Each year, NCARB releases data tracking key trends along the path to licensure—including time to complete the experience and examination programs, as well as demographics throughout architecture career stages. In the 2021 edition of NCARB by the Numbers, we’ve expanded our data to provide a deep dive into how race and ethnicity impact examination pass rates, time to licensure, and more.
The average pass rate (or success rate) across all six Architect Registration Examination® (ARE®) divisions rose to just over 54 percent in 2020—meaning the overall candidate population performed slightly better when testing compared to any other year in ARE 5.0’s history.
Although success rates rose for the general candidate population, candidates of color—especially Black or African American candidates—are significantly less likely to pass the ARE than white candidates. Since the exam is often the final step on the path to licensure, this gap in pass rates is also reflected in the racial and ethnic representation makeup of licensed architects.
Following a preliminary internal data audit, NCARB commissioned an independent bias study of the exam, which showed individual questions do not drive disparities in candidate performance. Findings also emphasized that while the ARE is developed and evaluated in a way that minimizes unconscious biases—including assembling diverse volunteer groups to write and review exam content—NCARB cannot singlehandedly address inequity in exam access and performance. Coupled with NCARB’s data on career attrition, these studies suggest that pass rate disparities could also be impacted by access to education and professional experiences.
Despite lower pass rates for candidates of color, 2020 saw increased racial and ethnic representation at nearly every career stage. This includes a 4 percentage point increase in the proportion of new architects who identify as people of color, the largest single-year increase seen in some time.
However, the majority of this increase is due to a rise in the proportion of new Asian and Latino architects, with little growth seen for the African American population.
This increase in the proportion of new Asian and Latino architects may in part be due to the average time to licensure for these demographic groups: Asian and Latino candidates complete the path to licensure sooner than their peers, with Asians taking just 11.1 years on average to earn a license. By contrast, African American candidates take 15.2 years—nearly three years longer than the national average, which is 12.3 years.
Ultimately, these disparities contribute to higher attrition along the path to licensure for candidates of color. For example, 34 percent of white candidates who started their NCARB Record a decade ago (in 2011) have since stopped pursuing a license, compared to 54 percent of Black or African American candidates—a 20 percentage point difference.
Identifying the root causes of these disparities and presenting solutions to address impediments along the path to licensure is the focus of NCARB and the National Organization of Minority Architects’ (NOMA) joint Baseline on Belonging survey. By sharing these trends, NCARB hopes to help inform those solutions and highlight key areas where change is necessary across the entire profession.
Read more about trends along the path to licensure in NCARB by the Numbers.