The prospect of licensure at, or shortly after, graduation—a luxury known to lawyers, accountants, and massage therapists—has long eluded architects who practice in the United States.
Photo courtesy NCARB
Last week the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) announced that its board of directors supports the creation of an alternative—and optional—path to licensure that would permit candidates to be licensed upon graduation from an accredited program. The board’s approval is an initial step in laying the groundwork for a path that could potentially shave years off the licensure process and help young designers ascend to the ranks (and, crucially, salaries) of full-fledged architects faster. According to the most recent NCARB data, 2012’s class of licensees took an average of eight years to complete the Intern Development Program (IDP) and Architect Registration Examination (ARE)—not including school.
This alternative would allow academic institutions to roll internships and the ARE into their curricula. Students who want to pursue the traditional route of education followed by internship and the examination will still have that option, and schools would not be obligated to offer an all-in-one program.
The announcement comes as NCARB wraps up the first year of a three-year licensure task force, which the council convened last summer to consider additional paths to licensure. In October NCARB will put out a request for interest to identify schools that want to design a licensure-at-graduation curriculum, followed by a request for proposals in January.
The task force will not dictate what such a curriculum would look like. “That would be up to the individual school,” says Michael Armstrong, chief executive officer of NCARB. “Our only criteria will be compliance with the three elements: a NAAB-accredited degree, IDP compliance, and ARE passage,” Armstrong adds, referring to the National Architectural Accrediting Board.
In the University of Minnesota College of Design’s graduate architecture program, a new concentration in research practices, which just concluded its inaugural year, offers one model. When combined with a bachelor’s degree and a graduate professional degree, the concentration is designed to shepherd students through school, internship, and exams in seven years (though students with a bachelor's or master's from another institution may need an extra semester or two).
The program gains some of its efficiency by partnering with local firms in a research consortium and helping students figure out how to reconcile their project work with the IDP requirements, says Renée Cheng, associate dean for research at the college and director of the research practices concentration. “When you have an academic adviser who understands your project and has a close relationship with your firm supervisor, together they can figure out the best way for the hours to count and what activities could skew them towards the kinds of things that are needed,” she says.
It’s unlikely that a one-size-fits-all approach to licensure upon graduation will emerge, notes Cheng, because of the range of academic styles among schools and the kinds of opportunities available at local firms. “It would be different at every other place,” she says, “but I’m only positive on what this would be if it begins to spread.”