At the AIA Convention in Atlanta last month, the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) made a big announcement: It will no longer use the title “intern” to describe graduates of accredited architecture schools who are working toward a license. NCARB is also recommending that its independent member boards—those of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands—follow suit. Kudos to NCARB. The move is cause for celebration, in no small part because to anyone outside the field, the word “intern” suggests a summer job. Better still, eliminating the i-word is just one in a succession of essential reforms helping to humanize the path to licensure.

Interestingly, given the way the council framed its decision, the question of what term will replace “intern” remains unsettled. According to 2015 NCARB President Dale McKinney, FAIA, the organization is restricting its regulatory role “to the title ‘architect,’ which should only apply to licensed individuals. … Any title held by those pursuing licensure does not need to be regulated.”

NCARB is not changing the parameters that determine who can—and can’t—describe themselves as an architect. You still need a license, which still requires the successful completion of a professional degree in architecture, thousands of hours of supervised work experience, and passing the Architect Registration Examination (ARE).

But there is a widespread fear that architecture has become too exclusive, that the barriers to entry are too high. I’ve heard distinguished practitioners passionately argue, as an antidote, that the title of “architect” should be divorced from licensure altogether and instead be granted to everyone who graduates from architecture school. Meanwhile, NCARB is testing a tantalizing scenario in which aspiring architects would take the ARE shortly after graduation, similar to the timing for aspiring lawyers taking the bar. 

The ARE debuted in 1965 and the Intern Development Program in 1976; both have been revised over time. NCARB, AIA, and the other “collateral organizations” are wise in collaborating to update them once more. The stakeholders are numerous and, one would imagine, deeply invested. But I have faith that the process can yield meaningful outcomes without undue compromise. School curricula need not devolve into training programs because the ARE can occur sooner. Licensure—with its implications for health, safety, and liability—shouldn’t lose significance for being more readily obtainable.

The reforms could result in an increased rate of licensure and more meaningful inclusion for groups that often and unnecessarily fall victim to attrition, such as women and emerging and alternative practitioners. And “I am an architect” suggests something more significant than “I studied architecture,” even when the person speaking doesn’t design buildings for a living. Indeed, every architecture school graduate who leaves the profession without first getting licensed represents a lost opportunity. Imagine all those erstwhile interns transformed into fully enfranchised ambassadors who represent the values of architecture in the broader world.