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Death Care University

Funeral Services Graduates to a Higher State of Learning
University Business, June 2017

Folks ask us about popular college career programs – for example, the emergent death care industry – after all, “people are dying to get in.” Just ask any baby boomer who is planning end of life and death care arrangements, and you will hear about white hot jobs – just try “cremation,” no pun intended. Seriously, over the past decade the death care sector has morphed as Americans grow older.

Beyond demographics, new products have emerged – like rental caskets and totally green funerals, resulting in a metamorphosis of the funeral service sector. The American Board of Funeral Service Education reports that there are more jobs available than licensed funeral directors to fill them. Yet, embalming is no longer sufficient to meet the 21st Century opportunities and challenges of the business of funeral service. In addition to death care specific knowledge, today’s funeral service industry management and leadership calls for soft skills like critical thinking, problem-solving, and interpersonal communications.

Beyond well-rounded liberal arts, funeral service practitioners must develop a psychogenic perspective on grief management, bereavement counseling, and applied behavior. Families and loved ones increasingly benefit from art and music therapy, restorative arts, and artifacts.

Like so many other industries – banking, insurance, and health care – mergers and consolidations have gobbled up legions of small family funeral service homes – fighting an uphill battle against corporate economies of scale; efficiencies of corporate operations; and streamlined business processes, leveraged real estate, and bulk discount advertising components.

What has also changed for the funeral service industry is the means and methods of connecting to the market – recognizing that prospective customers would rather visit on YouTube then go shopping for caskets, as if it was shopping for the new family SUV. Today, the best connection to customers has shifted toward social media platforms.

For the better, funeral service education has now become the subject of peer evaluation – with the recognition of well-respected professional career accreditors like the American Board of Funeral Service Education. Through conferences, journal publications, and professional colleague networking, industry leaders share best practices and just in time funeral service solutions.

With increasing frequency, funeral service education program specialty rankings link prospective students with program choices. Universities.com, for example, publishes Best Colleges with Funeral Service and Mortuary Science Degrees in the U.S. These funeral service rankings are based on the compilation of data from government sources, student surveys, college graduate interviews, and editorial review. Top tier programs include the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, St John’s University-New York, and Lindenwood University.

Other special rankings are published by qualityeducationandjobs.com, which provides a ranking of Mortician School Options – top programs include the Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science, Worsham College of Mortuary Science, and Dallas Institute of Funeral Service; and morticianschool.net, which provides an Official List of the Top Mortician Schools, which include the University of Minnesota, Miami Dade College, and Gannon University.

For their part, rural and place bound funeral service students want the convenience of online programs. While there are many good programs accredited by the American Board of Funeral Service Education, there are few programs which provide students with a preponderance of coursework online. With this in mind, aspiring and innovative institutions like Northeast Texas Community College aim to provide these students with student centered convenient options that include those courses available online. This online linkage can be accessed anywhere, at any time. While on campus, NTCC students have new space featuring a restorative art laboratory, embalming lab, and casket display room. Uniquely, this program offers an entire class dedicated to creation.

NTCC President Dr. Brad Johnson offered this perspective:

“Increasingly, our students opt for a hybrid offering. Many students want the convenience of online learning, broadcast quality video, and the social interaction of seeing other students and faculty in real-time. Beyond the choice of learning platform, all of our students will have the unique combination of behavioral knowledge and applied science skills that will prepare them as the next generation of leaders in the funeral service industry.”  

—James Martin and James E. Samels are authors of Consolidating Colleges and Merging Universities (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017). Martin is a professor of English at Mount Ida College (Mass.) and Samels is president and CEO of The Education Alliance.

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