How This Mortuary Science School Is Preparing Future Funeral Directors

Posted October 12, 2017

7 min read

Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science

“As the oldest Mortuary College in the nation, Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science (CCMS) is working to transform death care education,” says Jack Lechner. Lechner was appointed as the President of CCMS in January of 2016.

Lechner is Certified Funeral Service Practitioner (CFSP), life member of the Academy of Professional Funeral Service Practice (APFSP), a member of the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA), Association of Death Education and Counseling (ADEC), International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association (ICCFA), and is a licensed funeral service provider in Virginia and a licensed Funeral Director and Embalmer in Ohio. He’s nationally board certified, is a Certified Crematory Operator and is Certified in Thanatology by the Association of Death Education and Counseling.

Since he came on board, Lechner has already helped shape the latitude and leadership of the college—a college that’s looking to change the landscape of American funeral service. Let’s take a closer look.

The History of One of the Top Mortuary Science Schools

The History of One of the Top Mortuary Science Schools

The history of the school reflects the growth of the funeral profession as a whole. The school was established in 1882, in part, due to the Civil War. It was during the war where it became increasingly necessary to standardize the embalming process and train embalmers in a school setting (1).

Because of the void he saw, founder Joseph Henry Clarke established what was called the Cincinnati School of Embalming at the time. (Clarke would later go on to be deemed the “father of American embalming schools,” shares Lechner.)

The first course began on March 8, 1882. Lasting only six days, each of the seven students received intensive training in order to launch their careers. Since this first class was a success, more classes were organized, and the school grew from there (1).

Years later, in 1909, Clarke was ready to retire. At that time, Charles Dhonau purchased the college. His vision was to not only become an educator, but he wanted to improve and expand the mortuary curriculum. His vision had a lasting impact on the college.

Expanding Curriculum to Better Prepare Students

Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science Locations (1882-Today)

It was in 1933, with an expanding curriculum, the college moved into its own, independent building in a suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio. (It would be there for nearly 50 years after the move.)

In 1986, CCMS was the first private college of mortuary science to be authorized to award the Bachelor of Mortuary Science degree. The following year, the college received accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission, North Central Association and by the American Board of Funeral Service Education at the bachelor’s degree level (1). Today, the college’s building is located in Finneytown, Ohio, which is just north of Cincinnati, Ohio.

Little-Known Facts About CCMS’ Education

Under Lechner’s direction, CCMS’ leadership operates under the Carver governance model for Non-Profits. “While that sounds boring, it’s actually very exciting and at the core of our ability to transform death care education,” explains Lechner.

In short, the model helps to gain clarity and alignment on who the board of trustees by helping the board determine “who” they are responsible to—which can be complex in many non-profit environments. “The answer, for us, took us about two days to figure out,” says Lechner. “We sat down and all the board members [discussed it] at a strategic planning meeting. We decided that we are responsible to the entire death care profession and the families that we will serve.”

In turn, that kind of deep clarity can drive better, more strategic decision-making for the college. The aim is to benefit the non-profit in the short-term and long-term with this approach.

Hands-On Experience for Future Funeral Directors

Today, the school is still accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and credits and degrees earned at CCMS are transferable to any college or university in the nation. “We are authorized by the Ohio Board of Regents to confer a Bachelor of Mortuary Science Degree and to earn that our students are here for a fourth semester. That additional semester gives us the ability to transform death care education,” explains Lechner.

The school has 7 embalming stations, a gross anatomy course in the fourth semester where students dissect a human cadaver, restorative art labs, a merchandising display room, and over 500 embalming opportunities per year.

“We are the only college that trains and certifies our students as Certified Celebrants ™ Insight Books,” adds Lechner. The school is also to focus on providing hands-on experience, with the goal of students leaving as leaders in their field.

Students are attracted from across the US, and an average student body contains representatives from 18-20 different states. Additionally, the students are diverse in demographics, experience, and educational background—which helps to shape an exposure to a national perspective on funeral service and to a broad perspective on life (1).

What Else To Know About Funeral Education Today

Today, many mortuary colleges are adapting their curriculum to include information on the following, among other topics:

  • Personalization of services for families;
  • Meeting consumer needs through technology;
  • Grief/bereavement-related support services and skills;
  • Pet memorialization services and support;
  • Knowledge around how to support advance funeral planning.

CCMS’ Board of Trustees is also focused on the future so that funeral professionals can better meet the needs and desires of today’s families. “Our Board of Trustees believe they answer to the entire death care profession and the families they will serve. This perspective allows them to recognize the changes in the funeral services families are desiring and adapt the curriculum,” explains Lechner.

Because of the rise in popularity of cremation, CCMS is also including cremation-related education for its students. “The national cremation rate surpassed 50 percent last year. Doesn’t it make sense for every death care professional to have hands on experience and training?” says Lechner.

“We will be adding a cremation center to the campus within the next year and a half and we will be the only mortuary college in the nation to have a crematory,” he says. Lechner also explains they are expanding their pet loss program and bereavement studies. 

Heads at the Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science

Honoring the Past & Present, While Looking Ahead

CCMS may be on the cutting edge of curriculum, but they are also a school that continually honors the past while looking forward.

In November of 2017, CCMS will be hosting a GALA at Paul Brown Stadium in honor of Ken Cahall, President Elect of the National Funeral Directors Association. “Cahall is a distinguished alumnus who has dedicated his life to serving his family, community, and profession selflessly reaching the pinnacle of our profession this year being installed as President of the National Funeral Directors Association,” says Lechner. The event will be a fundraiser for the addition of the new cremation center at CCMS. 

“There will be a silent auction, raffle prizes, socializing, and a great meal and cocktail hour where the nation’s most distinguished death care professional will gather for an evening of comradery,” says Lechner, who adds he’s looking forward to the event, saying it’s one more way people can connect and engage with others in the profession.

“This evening will allow us to showcase the college’s shift to secure its position as a premier leader of death care education in the United States.”

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Photos courtesy of Cincinnati College of Mortuary Science.

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