MECC adding funeral services degree program

Stephen Igo • Mar 9, 2007 at 9:06 AM

WISE - During a recent presentation to update county officials of the latest goings-on at Mountain Empire Community College, college President Terrance Suarez told the Wise County Board of Supervisors that a funeral services program may be in place in time for the start of this year's fall term.

Talks with John Tyler Community College are under way to provide funeral services studies via the Richmond area-based institution, Suarez said.

"We plan to institute this in the fall term," Suarez said of the associate's degree program at the Big Stone Gap college.

A memo of agreement draft with John Tyler is "moving ponderously as state contract stuff often moves," Suarez said, "but it is moving."

According to the JTCC Web site (www.jtcc.edu), the college offers the only accredited funeral services degree program in Virginia. The course of study provides the necessary technical skills, academic background, hands-on experience and professional attitude that will help a student become a fully licensed funeral director and embalmer.

John Tyler developed a distance education program in 2002 that enables students from across the state to enroll via the Internet. Classes are a combination of videoconferencing and Internet, as well as four weekend visits to the college for the embalming and restorative arts labs. Graduates earn an associate of applied science degree in funeral services.

"All new academic programs can be very expensive to set up and operate, and with our population we can't offer a lot of programs. But what we're starting to do is offer opportunities to our service region by connecting to colleges that have these existing programs. A good example is the medical lab technician program with Wytheville Community College," said MECC spokeswoman Sharon Fisher.

In other matters, Suarez provided supervisors with a glowing description of its AIMS Higher Scholarship program. The program provides students with sufficient scholarship assistance to complete a two-year degree at MECC without any out-of-pocket cost for tuition and fees.

To qualify, students must fulfill certain rigorous academic, attendance and community service requirements. They include maintaining a "C" average or better in each of the 17 approved high school courses, a 95 percent attendance rate throughout high school, no out-of-school suspensions, and completing 20 hours of community service while in high school.

Suarez explained that AIMS Higher is a "last dollar" program where funds are applied after all other forms of aid are exhausted. MECC's AIMS Higher program was established in 2002 with a $250,000 grant from the Virginia Tobacco Commission. As of the fall of 2006, Suarez said 276 students were participants in the program, with just 50, or 18 percent, from Wise County.

Suarez said Scott County students are more represented because that county has had an AIMS program established in its school division for several years.

On Friday, Fisher said Scott County's AIMS program was set up as Appalachian Inter-Mountain Scholarship sponsored by Tennessee Eastman.

Wise County does not administer a formal AIMS program in the school division as does Scott County, Fisher said, "but as long as (Wise County students) meet those standards, we recognize them. We're trying to give it a higher profile because it is such a good benefit for students."

Suarez provided other Wise County tidbits to supervisors, including that of 2,956 students at MECC last fall, 1,115, or nearly 38 percent, were from Wise County, and 176 of the incoming first-time freshmen were graduates of Wise County high schools.

Sixty-six Wise County natives earned degrees in the summer/fall of 2006, Suarez said, and 323 Wise Countians received non-credit training through the college's Center for Workforce Development.

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