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Catholic trade school forges ahead despite obstacles

While working through state approval, the school offers workshops and expects to enroll students next fall

A Catholic trade college plans to enroll students starting in fall of 2024, but said it continues to train people interested in learning craftsmanship while it works through the regulatory process and other hurdles.

The College of St. Joseph the Worker in Steubenville, Ohio is “shifting the start date back so that we can finish the state approval process,” Alex Renn, the school’s communications director, told The College Fix via email.

Renn said the process “has taken longer” than anticipated, “but it has been a very constructive process and it’s clear to all of us that they are advocating for student protection which makes the process absolutely worthwhile.”

Students will learn both theology and a trade – a skill that is needed not just nationwide but locally.

“Housing is slow, ironically, because we don’t have enough skilled tradesmen in this area,” Renn said.

The college expects to start off with at least 30 students but does expect to grow. However, it wants to stay under about 100 freshmen per year. According to Renn, this is “to keep the school at a fairly manageable size.”

“Our school will ultimately do a lot of training in what is currently the Steubenville Workshop,” the spokesman told The Fix.

MORE: Associated Press frets about young adults choosing work over school

“Over the next year, as we finish state approval, we plan to do a series of 2-3 week seminars using a similar model of shop time + classroom discussion,” Renn said. “We are currently in the midst of our second timber framing + theology of work seminar, and it’s awesome.”

Interested students or just people who want to learn more can take a “quick course” on a “particular trade” through the workshop, Renn said.

The college is named for St. Joseph, the patron saint of workers who worked as a tekton, a skilled craftsman.

A strong faith life will also be part of the program.

“Our students will have access to daily Mass, regular confession, and perpetual adoration at the local parish,” the university previously stated on its website. “They won’t simply interact with other students, they’ll meet enthusiastic priests, model spouses, and troublesome kids.”

The combination of a liberal arts education with trade training is not new – there are at least two other similar institutions. Harmel Academy of the Trades in Grand Rapids, Michigan graduated its first class in 2022.

The school trains men both in a trade and in Catholic theology.

Kateri College of the Liberal Arts in New Mexico “will unite the strengths of a liberal arts education with a vocational trade in order to graduate men and women who know their mission in life,” and will contribute to the church and community.

It plans to start enrolling students in fall of 2024.

The Fix contacted Desk Free Nation, which promotes the skilled trades, to ask for job statistics, but it did not respond to two emails sent in the past three weeks. Mike Rowe Works Foundation declined to comment, citing Rowe’s schedule.

A trade industry association said there is demand for skilled trades, particularly as construction workers continue to retire.

“With nearly 1 in 4 construction workers older than 55, retirements will continue to whittle away at the construction workforce, Associated Builders and Contractors economist Anirban Basu stated in a February 9 news release. “Many of these older construction workers are also the most productive, refining their skills over time,” Basu stated.

“The number of construction laborers, the most entry-level occupational title, has accounted for nearly 4 out of every 10 new construction workers since 2012,” the economist noted. “Meanwhile, the number of skilled workers has grown at a much slower pace or, in the case of certain occupations like carpenter, declined.”

MORE: Trade school programs thrive amid overall college decline

IMAGE: Steubenville Workshop

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About the Author
College Fix contributor William Hurley is a student at Hope College where he studies political science and theology. He is active in many clubs including Hope Republicans, Hope Catholics, and Students Cherishing Life. He has written for the Hope College student newspaper, The Anchor.