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NCARB: The Number of Architects in the U.S. Continues to Rise

The path to licensure is getting shorter, while the profession is still struggling with gender and racial equity.

By Hallie Busta

NCARB 1 Photo

The number of licensed architects in the U.S. continues to grow, as does the number of emerging professionals at their heels, according to the fifth-annual By the Numbers report from the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) released today. The report features data on the state of architectural practice in 2015 gathered from NCARB’s member boards in the 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Last year saw 110,168 licensed architects practicing in the U.S., up 2 percent from 2014; this represents the fourth-consecutive year of growth. Meanwhile, the number of licensure candidates grew by 5 percent to an all-time high of 41,542 for the same period. The number of new enrollments in accredited architecture schools and the number of degrees awarded climbed 7 percent during the 2014–2015 school year from the prior year. However, the total number of students enrolled in these programs dipped 3 percent in 2015 from the previous academic year, continuing the steady decline that began in 2011.

Programs like NCARB’s Integrated Path to Architectural Licensure—which kicked off in the fall of 2015 and continues to add more programs at institutions across the country—could help retain students by allowing them to begin the path to licensure while still in school, including gaining hours to meet their Architectural Experience Program (AXP, formerly the Intern Development Program, or IDP) requirements and sitting for the Architect Registration Exam (ARE). In 2015, more candidates tackled the ARE and IDP (now AXP) requirements simultaneously, with six in 10 taking at least one exam while completing their experience hours.

Overall, the streamlined IDP has helped shorten the path to licensure—in 2015, the timeline was 13.3 years, down 3 percent from 2014. The roll out of the ARE 5.0 and the AXP this year should continue this trend.

Below are highlights from today’s release.

Number of Architects Licensed Chart

Candidates are moving through the AXP faster than before, and in greater numbers. In 2015, it took the nearly 4,900 licensure candidates (up more than 25 percent from 2014) seven fewer months to complete the program, on average, than it did in 2014. This is due in part to a streamlining in the then-IDP program requirements eliminating the need for elective hours. The AXP launches this summer and will reflect the six areas of architectural practice that candidates will be tested on in ARE version 5.0, which debuts this fall.

NCARB attributes the dramatic increase in ARE completions in 2015 (up 19 percent year-over-year to 4,447 completions) as well as the drop in average completion time (down 17 percent for the same period to 2.1 years) in part to the upcoming launch of ARE 5.0, as candidates who intend to take version 4.0 of the exam complete it prior to June 30, 2018, after which point it will no longer be offered.

Average Age Chart

The Construction Documents & Services division remained the toughest for ARE 4.0 exam-takers, with a pass rate of 58 percent; meanwhile, the Schematic Design division had the highest pass rate for the fourth-consecutive year at 77 percent. Overall, the pass rate across ARE 4.0 divisions was 65 percent in 2015. In ARE 5.0, the number of divisions will be reduced to six, covering: practice management; project management; programming and analysis; project planning and design; project development and documentation; and construction and evaluation.

Overall, 16 percent more ARE division tests were administered in 2015 than 2014, due in part to candidates seeking to complete the exam in version 4.0 before version 5.0 takes effect as well as NCARB’s new policy allowing candidates to retake a division in as soon as 60 days and as many as three times a year.

Candidates who took the ARE within a two-year period prior to finishing their IDP requirements reported the highest pass rates on the test, NCARB reports.

IDP Completions by Gender Chart ARE Completions by Gender Chart

More women are entering the field than before, and they’re attaining licensure faster than their male counterparts, accounting for one-third of licensure candidates. Although the trend represents an overall improvement, women still drop off in greater numbers than men from the time they begin the licensure process (at which point women account for 42 percent) to earning an NCARB certificate (with women account for 18 percent). In 2015, women continued to complete their initial license faster than men, reporting 12.3 years to men’s 13.4 years.

Racial Diversity Chart Ethnic Diversity Chart

A similar trend evident in the shifting gender breakdown among candidates through licensure exists in the racial and ethnic breakdown, with a larger proportion of "non-white," NCARB says, individuals beginning the licensure process than those earning licensure.

This article was originally published in ARCHITECT in August 2016.

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