With more than 280 associate degree programs in the arts, business, engineering, health, math, science and public service, Fayetteville Technical Community College may appear to be an institution similar to its 57 counterparts in the North Carolina Community College System.
With one exception.
After 45 years, it remains the only college in North Carolina to offer degrees in funeral service or mortuary science.
On June 27, 1974, the North Carolina Board of Funeral Service approved a curriculum for funeral service education for that fall; 11 students signed up.
Fayetteville Tech's Funeral Service Education program includes an accredited associate degree in applied science funeral service education and the N.C. Funeral Director diploma program. Those initial 11 students have grown to 192 in the two programs--a 67% increase since last year.
"This feasibility study [in the early '70s] showed a need for educational opportunities to serve professionals in funeral service organizations across the state," says Ronald Montgomery Jr., department chair of funeral service education. "Several representatives from area funeral homes in and around Cumberland County have worked--and are working--with our students."
Graduates have several options beyond working in funeral homes, Montgomery says. Some consider careers in funeral sales, such as the sale of caskets, urns, burial vaults and embalming chemicals. Others go into mortuary transport services or become autopsy technicians in hospitals that assist medical examiners.
Students come from throughout North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee. Recently, Montgomery says he's also seen students from Florida, Georgia, Montana and Washington. Some are second-career students, who had an interest but pursued other life paths first. Others are military veterans who work with Veterans Services on campus, which assists with admission.
"The profession has primarily been male-dominated; however, we are seeing a transition of more females taking an interest in this field," he says. "In regards to our numbers, we have just as many men as we do women enrolled in our program."