WASHINGTON (CNS) — When one thinks of Catholic colleges and universities, one typically imagines an institution with a strong liberal arts base and bachelor’s and advanced degrees in white-collar professions.

While that remains the case, a few Catholic colleges are looking at the stagnant economy and how they can respond to it. These schools have adapted their course offerings to include programs for careers not commonly associated with Catholic higher education.

At Trocaire College in Buffalo, N.Y., students can study massage therapy and hospitality management, among other subjects.

“We’re a Sisters of Mercy college. Their mission is to give them (students) education for employment,” said Mike LaFever, Trocaire’s dean of enrollment management. “Our programs are measured not only to graduate people on time but to give people employment opportunities in the curriculum they studied for.”

What’s more, students shouldn’t have to leave western New York to find a job in their chosen field, LaFever told Catholic News Service.

“We see jobs in the Buffalo region and what they pay and what it costs to live in Buffalo,” he said. In some cases, Trocaire has closed programs, he said, when school officials found that the training wasn’t getting graduates jobs that paid a decent salary.

One example was an early childhood program. “We discovered they were getting jobs that were paying eight or nine dollars an hour,” LaFever said. “That just doesn’t equate when you’re paying private-school tuition,” which at Trocaire is $7,500 a semester. The school also closed its business program because it “just wasn’t preparing students for the marketplace,” he noted.

So Trocaire, originally a two-year college, determined it should offer four-year degrees after conducting market surveys. It also decided to shift its course offerings to the health sciences.

“That is a big employment market in the Buffalo area,” LaFever said.

Monique Jarvis of Kenmore, N.Y., a Buffalo suburb, graduated from Trocaire’s massage therapy program. Jarvis was a community college student when she needed massage therapy after an automobile accident.

After receiving her own therapy, “it seemed like something I could do,” Jarvis said, noting there were three schools from which she could choose. “Trocaire was a little more pricey for the education, but it had more of a medical massage atmosphere.”

Upon getting her degree, “I worked for a few different places and it wasn’t the type of atmosphere I wanted to be in,” Jarvis told CNS. “They were day spas and they were more into luxury and relaxing. I wanted that, but I wanted to have something more, like for people who had fibromyalgia.”

She put up her own shingle on a small shop close to Trocaire. “After six months, I had to get a bigger location. I got a second therapist.” She found the current building in Kenmore for her business, The Massage Suite & Spa, in 2008 and purchased it with her husband’s help. She now has seven massage therapists under contract and three other employees as well.

At the Ursuline-run College of New Rochelle, which has campuses throughout the New York metropolitan area — including at a union hall — school officials received a $250,000 New York state grant to offer scholarships to economically disadvantaged students who lack a high school diploma or its GED equivalent.

Under tighter federal criteria, students who lack a diploma or GED cannot get federal Pell grants that would help them access postsecondary education.

The College of New Rochelle estimates that it can help 45 students with the state grant.

The money, which comes from the federal Department of Education but is administered by the state, will be used to help those students acquire 24 core college credits to needed for a GED, which in turn would enable them to qualify for Pell Grants.

Although Catholic higher education is generally more expensive than their publicly funded counterparts, Census Bureau statistics show that overall earnings for college graduates are nearly twice that of those with high school diplomas — $51,206 a year versus $27,915 a year for a high school graduate. Over the course of a lifetime, the difference in earnings could exceed $1 million.

The College of New Rochelle offers classes mornings, afternoons and evenings. While part of the college is still a women-only institution, three schools — including the School of New Resources, which obtained the grant — admit both women and men.

A Benedictine-run school, the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, Minn., has satellite campuses throughout the more populous southern part of the state, including Minneapolis, St. Paul and Rochester, to make education more accessible to working adults.

“There was a decision made at the school 10 years ago to try to diversify more,” said Kurt Linberg, dean of the college’s school of business and technology. “That meant reaching out and trying to fulfill the needs of working adults at our extended campuses.”

From the college’s research, school officials learned that students are “working as well to offset the tuition cost. They’re doing paid internships or they’re working side jobs. So in some respects, they’re really starting to value not only the only the liberal arts but the professional skills we teach.” Tuition is $900 per credit hour, although St. Scholastica has discounts, such as 18 credits for the price of 14.

The college is assessing the signs of the economic times and introducing new degree programs in response.

“Health care administration is one, but also in our marketing area we’re hearing from employers that marketing students have to do more than the creative piece, so we’ve launched a new program in marking analytics,” Linberg said.

In his three years at St. Scholastica, Linberg said he has seen “a mix” of both working students establishing themselves in a career, and students starting new careers.

In some cases where they had been getting by with a high school education, and “now they need to have that bachelor’s degree,” he added. And for those employed with a bachelor’s, according to Linberg, “that master’s degree further differentiate employees.”

In a course Linberg teaches for management majors, “if I have 30 students in my class, half are working in paid jobs, probably as much as 20 hours a week. These are students that are expecting very relevant courses and good instruction, and they’re busy people like you and I.”