WASHINGTON, D.C. — Participants at the annual meeting of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities had to know they were getting down to brass tacks with the theme of this year’s gathering: “Mission, Myth, Money: Securing Catholic Higher Education for the Future.”

Under that umbrella, it was not surprising that the workshops at the Feb. 2-4 conference at a Washington hotel pretty much dealt with financial challenges such as: “Multiple Paths of Securing Money in a Hostile Environment”; “Strategies to Grow Your Revenue and Enrollment”; “How to Secure Federal Grant Funding at a Small Catholic College”; and “Making Difficult Business Decisions Without Abandoning Your Catholic Mission.”

That’s not to say the event only focused on economic challenges though. The annual meeting — which brings together Catholic college and university presidents and school leaders from around the country for networking, workshops and keynote talks — also put a lot of emphasis on what is unique in Catholic higher education: the mission or charism of each school with traditions rooted in Catholic social teaching.

College leaders were encouraged to boast about their accomplishments and diffuse misconceptions about their schools to keep enrollment growing for the future.

The closing session Feb. 4 tied a lot of these ideas together by focusing on how Catholic colleges and universities reconcile their Catholic identity and mission with society’s market-driven forces and focus on jobs.

A frequent put-down of a liberal arts education — that it doesn’t prepare students for the job market — doesn’t ring true for Carol Geary Schneider, former president at the Association of American Colleges and Universities and a fellow at the Indianapolis-based Lumina Foundation, which promotes higher education.

She assured the group of Catholic college and university leaders that their students would be employable in today’s job-focused market because their college experience likely connected them with faith, more deeply with themselves and others, and gave them leadership skills.

Schneider also pointed out there is no blueprint for how students need to be prepared for the current job market because “jobs are changing so rapidly they have to be ready for jobs that are not yet invented.”

Father Larry Hostetter, president of Brescia University in Owensboro, Kentucky, similarly stressed that Catholic colleges and universities do more of the big picture of forming students which translates into graduates bringing values to the workplace and maybe even healing divisions.

Brescia is a Catholic university about 200 miles south of Covington, Kentucky — so much in the news lately after the incident between students, a Native American leader and a group of protesters and the mixed reaction to that. Hostetter said he has been haunted by this situation during the past few weeks.

The question it brings to his mind is: “Are we doing enough as Catholic educators to prepare students to deal with the divisions in our society?”

Both speakers at the closing address stressed that Catholic higher education helps students make broader connections. For example, if students have a service experience that alone isn’t enough, they need to reflect on it and be able to articulate to a possible employer what that experience meant or how it changed them.

Doing that, Schneider stressed, can give prospective employees the hiring edge in a job interview.