Third post in this multi-part series on increasing college tuition, with a special emphasis of course on the impact on the design professions. Today’s topic is about the growing disconnect between tuition and salary.
The statement that “there is no money to be made in architecture or design” has long been shared with students, and unfortunately in many cases accepted as fact. For many years, issues of unpaid and underpaid internships caused significant hardship within the profession. Over the last 15 years however, the profession has done an admirable job of nearly ridding itself of the practice - with some exceptions - and recognizing the contributions of young staff. In the most recent DesignIntelligence Compensation & Benefits survey, the mean annual salary for year 3 interns, just finishing IDP, was $44,750 plus a mean bonus of 2.7%. A big jump from 1996 when DesignIntelligence reported a mean salary of $28,760. In fact this growth even beat inflation.
So the good news is, we are slowly making strides in what we pay recent graduates and interns. The not so good news, the cost of education is greatly exceeding these gains. According to the College Board, tuition and fees at public universities have surged over 130% over the last 20 years. At the same time, the maximum amount of government-subsidized loans that a student is eligible to receive for a four-year degree has remained $23,000 since 1992
This post isn’t meant to argue that recent graduates and interns are underpaid - we can save that discussion for another time. However, what is increasingly apparent is the disservice to recent graduates who spend thousands of dollars to get college degrees, and then find themselves in a work force which doesn’t compensate accordingly. A push towards increasing the value and relevancy of the degree is necessary, and requires a joint effort between the academy and professional practices. Then perhaps the conversation can become more about value and less about cost. By recognizing value-in (tuition) and increasing value-out (relevancy), we can grow our profession in more sustainable ways, and support the next generation of leadership.