What began in 2013 as an experimental initiative to expedite architectural licensure in the United States is now entering its initial roll-out phase.

In 2015, the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) announced the names of fourteen accredited schools of architecture to participate in its Integrated Path to Architectural Licensure program (IPAL). Since that time, the roster of schools has grown to 18. Members of the architectural profession have expressed increasing concern that the licensure process has become too long and cumbersome. An analysis of statistics provided by NCARB substantiates that the number of registered architects in the United States and its licensing jurisdictions grew by only 2.37 percent between 2005 and 2015, while the country’s overall population increased by 8.43 percent. Between 2008 and 2011, however, the number of registered architects plummeted by 6.85 percent, as a result of the Great Recession.

In a variety of conferences and meetings, practitioners and architectural graduates reflected on why it took so long to become registered architects. While it was possible to obtain registration approximately eight years after high school graduation, a substantial number of applicants were taking over 11 years, according to the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA). It was argued that one could become a doctor or lawyer soon after graduating from medical or law school, while architecture had a more protracted practice requirement. IPAL was established to help remedy this issue. The program will enable architecture to become more competitive with other professions in terms of licensure. It may also assist program participants in assuming leadership positions as licensed professionals earlier in their careers. IPAL works in conjunction with NCARB’s reduction of required Intern Development Program (IDP) practice hours in 2015 from 5,600 to 3,740 in most licensing jurisdictions. It also allows, with the approval of the jurisdictions, the Architectural Registration Examination (ARE) to be taken while attending an IPAL sanctioned school.

With the program established and participant schools selected, the implementation process has begun. It is important to recognize that schools of architecture are quite different, therefore their approaches to implementing IPAL will be unique. The program will require an administrative infrastructure within each school, as well as strong outreach to a cooperative profession. It is not surprising that many of the schools in the initial IPAL cohort are located in or near significant architectural employment centers, or already have substantial co-op or work-study programs. Many schools have found it necessary to extend the length of their accredited degree programs to accommodate all of the IDP practice hours required for licensure.

One of the great benefits of the program is that it will be another in a myriad of ways that schools of architecture can engage with the profession more vigorously. IPAL will become a cornerstone of activities that involve regular firm visits, greater alumni engagement, and firms providing parttime or adjunct faculty. It will promote the development of more robust academic and professional partnerships, with practice and the academy simultaneously participating in educating architectural students. This is an essential component in realizing the mission of the 1996 Boyer Report, which called for building a new and cooperative future for architectural education and practice, in addition to yielding architects needed for the next generation.

IPAL will not alter the concurrent practice and study model for schools such as the Boston Architectural College (BAC). A merging of practice and academics has served as an integral tenet for the College since its founding in 1889. It will, however, assist IPAL students by reinforcing previously established practice components. The BAC, for example, is in the process of forming coordinated IPAL partnerships with area firms, in which each firm is asked to provide an IDP supervisor, assemble exam study groups and materials, and financially support IPAL students taking the ARE. Some firms may even offer tuition assistance for program participants. The advantages to students are employment in the profession with a leading firm and potential architectural registration upon graduation. Firms have the opportunity to recruit and retain high-level, newly registered architectural graduates.

Ultimately, the success of the Integrated Path to Licensure pilot program will be demonstrated over time. Preliminary indications are that many architectural firms and individual members of the profession are enthusiastic about the program’s opportunities. What is certain is that NCARB, jurisdictional licensing boards, and other collateral organizations have ushered in a new and dynamic process for approaching architectural licensure. It has the potential to enhance architecture’s competitiveness with other disciplines, create a streamlined and coordinated educational and licensure process, and expedite growth in architectural registration in the United States.

NCARB’s Surveys of Architectural Registration Boards and Registered Architects

How Long Does It Take? Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture:

Building Community: A New Future for Architecture Education and Practice. A Special Report. EL Boyer, LD Mitgang. 1996. Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching (Princeton, NJ).

Glen S. LeRoy is the seventh president of the Boston Architectural College, a licensed architect, and a certified planner. He is a former member of the AIA Board of Directors.

Carole C. Wedge is president of Shepley Bulfinch. She is also a Trustee of the Boston Architectural College. 

Excerpted from DesignIntelligence Quarterly.