A new Catholic college is offering degree and trade education at a price that won’t leave graduates stifled by student debt. The College of St. Joseph the Worker in Steubenville, Ohio, is striving to integrate the intellectual and spiritual life with physical work. The school is attracting students with the tagline: “Learn a trade, earn a degree and graduate without crippling debt.”
In its mission statement, the college explains that it seeks to reestablish the inherent dignity of manual labor, with Christ and his earthly father St. Joseph as models. They eschew the antiquated ideas that laborious jobs are “ignoble” and they point to the writings of Pope St. John Paul II, who conveyed in his Laborem exercens:
“Christianity brought about a fundamental change of ideas in this field, taking the whole content of the gospel message as its point of departure, especially the fact that the one who, while being God, became like us in all things, devoted most of the years of his life on earth to manual work at the carpenter’s bench.” (no. 26)
Following the guidance of John Paul II, the College reiterates that the spiritual traditions of Christianity call all of us to follow this example of Christ in undertaking physical labors. The college reminds that, “the Word became flesh and picked up a hammer. To imitate Christ, we must do the same.”
The College of St. Joseph the Worker considers its mission to provide an environment for the spiritual development of the students, while supplying society with faithful workers who have been trained in thought as well as their trades.
The College of St. Joseph the Worker currently offers three educational tracks. The simplest of these is a Craftsmanship Certificate course, which lasts one year. This track will cover the basics of all five offered trades, which include carpentry, HVAC, electrical, plumbing, and masonry. This track allows students to explore all of the offered fields before deciding on a primary focus.
The Certificate program is designed to help students identify their vocations. Students who decide to transition into a BA in a chosen field will be able to do so seamlessly from this one-year course. Coming in at an affordable $15,000 for the entire year’s education, this is the perfect track for students who wish to defer for a year in order to identify their talents.
Students who decide they do not wish to pursue a trade will not have to worry about transferring to a different college. The College’s second track allows students who completed the first year certificate track to seamlessly transition into a 3-year BA program that delivers a rigorous education in the Catholic Intellectual Tradition. This track is ideal for “those called to work in an office, an operating room, or a courthouse—and who still want to know their way around a workshop.”
Finally, the Craftsman Track is their most intensive program. This six-year track will see students graduate with a BA in Catholic studies as well as starting them on their trade apprenticeship. The apprenticeship positions will take students to real work sites and pay them for their labors.
Students who take on this course load will come out equipped with Journeyman level skills in their chosen trade, and will be well acquainted with the ins and outs of the college’s other trade offerings as well.
The College of St. Joseph the Worker prizes its Catholic offerings, which all students take part in. They explain that every student, no matter their field, will earn a BA in Catholic Studies, which instills the understanding that Reason is fulfilled by Faith. They write:
“Our curriculum is, therefore, not divided into ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural’ pursuits—standard secular economics here, theology over there. Rather, everywhere, in all of our studies, our reason is healed and perfected by our faith. Courses will cover everything from Scripture, metaphysics, and epistemology to history, economics, and mathematics, always with an eye toward the three unique dimensions of the lay vocation: work, family, and politics.”
Students will not just encounter faith education within the classroom, but also in various aspects of campus life. On its website, the college boasts daily Mass, regular confession and perpetual Adoration at the local parish. They explain that students won’t interact only with other students, but also with “enthusiastic priests, model spouses, and troublesome kids.”
This is the College of St. Joseph the Worker’s inaugural year, and they have not yet been officially accredited. In an interview with The College Fix, spokesman Alex Renn noted that the college can’t be officially accredited until it has graduated its first class. He said:
“We are not accredited, yet, because part of the accreditation process is graduating a student, so we cannot become accredited until someone goes all the way through our program,” he stated in his email. “That said, we are of course working toward accreditation.”
The school is starting slow, with an initial class of 30 students who will start learning their trades in the Fall of 2023, but they expect that there’s plenty of room for growth. They also note that they are not going anywhere, as they have already raised enough funds to support a sustainable model that will ensure the College of St. Joseph the Worker will be around for decades to come.