From the President
Proposed NAAB Conditions Require a Broader Conversation about Architecture Degrees 

ACSA recently submitted our final response to the proposed 2020 NAAB Conditions and Procedures for Accreditation. We are publishing it for our members, so you can be certain about where we stand on the many suggested changes arising from the Accreditation Review Forum.

We endorse most of the revisions to the Conditions for Accreditation, including the increased emphasis on self-assessment to demonstrate compliance. However, we are concerned about the new language in Draft 1 defining “accredited degrees.” We recommend that NAAB preserve the minimum credit hours for all professional degrees specified in the 2014 Conditions pending a clear definition of qualitative differences between B.Arch, M.Arch, and D.Arch degrees.

First, the proposed Conditions state that a student with no undergraduate education in architecture can obtain an M.Arch in 30 credit hours. This language is misleading and will further complicate explanations of graduate degrees with prospective students.

Second, NAAB’s proposed definition of B.Arch degrees opens the door to professional bachelor’s degrees in less than five years. In essence, the language would allow an architecture curriculum that satisfies the institution’s general education requirements and then adds the minimum required professional content to the degree, with little to no electives in architecture courses.

Together the changes may confuse the public, erode the value of the M.Arch, and leave undergraduate students less prepared for an increasingly complex profession.

Our review of the proposed Conditions brought us to understand the importance of an unaddressed problem in architecture. All three accredited degrees (B.Arch, M.Arch, and D.Arch) equally satisfy the commonly accepted educational requirement to become a licensed architect. No other qualitative distinctions about the skills and knowledge of architecture school graduates exist. We also know from salary data that graduates with an M.Arch do not earn more than graduates with a B.Arch in the first decade of their careers.

From an educator’s standpoint, bachelor’s and master’s degrees are not the same and represent different levels of educational achievement. Under NAAB’s proposed language, this lack of distinction becomes even more acute. For this reason, we have called for a profession-wide discussion over the next 12 to 18 months to define levels of expectation for graduates of every level of architectural education, from associate’s degrees to PhDs.

We believe the clarity of degrees is an essential part of increasing access to architectural education. Understanding what each degree path offers helps the profession ascribe value to emerging architects’ knowledge. It also equips future architects with appropriately calibrated skills to address the world’s complex problems related to climate change, urbanization, and resource depletion.

As we further explain in our response, ACSA wants to find ways to reduce the cost of, and expand access to education, but we do not believe that using regional accreditation standards to determine minimum credit hours for degrees is the answer. Such changes will likely have unintended consequences on students who arrive with remedial needs in writing, mathematics, and the arts. A shorter professional undergraduate degree that covers the same scope in fewer credit hours cannot effectively serve students with these needs.

I invite your feedback on these issues ( In a future column, I will also address more fully ACSA’s recommendation to increase requirements on research, climate change mitigation, and urbanization.

Rashida Ng, ACSA President