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Online Certificate of Proficiency in Funeral Directing Program
St. Louis Community College at Forest Park
St. Louis, Missouri

In the words of the famous author, leader, and spokesman Benjamin Franklin, ".everything appears to promise that it will last; but in this world nothing is certain but death and taxes." There is an inevitability of death that rings true throughout each of our lives, and the history of the modern funeral as we know it today centered around the death of another famous author, leader, and spokesman: Abraham Lincoln.

What has come to be known as the American way of death has roots that date back to the Civil War. During that conflict, as troops from both the North and the South were felled on the battlefield, it was customary to ship the remains back home. Given the long distances and time involved, it became apparent that it was necessary to develop some sort of process that would help to preserve the bodies of the dead soldiers. Gradually, a process was developed whereby a high concentration of formaldehyde was injected into the body in order to slow the natural rate of decomposition. Throughout the war, the medical corps refined this process of embalming, with special units assigned to perform the task of preparing the deceased to be shipped to their hometowns.

Soon after the Civil War, America found itself in the midst of another tragic event that would alter our history forever and, by coincidence, launch modern funeral directing as we know it today: the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. In honor of Lincoln and his great contributions, a state funeral was organized, culminating with a train trip back to his birth home in Illinois. Altogether, the funeral ceremonies stretched out over two weeks, with the President's body to be displayed throughout the entire time. To support this massive public outpouring of grief, it was absolutely necessary to somehow preserve the remains with embalming. All through the days of viewing by hundreds of thousands of mourners, Lincoln 's casket was displayed on a bier, holding the perfectly preserved remains. Many marveled at how the new and modern embalming process seemed to preserve the body.

There seems little doubt that this historical event became the cornerstone of today's funeral process. The practice of embalming began to catch on rapidly in urban areas toward the end of the 1800s and the turn of the century, when most family funerals were held at home and the funeral industry was more of a family-based cottage business.

The post-World-War-II era saw North America rapidly shifting toward commercialism, retail, and corporate development. In response to industry development and demand, funeral directing emerged as a multifaceted discipline and profession building on the foundations of sociology, psychology, communications, biology, and chemistry.

Modern professional funeral directors use myriad skills to assist families in coping with grief, adjusting to new situations, and creating appropriate funeral arrangements. In fall 2002, the Online Forest Park Funeral Directing Program at St. Louis Community College (STLCC) was implemented for the purpose of training students to become licensed funeral directors in the State of Missouri. As an online program with the capability of delivering anytime-anywhere access, the program drew interest across many state lines.

Program Description

Due to the broad interest expressed in the Funeral Directing program, it soon became apparent that the program would need to be expanded. For the purpose of maintaining continuity, the program director, who also serves as the lead instructor, developed the various content modules to mirror those of the campus-based sections. This included the creation of the syllabi, curriculum outline, assignments, lecture presentations, review quizzes, examinations, and the administrative protocols for each course.

The Certificate of Proficiency in Funeral Directing Program is based at St. Louis Community College at Forest Park. The only such program offered in Missouri, it is designed to prepare the student for licensure as a funeral director and entry-level employment in a Missouri funeral establishment, as well as in other states, such as Texas, with similar licensing requirements.

The Certificate of Proficiency curriculum consists of two semesters (27 semester credit hours) of courses that are mutually offered through the traditional campus or as an internet-based system of distance learning courses. All of the online Funeral Directing courses are completely self-paced, to allow the student to complete the course requirements and assignments as scheduling allows. All of the courses are designed to provide the expertise and professionalism required for the successful funeral director, as well as to prepare the student for the licensing examinations.

The certificate program focuses solely on funeral directing, with no courses in embalming. It is a nontechnical certificate, geared toward the business and public-relations aspects of operating a funeral home. However, graduates of the Funeral Directing program may apply all of their coursework toward the requirements for completing the two-year Associate in Applied Science degree in Funeral Service Education, which meets the educational requirement for licensure as a funeral director and embalmer in most states.

The Department of Funeral Service Education at Forest Park is accredited by the American Board of Funeral Service Education ( 38 Florida Avenue, Portland, ME 04103 ; telephone: 207-878-6530) and is a member of the University Mortuary Science Education Association. An advisory board of funeral directors, embalmers, members of the Missouri State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors, and officers of the Missouri Funeral Directors Association work with the faculty of St. Louis Community College at Forest Park to ensure that the curriculum keeps pace with the employment requirements of the funeral service profession.

It is also important to note that the Certificate of Proficiency in Funeral Directing program is designed to meet specific state or professional needs and is not accredited by the American Board of Funeral Service Education. However, students graduating from the Funeral Directing program are eligible to take the appropriate licensing examinations for the State of Missouri, as well as any other state with similar licensing requirements.

The cost of enrollment for the Funeral Director Program is $83 per student per credit hour for Missouri residents, $116 per credit hour for out-of-state students, and $126 per credit hour for international students, with the average cost of books estimated at $100 to $150 per semester. Starting salaries for funeral directors with certificate or degree backgrounds range from $25,000 to $30,000, and with experience, expand to in excess of $50,000.


In the summer of 2002, a press release was sent to the major funeral service professional journals, announcing the advent of the online Funeral Directing program. While the Online Certificate of Proficiency in Funeral Directing Program was initially designed for students in Missouri, an unexpected number of inquiries were received from the State of Texas. Like Missouri, Texas is a dual-license state, with a separate license for the funeral director and the embalmer. Since no such program existed in Texas, numerous contacts were made with the Texas Funeral Service Commission (TFSC), the administrative agency responsible for the licensure of all funeral service professionals in Texas. The TFSC executive director reviewed the curriculum with its sterling STLCC instructor credentials, and approved the program for prospective funeral directors throughout Texas. Inquiries have also been made from interested individuals in California, Arizona, and South Carolina. Extensive discussions have been conducted with funeral service personnel in Idaho with hopes of using the online program for their future state licensees.

The Funeral Directing program has reaped strong college support and, as the first online state program of its kind, increasing interest on the part of students from Texas. In fact, the majority of the students enrolled in the online courses are residents of that state. With interest coming from prospective students in other states, as well as funeral personnel seeking the online program for their licensees, it is inevitable that new program partners will find great demand for enrollment The growth and expansion of this professional service program contributes quality experience and knowledgeable care for those arriving at that most poignant and inevitable of life's milestones.

For additional information, please contact Steve Smith, the Program Director, at St. Louis Community College at Forest Park, Department of Funeral Service Education, 5600 Oakland Avenue, Room E-411, St. Louis, MO 63110-1393; telephone: 314-644-9266; or e-mail: Interested individuals are also encouraged and welcome to visit the Department of Funeral Service Education website.





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