NCARB: Has the Time Finally Come for Architectural Licensure at Graduation?

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The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards is, by nature, a conservative organization. NCARB does not make laws or set licensing requirements, that’s all up to state governments.  NCARB is the facilitator of universal testing uniformity across state lines. It is an information and records keep with 100 employees and a $120 million budget. An organization that usually does not make announcements or make itself heard beyond running licensing programs in all 50 states. Some might say they’re even a little stodgy.

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So it was a big surprise when NCARB actually invited journalists to a meeting at last week’s AIA National Convention and Design Exhibition. Not only was CEO Michael Armstrong loquacious and welcoming, but since taking the position in 2011 he’s been busy transforming NCARB into a nimble organization that’s now asking the controversial question of has the time finally come for architectural licensing at college graduation?

“As the organization that recommends law to the states, NCARB is fine with that, as long as it’s the same exam, same intern development program as the rest of the applicants take,” Armstrong said. Right now NCARB has a task force looking into how a licensing exam around the time of graduation for architecture students could work. The University of Maryland, Drexel, Rice and the University of Cincinnati are all participating.

Licensing and the lengthy testing process to achieve it has long been a sticking point for young architects who are often forced to work as interns or junior architects for years as they take a linear path toward eventually taking and passing a state board’s exam. There are actually only 107,000 licensed architects in the US but millions more working in the offices of licensed architects and having their work approved by someone else who has passed an exam and has the right to stamp architectural drawings.

“There is a cultural shift driven by an awareness shift right now,” Armstrong said. “Many, many countries now integrate an internship with education, and it’s happening here more often. Especially in this profession, it’s illogical to say ‘I can only learn in a classroom.'”

As such NCARB has become more pro-active on issues such as an earlier ability to take the licensing exam. In addition to the task force, NCARB is proposing to reduce by one-third the requirements for its intern program and proposing to streamline its broad experience architect certification program as well. They have also brought in Alpine Testing Solutions as an IT vendor to allow architects to take licensing tests more often.

It’s a welcome site to see an organization like NCARB recognizing the changes that have happened over the last 20 years. Other architecture and certification organizations should take a page out of Armstrong’s book.

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