Baseline on Belonging: Examination Report

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WASHINGTON, DC—As part of a series of reports regarding attrition from the licensure path by underrepresented groups, the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) and National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) released their report focused on examination. This in-depth report explores factors that impact equity, diversity, and inclusion for candidates taking the Architect Registration Examination®(ARE®).

The Baseline on Belonging: Examination Report is the second full report in the organizations’ joint study on diversity and attrition along the path to licensure. The report reviews survey data regarding respondents’ experiences preparing for and taking the examination, including impediments in the areas of financial support, coaching and mentoring, and overall cost. A subsection of the report, based on a multi-year collection of data by NCARB, indicates that people of color have significantly lower pass rates when taking the ARE compared to their white peers. Survey data from the full report highlights how factors like firm support and financial limitations may disproportionately impact candidates over 40 years old and people of color—especially women of color.

Previously, NCARB and NOMA released the Baseline on Belonging: Experience Report, which identified the effects that race, ethnicity, gender, age, and firm size can have on candidates documenting and reporting professional experience toward the Architectural Experience Program® (AXP®). By better understanding the key areas that impact underrepresented groups in the architecture profession, NCARB and NOMA aim to prompt widespread action throughout the profession to address these pinch points.

Ncarb Noma Disparities By Age

“The disparity in architecture exam pass rates is hard to see, but facing that number head on empowers us to ask better questions, and create new programs and policies that help ensure a successful career in architecture is both accessible and achievable to those historically marginalized by the process,” said NOMA President and Gensler Senior Associate Jason Pugh,NOMA, AIA, AICP, LEED AP. “The path to licensure is long, non-linear, costly, and strenuous, but even more so without the appropriate milestones to benchmark successes for people of color—and most drastically for Black and Latina women. NOMA leadership hopes to work collectively with the architecture collaterals to address the hurdles and challenges outlined within these clear findings over the next few years, and move us toward greater equity and representation overall.”

The ARE is a six-part exam required for architectural licensure by all 55 U.S. jurisdictions. To complete the exam, candidates must pass all six divisions within a five-year time period. Many candidates rely on firm support throughout the examination process, including access to firm-provided study materials and financial aid for the cost of the exam.

Because the ARE is the final step on the path to licensure for many candidates, exploring and addressing the underlying causes of the disparities highlighted in the Baseline on Belonging report may lead to greater diversity in the profession. In 2020, approximately 22 percent of architects in the United States identified as a racial or ethnic minority, according to data from NCARB’s Record holders. While that is a significant increase compared to previous years, it is confined to the Asian and Hispanic or Latino communities. About 2percent of architects identify as Black or African American—the same proportion seen a decade ago.

“We know that people of color are more likely to stop pursuing a license. The findings from this survey help us identify why,” said NCARB President Alfred Vidaurri Jr., NCARB, NOMA, FAIA. “We look forward to working with NOMA and the entire architecture community to explore the core causes of impediments on the path to licensure and present solutions. Together, we can ensure that the future of our profession better reflects the communities we serve.”

Ncarb Noma Ethnicity Firm Support

The Baseline on Belonging survey was released in early 2020 to over 70,000 individuals and received over 5,000 complete responses (including over 2,800 from people of color and nearly 2,500 from women). The examination report highlighted several key findings for additional study and exploration:

  • The cost of the exam is a financial burden for many candidates, with only 26 percent of test takers indicating they felt confident they could afford the ARE.
  • African American and Latino candidates are less likely to report that their firm will contribute to the cost of the exam than their white peers (7 and 9 percentage points, respectively).
  • African American and Latino candidates are more likely to report that college or personal debt and family obligations impact their ability to afford the ARE. For example, African Americans were 14 percentage points more likely to report personal debt as a factor impacting their ability to afford the ARE than white candidates.
  • NCARB’s Record holder data shows that candidates of color—especially Black or African American candidates—face significantly lower pass rates, which corresponds with survey data showing that candidates of color are less likely to complete the ARE. For example, white candidates’ pass rates are 27-38 percentage points higher than their Black or African American peers.
  • African American and Latina women are more likely to experience barriers related to ARE support and affordability. For example, Latinas are 11 percentage points more likely than white women to report spending over $500 on study materials, and 20 percentage points more likely to report difficulty paying for the exam.
  • Age is a significant factor when it comes to the amount of support ARE candidates receive.Individuals over 40 years old are 24 percentage points less likely to receive firm support toward the cost of the exam.
  • Firm size has a significant effect on the amount of support candidates receive, with large firms more likely to assist with the cost of the ARE and study materials—26 and 41 percentage points more, respectively, compared to small firms.

These findings are a first step in identifying and addressing pinch points during the examination component of the licensure path. To better understand the underlying cause of the disparities highlighted in the report, NCARB and NOMA will conduct focus groups and follow-up surveys. Because the exam represents a final, measurable confirmation of the education and experience candidates have gained, the disparities seen in ARE pass rates may signal additional disparities earlier on the path to licensure. Future Baseline on Belonging reports on education, firm culture, and career development may yield additional insights into the disparities found in the experience and examination reports. To learn more about next steps and how to participate in further study,subscribe to our mailing list. To learn more about the Baseline on Belonging study and download the full report, visit ncarb.org/belong.


Baseline on Belonging: Experience Report

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The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) and the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) released an in-depth report exploring factors that impact equity, diversity, and inclusion for candidates gaining professional architecture experience.

The Baseline on Belonging: Experience Report reveals that interplay between factors such as race, age, and firm size can have a significant impact on an individual’s ability to navigate the Architectural Experience Program® (AXP®), which is a key step to earning an architecture license in the United States. Over the coming months, NOMA and NCARB will continue to analyze the survey results and release in-depth reports on four additional key topic areas: examination, education, firm culture, and career development.

In 2019, just over 11 percent of architects in the United States identified as a racial or ethnic minority, according to NCARB by the Numbers. And while representation along most career stages has increased slowly over the past several years, candidates of color are still 31% more likely to stop pursuing licensure. Understanding the factors that lead to attrition along the path to earning a license is the focus of the Baseline on Belonging study, which is based on results from a joint survey conducted by NCARB and NOMA in early-2020. Early findings from the survey were released in the summer of 2020.

“Understanding the challenges and hurdles that prevent minorities from achieving architecture licensure is of essential importance to NOMA,” said NOMA President and Gensler Senior Associate Jason Pugh, NOMA, AIA, AICP, LEED AP. “We are strongly committed to finding effective ways to reduce the barriers to licensure for all minority architects, especially Black female architects, who remain the least represented population in the profession. While the number of newly licensed Black architects has flatlined over the last couple of decades, we are pleased to see an increase in overall diversity for those starting the licensure process. With NCARB’s documentation and new understanding of the challenges candidates face on the path to licensure, the next steps forward must include a definitive action plan we can collectively harness to streamline the process going forward.”

To complete the AXP, candidates must earn 3,740 hours across six practice areas and frequently rely on their employers to provide opportunities in the necessary areas. By exploring respondents’ experiences navigating the AXP, NCARB and NOMA hope to identify areas where the program—as well as firms and supervisors—may create unintended barriers.

Findings on AXP completion

“NCARB is dedicated to ensuring the path to licensure is equitable and accessible to all,” said FY21 NCARB President Robert M. Calvani, FAIA, NCARB, Hon. FCARM. “It is a privilege to work together with NOMA to address this important issue for our profession.”

With over 5,000 complete responses (including over 2,800 from people of color and nearly 2,500 from women), the survey highlighted several key findings for additional study and exploration:

  • Overall, survey participants reported positive experiences completing the AXP. However, filtering the data by demographic factors (such as race/ethnicity, gender, and age) reveals disparities that range from slight to significant.
  • When responses are segmented by race/ethnicity the largest disparities are seen in the variety of experience opportunities provided and supervisor support.
  • Age is the most significant factor impacting a candidate’s progression through the AXP, with nearly half of respondents over the age of 55 reporting challenges earning experience.
  • Women of color—especially African American women—frequently face greater barriers than white women or men of color.
  • African American women are consistently less likely to report having a positive supervisor relationship than respondents of other demographic groups.
  • Firm size can have a variety of impacts on AXP support, with some positives and negatives seen for each firm size. However, African Americans working at large firms typically report less challenges than those working at small firms.
  • White candidates take slightly longer to complete the experience requirement than candidates of other races/ethnicities, but they are still younger when they start and complete the AXP.

These findings are a first step in identifying and addressing pinch points during the experience component of the licensure path. To better understand the underlying cause of the disparities highlighted in the report, NCARB and NOMA will conduct focus groups and follow-up surveys. Many aspects of earning professional experience are inseparable from individual firm culture, so necessary solutions to experience-related impediments may vary widely.

BOB Age and Ethnicity Respect

“The path to professional licensure as an architect is a challenging one for most, and NOMA is keenly interested in helping to remove unnecessary barriers to entry for those who wish to design the spaces where we all live, work, and play,” said past NOMA President and HOK Principal Kimberly Dowdell, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP. “We appreciate the opportunity to partner with NCARB, leveraging their in-depth data analysis capabilities, to determine pinch points in the licensure process, particularly for under-represented candidates. In collaboration with NCARB and the other architecture anchor institutions, NOMA looks forward to the process of collectively evaluating the survey data to effectively craft policies designed to facilitate a more accessible path to licensure for all people.”

To learn more about next steps and how to participate in further study, subscribe to our mailing list. To learn more about the Baseline on Belonging study, visit https://ncarb.org/belong.