SOUTH JORDAN — Aspiring funeral directors will no longer have to move out of state to get an education once Salt Lake Community College's new mortuary science program gets under way next semester.
The 66 credit-hour associates degree will be offered at the school's South Jordan campus. It's been a long time in the making for area funeral homes, many of which are family owned and operated.
"Typically (they have) to go out of state to attend school or they have to go online," said Rob Larkin, senior vice president of Larkin Mortuary, a sixth-generation family owned Utah business. Larkin received his degree from Cypress College in California.
Without a local option, many travel to California and Colorado to receive training, but that means leaving secure jobs at family mortuaries, which have to get by without them.
It is a multi-talented, demanding degree. Not only do they have to have business acumen, they have to be a counselor. They need the technical skills of an embalmer ... and then they need to be a public speaker.
–- Sherrie Loewen
"For them it was a real hardship to send all of their family members out of state for 18 months to two years," said Sherrie Loewen, division chair of allied health at SLCC. Loewen will oversee the mortuary science program among other health degrees.
Because it's such a multifaceted career, the schooling is broad. Students take microbiology and embalming classes in addition to counseling and public speaking.
"It is a multi-talented, demanding degree," Loewen said. "Not only do they have to have business acumen … they have to be a counselor. They need the technical skills of an embalmer ... and then they need to be a public speaker."
Loewen said Utah will likely become a magnet location for prospective funeral doctors for the Intermountain West. Students from Wyoming, Montana and Idaho will likely attend SLCC, since their respective states don't offer a degree.
Melissa Larkin, a licensed funeral director who graduated from a program in Mesa in 2010, said the SLCC degree will make all the difference for locals who want to stay in Utah. Her husband is currently taking online courses, and wishes there was a local brick and mortar option.
"I think that's great because you have all of these generations that are going to be going to school but who don't want to leave," Melissa Larkin said.
SLCC has begun the accreditation process that should conclude around the time the first mortuary science cohort finish their degree. After graduation, students must pass a board exam and seek licensure in the state where they plan to work. In Utah, students are required to take state and national board exams, complete 50 embalmings and have 2,000 hours of experience in addition to obtaining a degree before they can become licensed.
SLCC is converting half of a cadaver lab into an embalming lab, but Loewen said various funeral homes have come forward to offer their facilities to give students additional hands-on training.
"We're really relying on the local funeral homes to provide the external sites so our students can actually go out and be in the environment," she said.
Loewen said it's great that the state is offering students one more educational option that can withstand economic downturns.
"Those with an associate degree are hit very, very hard in this recession, except for those with an applied associates," she said.
Loewen said SLCC will enroll no more than 25 students during the program's first year, which begins in January. Future class sizes will be determined by demand.