campus!”
Meanwhile, the search for DiSalvo’s successor continues. The Search Committee has yet to bring finalists to campus for on-campus tours and interviews. It is likely that a new president will not be named until after that process is complete. DiSalvo said his on-campus interview was on April 15th.