The Changing Face of Funeral Service Education

Jack Mitchell’s great-great-great uncle started the Mitchell Wiedefeld Funeral Home in Baltimore in 1837.  According to an article and news report from WBAL- TV that you can read and see here, it is one of the oldest funeral homes in Baltimore and has a rich history.

Mitchell is quoted in the article when he says, “It takes a special kind of person to deal with the dead.  Morticians do it every day, and many say it is a calling, not a job.”

The article deals with the changing face of funeral service from a perspective of who the students in funeral service education are in classes at the Community College of Baltimore County.  Women now make up 72% of those enrolled in the Mortuary Science class at CCBC and make up 66% of those enrolled in mortuary courses nationwide.  That percentage is up from the year 2000 when 51% of the students were female.

Brian Burke, CCBC’s Mortuary Program Director commented on what he sees leads women into the profession.  “Women bring a unique perspective to funeral service.  Women, in general, are considered more nurturing, and they are really touching the families, and they are really reaching families in a different way — a more meaningful way,” said Burke.

The funeral service profession is also becoming known as a field that is open to second career people who, for whatever reason, were not fulfilled in their first career.  Charlene Belton is one of those students, “It’s (the funeral profession) a misunderstood craft that often is made light of in sitcoms and movies.  The thought of working with the dead can creep people out, but there is honor in what these men and women are working to achieve,” she says.

Funeral Director Daily take:  My father – a third generation funeral director – always said that “funeral service is a noble profession”.  As a child I always noticed how people looked up to him for his compassion and fairness.  Funeral service is truly a unique profession.

The profession is changing, however.  I graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1980 in a class of about 40 students. . . and I think we had one female.  They (females) just were not encouraged to be involved in the funeral business at that time.  I started work and worked in an environment where we did not have a female funeral director for 25 years and now in the past 10 years the funeral home I was in charge of has 40% of its funeral directors as females and all of its preneed counselors are female. . . .and I think it has been a positive change!!

We all know that funeral service employees are in demand right now and I have a theory on that.  Much like technical college enrollment and employment in the fields they train, I believe that funeral service education and the job cycle are “counter-cyclical” to the economy.  When the economy is good – and you can find pretty good jobs with little training – technical college enrollment and funeral service school enrollment is down because potential students are in the work force.

Then, when the economy heads south and some of those lose their jobs, they head back to school looking for a position that will have more “staying power”.  I think people eventually see funeral service as one of those “staying power” positions.  It is at those points that mortuary college enrollments creep up and funeral homes can more easily fill their positions.  So, if that hypothesis is correct, with an economy that has been on a terror for the past ten years it is no wonder that funeral service enrollments are down and help wanted signs are up.

Related—  I would not be a good alum or board member of the University of Minnesota if I did not mention that tomorrow (Friday, November 2) on campus we are celebrating 110 years of the Mortuary Science program.  We will also be honoring faculty member Mike Matthews who has had a hand in teaching Minnesota students for the past 42 years!!  Here is a link to our celebration.



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