The NCARB Board of Directors has adopted the following statement as a call to action and recognition of NCARB’s essential role as a thought leader regarding the evolution of architectural licensure.

  • NCARB encourages all of its licensing jurisdiction members to explore the concept of “many paths/one goal” for both initial and reciprocal licensure by recognizing multiple combinations of experience and examination, with or without various iterations of higher education, as sufficient qualifiers. This augments the traditional path involving accredited education.
  • The experience-examination pathway (with or without various iterations of higher education), as utilized in 48 jurisdictions for reciprocal licensure and 17 jurisdictions for initial licensure, can and should be expanded as a legitimate path for initial licensure across the U.S. To facilitate this endorsement, NCARB is developing “interim guidance” for jurisdictions already in the process of laying the groundwork for regulatory revision. The Council intends to apply a prudent approach that preserves necessary rigor while respecting the legal authority of its member jurisdictions, and continuing its support of accredited education as one significant licensure pathway.

Overview – The Basis and Argument for Endorsing Multiple Paths

Over the past several years, NCARB has been both developing and advocating for multiple paths to architectural licensure. We recognize that for most architects, licensure via a degree from a program accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) is the most often utilized path. However, roughly 15% of architects, over 18,000 in total, achieved licensure through other pathways. While the NAAB accreditation path represents the most frequently used pathway, we are committed to recognizing other paths as part of a “multiple paths to licensure” system.

We believe it is imperative to provide pathways with the potential to reduce candidates’ costs, eliminate the social and fiscal impediments attached to a single path, and improve access to the profession for traditionally underrepresented groups. Equally important is to remove unnecessary barriers and ensure the various pathways are afforded appropriate value and not categorized as merely “alternative” or somehow lesser than or secondary to the most frequently accessed path of a NAAB-accredited program.

Policy and Programmatic Background

Catalysts for diversifying licensure pathways date back over a decade and are evident both in existing programs and policies adopted by the Council and its jurisdictional member licensing boards and in the evidence demonstrated by our own data analytics. Of significant note is the analysis provided since 2012, with NCARB’s annual data insights on the path to licensure in NCARB by the Numbers. This annual publication has tracked trends among the licensing candidate community and has shed light on the lengthy time to licensure, disparity regarding the racial and gender makeup of the licensed community, and issues of equity and access that necessitate paths outside of accredited education. Programmatic evolution has occurred concurrently during this same time period.

  • In 2014 and 2016, NCARB expanded its methods for fulfilling the Architectural Experience Program® (AXP®) requirement to support situations when life circumstances required a career delay or postponement:
    • 2014: Partial credit became available for hours worked beyond the six-month reporting period, allowing candidates to report experience up to five years old.
    • 2016: The AXP Portfolio launched, allowing for the submission of a candidate’s work in lieu of recorded hours, including work over five years old.
  • In 2015, to create a faster track to licensure for motivated students, NCARB launched the Integrated Path to Architectural Licensure (IPAL). This initiative invites NAAB-accredited programs to integrate their curriculum to enable students to fulfill the AXP requirement by gaining work experience in firms and take each division of the Architectural Registration Examination® (ARE®)—all before graduation. Rethinking the licensure path as concurrent rather than sequential provides an option for those interested in reducing the time to licensure. Today, 6 B.Arch. and 26 M.Arch. programs at 27 schools are IPAL participants.

Similarly, NCARB has also been pursuing multiple pathways for post-licensure certification. For several decades, the NCARB Certificate—which provides mobility across state boundaries via reciprocal licensure—has included an eligibility path for those licensees who do not hold a degree from an academic program accredited by the NAAB. First introduced as the Broadly Experienced Architect (BEA) Program involving an interview and portfolio review, NCARB has evolved this path into a more efficient and cost-effective program that minimizes fees and portfolio reviews:

  • In 2017, NCARB revised the path to become NCARB certified, sunsetting the BEA program and, in its place, offering two paths for those without a degree from a NAAB-accredited program: the “Two Times AXP” path for architects with an architecture-related undergraduate degree to fulfill the education requirement for NCARB certification by recording twice the experience hours required for AXP in lieu of a degree from a NAAB-accredited program; and a digital version of the interview and portfolio review for those with an unrelated degree, some post-high school education, or only a high school degree. This digital portfolio path eliminated extra fees and moved reviews from a full committee to two independent reviewers, significantly reducing time and cost.
  • In 2021, NCARB’s Model Law Task Force issued updates to its guidance document for jurisdiction reference and adoption/adaptation that more clearly acknowledged qualifications for licensure through non-accredited education programs or experience in lieu of education.

Current and Ongoing Efforts

Nearly one-third of U.S. jurisdictions (including some of the most populous states) have codified multiple opportunities to fulfill education requirements for many years. As NCARB explores additional approaches to expand this concept, we are inviting the greater architectural community to join us in this important conversation.

  • NCARB has publicly called for a feasibility study for a 4-year accredited degree option instead of 5 years, since NAAB core requirements could be feasibly delivered within a 4-year time frame.
  • After several years of dialogue with the Coalition of Community College Architecture Programs (CCCAP), NCARB has launched a new initiative to more formally recognize the value of two-year associate degrees, as well as non-degree education, provided through community colleges. Through campus outreach to students and faculty, along with analysis by staff and volunteer committees, NCARB intends to more formally integrate community college education into its licensure toolkit in the coming years.
  • Two NCARB task forces, established in 2022, are addressing the twin areas of competency and licensure process research and development to consider an evolved licensure toolkit. Utilizing the 2022 Analysis of Practice data, this work (expected to conclude in the next two to three years) will propose a new licensure framework that more fully integrates multiple paths, respects the diversity of applicants, and considers different methodologies for demonstrating competence to practice.
  • NCARB is conducting a deeper dive into the experience-only pathway to licensure by convening a new work group analyzing workforce readiness criteria to support candidates who will follow that approach to licensure.

In the meantime, NCARB continues to revise its existing programs to improve access to licensure. Recent actions include removing administrative impediments, replacing the examination expiration policy known as the five-year rolling clock with a new examination validity policy, adding English as a Second Language (ESL) as an extra time accommodation for examinees, and providing a first-ever suite of free, full-length practice examinations with content and scoring that simulates the actual examination experience. These augmentations to NCARB programs have resulted in a significant increase in the exam pass rates of licensure candidates from underrepresented groups.

Our journey to the exciting and essential next steps will, by necessity, require scores of volunteers and an ongoing partnership with the 55 jurisdictional members of NCARB. Beyond that, we desire support from the greater architecture community. While NCARB can and will adopt some programmatic changes through its existing processes, our desired future state can only be fully achieved with the full support of appointed jurisdictional board members, the greater architectural community, and in many cases, elected legislators. Thus, we encourage dialogue throughout this process as we continue to pursue regulation that remains both rigorous and reasonable, as well as inclusive and equitable.