Veteran lobbyists Nordhoff (Nordy) Hoffmann and Jack Stack, tired of being typecast as corporate envoys corrupting the legislative process over three-martini lunches, set out to elevate their field from an occupation to a profession.

They have developed a master's degree program in lobbying, the first of its kind in the nation, to be offered by Catholic University's newly formed Center for Congressional and Governmental Relations starting this fall.

"Doctors and lawyers have degrees and licenses, but lobbyists are in kind of a limbo," said Hoffmann, who for 23 years was a lobbyist for the United Steel Workers and then served as Senate sergeant-at-arms from 1976 to 1980.

Although their's is the first graduate-degree program, lobbying has been taught across town for two years at George Washington University. Lavona Gray, a former lobbyist, directs the Washington representative program of the university's Center for Continuing Education.

"You don't need a master's degree to be a lobbyist," says Gray, whose noncredit program is less expensive than the upcoming master's at $250 a course. "A lot of our students already have master's degrees or law degrees. What they need is practical training and contacts."

John Vance, president of the American League of Lobbyists in Bethesda, said he agrees with Hoffmann and Stack that an academic-degree program could give lobbying the legitimacy it has long lacked.

"Lobbying has changed a great deal over the years, but it still has an image that originated in the 1930s, when the only areas of our lives that were regulated by the federal government were shipping, railroads and utility companies," Vance said, alluding to the aura of mistrust that surrounded individuals trying to influence those sectors.

"No one person can present a particular or unique point of view as well as the private person. And that makes lobbying important to both individuals and the public," he said.

Administrators at Catholic say that this growing importance makes lobbying a subject that should be taught in an academic setting, combined with such time-honored staples as law and philosophy.

Stack, who spent 41 years on Capitol Hill and now works as a consultant for Catholic University, said he hopes Catholic's program will teach not only the mechanics of lawmaking, but also integrity and what he calls "finesse."

"There are certain things a lobbyist has to know right from the start. For example, never stop a congressman in the hall. He might be rehearsing a speech or trying to decide how to vote."

Stack also stresses the lobbyist's need for trust, saying the Hill is too small for disreputable lobbyists. "You've got to have integrity," Stack said. "Corporations won't back a lobbyist who doesn't play it straight."

He and Hoffmann said they expect students to be attracted by the more than 50 members of Congress who have agreed to guest-lecture, including Sens. Howard Baker (R-Tenn.), Charles McC. Mathias (R-Md.), House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill (D-Mass.) and Rep. Stephen J. Solarz (D-N.Y.).

Stack said the center has already received hundreds of inquiries, ranging from students finishing their undergraduate degrees to licensed attorneys.

Most of the students in George Washington's program are secretaries, research assistants and attorneys, seeking to advance in their careers or join the ranks of the more than 10,000 lobbyists already working in the District.

One, 33-year-old Marilyn Geiger, is a mother of two and former teacher who works in the governmental relations office of the Squibb Corp., a pharmaceutical firm.

"Lobbying seems to be a good field for women," she said. "Right now I'm in a support staff position, and I think this program will give me some upward mobility within my company."

Jay Muzychenko, 31, also at George Washington, works for a professional association that is not engaged in lobbying, but he wants to move to one that is.

"I'd have gone for another master's, but it didn't interest me," said Muzychenko, whose degree is in public administration. "Law school would have taken too long; a PhD would have been even longer."

One major difference between the two programs is their treatment of the controversial issue of campaign financing. Hoffmann and Stack, in their effort to improve lobbying's image, have decided not to address fund-raising at all in their courses.

"Fund-raising has absolutely nothing to do with lobbying; those are two entirely separate activities," Hoffmann said. "Good lobbying is just presenting both sides of an issue in a clear, concise manner, and it has nothing to do with helping a candidate to be reelected."

The George Washington program, however, offers an entire course in public action committees and campaign financing, as well as discussing these topics in other courses.

"As a lobbyist, you have to understand the PACs, even if you don't like them," said Gray. "No matter what side of an issue you are on, you have to understand all of the weapons the other side is going to use. And often, those weapons are going to include campaign financing."

In addition, Gray said, her program is better suited to the adult student who already has one or more advanced degrees. She also said that the courses are graded, and that students receive transcripts to submit to their employers for reimbursement.

"Our program teaches you the nuts and bolts of lobbying--how a bill becomes law, how to use SCORPIO computers , media communication skills, things that you just don't learn in Political Science 101," she said.

Gray said she agreed that lobbying had progressed over the years from the "back-room, buddy-buddy type occupation it once was," and said she would not be surprised if Catholic's program became a model for programs at other universities.