Preparing funeral industry leaders for the 21st century |

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“Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It’s the transition that’s awkward.” -Isaac Asimov

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James E. Samels and Arlene Lieberman, The Education Alliance

James E. Samels is president and CEO of The Education Alliance and senior partner at the law firm Samels Associates. Arlene Lieberman is Principal Consultant of The Education Alliance and Senior Associate of Samels Associates.

The latest news in the funeral industry is that more and more baby boomers will pass away. The other news is the cremation trend – a megatrend that could impact the funeral industry in the months and years to come.

That said, the industry has already redesigned its product identity, diversified its services, added ancillary revenue streams and refocused its mission on a celebration of lifetime contributions – rather than a mere memorialization of death. Beyond traditional funeral services, the industry has shown ingenuity in creating memorials streaming video during this black swan pandemic.

These new product and service lines can help mitigate the impact of lost revenue due to casket reduction. In this way, thought leaders in funeral services have recalibrated their business plans and future strategies to fit for the future.

At the same time, successful funeral schools attract new students based on their Value proposition. Specifically, the return on investment from tuition eventually comes in the form of knowledge and skills in funeral services and mortuary sciences; and above all, a lifetime of career advancement.

At the boots of the field, entrepreneurial funeral colleges have reimagined funeral service learning; mortuary science skills; and ready made funeral career placement. While on campus, experienced faculty and a cutting-edge curriculum prepare future graduates for a rapidly changing funeral industry ecosystem.

Successful funeral colleges also recognize that the funeral service is a relational business – very personal, sharing feelings of grief, grief, depression, despair and anxiety. These behavioral factors are exacerbated by the isolation of the pandemic. In fact, mental health experts have reported increased rates of suicide, mental breakdowns, broken marriages, and other family dysfunctions.

For the funeral education sector as a whole, these daunting challenges and exciting opportunities will require a particular focus on capacity building in mental health, psychology and behavioral counseling. Ultimately, funeral service providers have the opportunity to make a lasting impact on the lives of others by helping the bereaved through the stressful passage of grief and loss.

Early in our survey of higher funeral service education, we discovered a rather unique consortium of contemporary funeral schools – enter Pierce Mortuary Colleges.

During our virtual campus tours of Pierce Mortuary Colleges, we listened to the voices of successful students, alumni, and leaders.

“The skills I learned (at Dallas Institute) gave me confidence to embark on what is now a 43-year career in funeral services. I am now President of Higginbotham Funeral Homes of Texas…still putting into practice what that I learned at the Dallas Institute so many years ago.–Jim Moshinskie

Joel Simone Anthony, a Gupton-Jones alumnus who started the popular YouTube channel, The serious woman, shared this special message. “Mortuary school was one of the most difficult and rewarding times of my entire life…If I could turn back time…I would go back to Gupton-Jones because it changed me and makes me… a better person.”

“Mid-America College (in Jeffersonville, Indiana)… goes back to training undertakers, undertakers, and undertakers for well over a century – a proven legacy. His courage to stand with the funeral industry after my license makes me proud, and to know that his roots come from one of the most beloved families that helped create the modern funeral service. -Jason Johnston, Licensed Funeral Director, NFDA and Director of Funeral Homes and Mortuary Services – State of Tennessee.

What we also learned from our research is that successful funeral colleges need to invest significant resources in individualized school support, tutorials and peer mentoring. These colleges are most likely to produce timely program completion, graduation, and job placement success.

Pierce Mortuary Colleges President Don Madelung put it well this way:

“I have never worked with a group…of faculty and staff who are more dedicated to providing a true student experience and preparing students for gainful employment in the funeral services industry…. It’s a higher calling…a unique quality that binds everyone together…to graduate the most qualified funeral directors and embalmers.

“The way people die remains in the memory of those who live.” – Dame Cicely Saunders

James E. Samels is President and CEO of The Education Alliance and Senior Partner of the law firm Samels Associates, Attorneys at Law. Arlene Lieberman is Principal Consultant of The Education Alliance and Senior Associate, Samels Associates, Attorneys at Law. Derek C. Jesiolowski is a research associate at The Education Alliance.

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