Revived Funeral Service Education Program Is Now Thriving
Claire Adney cares about humans and wanted a profession in which her interest in the human body and serving others could be combined.
She found it at St. Louis Community College-Forest Park, where she is in the funeral service education program. While she likes all aspects of the profession, she’s particularly interested in embalming.
“I like it a lot, so far,” said Adney, who is heading into her second year at Forest Park. “The classes are super interesting. None of it is information I would have learned otherwise. Getting to help people is at the core of it.”
Forest Park almost didn’t have the program to offer Adney and her fellow students. By 2014, there were too many consecutive years in which not enough students passed their board exams. When current program director David Coughran took over six years ago, his first class only had a 33% passing rate.
That wasn’t good enough for the American Board of Funeral Service Education, which pulled the program’s accreditation.
With no accreditation and the number of students lagging, the College considered disbanding the program altogether. That would have been a huge blow to the community at large. STLCC has offered funeral service since 1972 and it’s the only program of its kind in Missouri. If someone wants to go into the field, they likely are going to do so by attending STLCC.
Coughran, an alumnus of the program, was brought in to revive the program. It’s now thriving.
“It’s really just taken us the responsibility of teaching the curriculum,” Coughran said.
The past three years show the progress realized for funeral service. Nearly every student who has entered the program has graduated, with 100% success in 2018 and 2019. The program has also enjoyed consistently passing scores on the American Board’s tests.
Along with the better scores and stronger reputation comes a growing number of students. Despite the classes being online throughout the 2020-21 academic year, funeral service still enrolled 34 students.
When Coughran returned, there were only 20 students enrolled. It’s not as if he’s gone door to door to recruit people.
“I will say, most of the students do not come from a family-owned funeral home,” he said. “Most of them are just interested in the program.”
Prospective students must prove they are truly inclined to put in the effort before they’re allowed to enroll. They must intern at a funeral home for 40 hours to ensure it is a profession that’s right for them.
That’s what convinced Adney. She had a job at a funeral home before applying and used that time to qualify for enrollment.
“I enjoyed the practicum, going to the funeral homes and getting to interact with the families,” she said.
Working with people is what changed Ronald Cockrell’s direction. He already holds a bachelor’s degree in sports management from the University of Central Missouri, but he knew he wanted to do something different with his life.
His uncle who once worked for a funeral home suggested he check out the industry and, for Cockrell, it’s proven to be a pretty good fit.
“I want to help people during difficult times and serve families,” he said. “Not everybody can do a job like this. It’s unique in many ways and that’s what got me interested in joining the program.”