The road to architectural licensure is long and rigorous. The minimum requirements include 3,740 hours of experience under a licensed architect’s supervision, 21 hours practical exams, and graduation from an accredited architecture program of at least five years.
Yet according to recent statistics from the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB), it currently takes an average of 12.5 years to achieve licensure, a record low that will only get lower thanks to the relatively new IPAL — Integrated Path to Architectural Licensure — program.
The program streamlines the three required elements of architectural licensure — education, experience and examination — into one curriculum. Under the program, by the time an architecture student graduates they will have completed both their AXP experience hours and ARE exams. Since launching in 2015, IPAL programs have been offered at 21 schools nationwide, including six bachelors programs.
In May, three students from the University of Florida CityLab-Orlando became the first IPAL students to meet requirements for licensure while earning a degree.
“The IPAL program is one of the most significant changes in architectural education,” says CityLab-Orlando Program Director Frank M. Bosworth, AIA.
The graduates — Justin Jablonski, Assoc. AIA, Michael Germano, AIA, and Phillip Lantry, Assoc. AIA — will receive their license, not years but weeks after their commencement.
“Balancing the three [components of licensure] was difficult, but I just decided at some point that I wanted to live and breathe architecture,” Lantry says.
Because of its time-consuming nature, the IPAL program may be best suited for graduate students like Jablonski, Germano, and Lantry, and especially beneficial for those pursuing a career change to architecture.
“IPAL was appealing because I could maintain full-time employment, earn all of my experience hours and sit for the ARE while in school,” Jablonski says. “I enjoyed every minute of my experience in the program.”
However, undergraduate architecture students willing to participate in the IPAL program would certainly be sacrificing the college experience in exchange for a road to licensure that can be more than 50 percent shorter than the average.
The University of Southern California is one of the few architecture schools that offer an IPAL curriculum with its bachelor’s architecture program, and a mere glance at its six-year plan is overwhelming. The plan includes full-time studies in the fall and spring, with summers filled working to gain AXP experience and taking the various portions of the ARE exam.
Though as of yet there are no active IPAL programs at any Texas universities, some young architects have found ways to quickly achieve licensure without a streamlined program assisting them.
Lincoln Davidson, AIA, of Murray Legge Architecture in Austin is one of those, having obtained his license in a mere seven years by proactively taking his ARE exams upon graduating from UT-Austin in 2016.
“Getting licensure early and entering the profession can be a very valuable thing,” he said. “One of the problems in the profession is that being an unlicensed architect in a firm can be undermining, where you can be treated like and intern and not paid well.”
He says he appreciates how an accelerated licensure program could “give young architects the position to strive for things in the office and have a voice.”
However, Davidson does have some hesitations with the streamlined nature of the IPAL program.
“I think that time studying design in school is really important, and that the most grueling, more minute issues that come up on the licensing exam could be a distraction,” he says.
Another young Texas architect, Chris Ferguson, AIA, of DO GROUP Design, also sees the practical benefits and potential consequences of an accelerated licensing program.
“Increased earning potential is a big motivator, as is the opportunity to gain more autonomy and responsibility in an office,” he says.
But like Davidson, he has concern for the effect a streamlined licensure program will have on the quality of architectural education, and the quality of architecture industry itself.
“Are we trying to make more architects? Or are we trying to make better architects?” Ferguson asks. “As anyone who has spent time in the design industry will tell you, ‘fast’ and ‘good’ are often at odds with each other.”
However, another potential effect of providing shorter paths to licensure is increased diversity within the profession, since newly released NCARB statistics show that non-white candidates are more likely than white candidates to fall off the path to licensure as the years go on.
While these statistics also showed that diversity in the industry has increased overall, the racial differences in terms of licensure are significant, with non-white candidates being 25 percent more likely to stop pursuing their license than white candidates.
A streamlined program such as IPAL could increase accessibility to licensure with its efficient track, and thus offer a greater diversity of people the opportunity to earn higher salaries.
“Through IPAL, schools and state licensing boards can offer an alternative path to licensure to a new and diverse pool of people,” the president of NCARB, Gregory L. Erny, FAIA, said at the IPAL Florida students’ graduation ceremony.
Yet there’s a common theme among this “new and diverse” group of people.
“IPAL students are exceptionally driven, eager to learn and committed to earning a license,” he says.
To survive, they simply have to be.