Paper Trails

NCARB responds to concerns about licensing

National Newsletter Op-Ed Professional Practice
NCARB responds to concerns about licensing (Sergey Zolkin via Unsplash)

Over the past several years, there has been an uptick in political activity addressing the value of regulation. It is important to distinguish protective regulations for professions such as architecture from efforts focused on “occupational” regulation, aimed at improving job opportunities for returning veterans, blue-collar workers, and underemployed individuals. Without this distinction, legislative overreach could unintentionally remove important protections to the public’s health, safety, and welfare.

This is why the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) supports the American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) “Where We Stand” statement on professional licensure and the important role architecture licensing boards play in ensuring a safe built environment. In fact, NCARB model laws and programs, along with its NCARB Certificate, address many of the core issues such as mobility and inter-state consistency that are inviting criticism of the entire licensure and regulatory spectrum.

It’s important that architects understand how their own regulatory framework functions. NCARB serves as a federation of the country’s 54 jurisdictional boards that license and regulate architecture. These boards contribute several hundred volunteers who regularly develop examination questions, monitor the relevance of national models for education and experience requirements, and develop alternatives to licensure for those taking untraditional paths. The ability to modernize architectural licensure while retaining essential rigor has assured that reasonable regulation equates to public protection.



With mobility and portability a key focal point of current regulatory scrutiny, it is noteworthy that NCARB was created by state licensing board architects who sought a more standardized process along with reciprocity across state boundaries. Today, there are more reciprocal architect licenses issued in the U.S. than resident licenses. Yet despite this proven process, lawmakers continue to consider overreaching bills with negative impact on architecture boards’ ability to protect the public. Most recently, NCARB funded AIA South Dakota to assure that any revamp to regulation would provide an opt out for professions with established paths to reciprocity (including architecture, engineering, landscape architecture, and land surveying) from a “temporary licensing compact” proposal.

Modernizing the Path to Licensure

Similar to medicine and law, architecture is one of roughly 60 professions that is regulated in all states and territories. Each of the 54 boards is legally responsible for issuing licenses and regulating practice within its borders, utilizing NCARB models at their discretion. Each of these jurisdictions, in varying formats, has determined that three essential steps to architectural licensure are required: meet specific requirements for architectural education, earn real-world experience through the Architectural Experience Program™ (AXP™), and pass the Architect Registration Examination® (ARE®).

In a continued effort to eliminate unnecessary hurdles for candidates, NCARB membership, through the state boards, has updated and streamlined these programs—without sacrificing the rigor needed to protect the public. Recent changes include: removing the experience program’s elective hours from reporting requirements and allowing an alternative work portfolio option for experienced designers; aligning the licensing exam to the “phases of practice,” eliminating vignette software and introducing case studies; and streamlining alternative paths for those with diverse educational backgrounds. These changes have also reduced the average fees for licensure candidates and NCARB Certificate applicants.

Together, the 54 NCARB Member Boards and over 300 architect volunteers function to ensure architects have the skills and knowledge needed to create safe spaces, striking the right balance between reasonable regulation and protecting the public.

Michael J. Armstrong is the CEO of NCARB, a nonprofit that develops and administers national programs for utilization by the 54 jurisdictions regulating licensure candidates and architects.

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