Friedman is among a growing number of academics, young professionals, and architects who believe that the licensure system must be revamped. For starters, schools and the profession must better communicate how and why students should get licensed, says Nick Mancusi, Assoc. AIA, board president of the AIAS. To that end, the AIAS is currently creating marketing materials explaining the key decisions to becoming licensed—such as choosing between accredited and non-accredited programs. “The more students know, the more they are ready to make the decision whether they want to be licensed or not,” he says.

Many believe that the biggest roadblock to licensure is the amount of time it now takes. Friedman points to research by Virginia-based architect Matt Arnold, who suggests that the process takes much longer than it did 30 years ago. Arnold, 52, is a sole practitioner who grew curious about licensure when he noticed the rising age of interns. “Everybody I knew in the IDP process was in their 30s. When I went through it [in the 1980s], everyone was in their 20s,” he says.

In May, Arnold self-published a report titled “Architecture: Concerning Licensure,” and submitted it to NCARB and the AIA, among other organizations. Arnold had requested statistics from every jurisdiction about licensure, but only New York, Oregon, and Nebraska complied. His analysis of those three states, however, proved illuminating. In 2009, Arnold writes, the average time it took a resident-architect in New York to achieve licensure after graduation was just over 11 years—a marked increase from the 1980s, when the average time was closer to five years. Nebraska and Oregon exhibited similar trends, he says. Based on his data, he concluded that the increase could be caused in part by the restructuring of the ARE in the 1990s. “The test is administered differently than it was [in the 1980s],” he says. “Back then it was given everywhere in one week, once a year. Now you can take the individual divisions whenever you like, as soon as you become eligible.”

Changes to the ARE, according to NCARB, were meant to make the exam more flexible, and to unify it across jurisdictions, making it easier to get reciprocal licenses. But Tulane’s Kinnard says that those changes have had unintended consequences: “A careful analysis of the system we have in place today suggests that the regulatory bodies, with all the best intentions, have designed a system that could not be more complex.” (NCARB’s Kerker says that an initial analysis of the organization’s data for this article—based on a sampling of more than 30 percent of licenses issued since July 2004 that the organization could track—suggests that it takes candidates on average 8.75 years between graduation and licensure. With the introduction of ARE 4.0 in 2008, she says, the average time it takes candidates to complete the test has dropped from three years to 22 months.)

Currently, candidates cannot take any part of the ARE until after completing their jurisdictional education requirements; 43 jurisdictions allow concurrent completion of the ARE and the IDP. Kinnard’s suggestion? Allow all students to take the ARE as long as they’re enrolled in the IDP. Such a change could help integrate the exam into the curriculum at school, she says, enabling educators to teach students some of the pragmatic issues relevant to practicing architecture.

She warns, however, that focusing too much on passing the ARE would come at the expense of preparing students for future career challenges. “The regulatory bodies set their standards based on the profession as it is today,” Kinnard says. “Education can’t do that. We need to be thinking about educating people for the profession as it might emerge in 10 or 20 years.”

The IDP must also be overhauled, Friedman says. “The only future our profession has is to integrate the IDP into the curriculum,” he says, which would enable students to complete the ARE exam and get licensed upon graduation. In fact, Friedman has been toying with just such a curriculum, and thinks he’s found a way to incorporate the IDP into an eight-year program—less time than it currently takes students to complete their educational requirements and firm internship.

Other changes to the licensure process could be simpler, such as encouraging individuals to take the ARE quickly. Why not “develop incentives for finishing multiple exams at one sitting or for completing the ARE and the IDP within five years of graduation?” Kinnard asks, such as making exam fees cheaper. Some research suggests that fast-tracking the process would indeed help. According to the 2009–2010 AIA/NCARB Internship and Career Survey, as age increases, the “likelihood to establish an NCARB Record decreases.” Seventy percent of 18- to 24-year-olds surveyed said that they intend to establish a record, a percentage that decreased to 55 percent among 25- to 34-year-olds and 47 percent among 35- to 44-year-olds.

Then there is the question of faculty. Various professionals and academics have debated whether the NAAB should require institutions to have a larger percentage of licensed faculty. Proponents argue that such a stipulation would help introduce a practice ethos into the academy and help encourage more students to pursue licensure.

The accreditation topic came up at a recent NCARB board meeting. “I got myself into a bit of trouble when I said that if they really thought that all faculty members should be or could become licensed that they were living in a fantasy world,” Kinnard says. The challenge, she says, is that as faculty members pursue tenure, they become completely immersed in teaching, research, scholarship, and the all-important peer-review publishing. The time they spend studying for and taking the ARE, designing and building structures, and publishing in architecture journals and magazines does not influence administration officials making tenure decisions.

The Philosophical Debate

Ultimately, even if everyone agrees that the threat of a lost generation is real, there’s a significant philosophical question underlying the debate. Does licensure matter? For starters, there’s a pragmatic reason for licensure, according to Michael Armstrong, NCARB’s CEO: safeguarding the public by ensuring that individuals are prepared for the rigors of independent practice.

But there’s also concern about the health of the profession. Architecture has morphed dramatically in the last few decades, with the rise of interdisciplinary collaboration and innovations in technology, research, and materials. A growing number of people have recognized the power of design thinking and application. At the same time, other disciplines—engineering, construction management, real estate development—have increasingly assumed the risks for the built environment as architects have taken a back seat.

If licensure isn’t overhauled to make it less convoluted, Friedman argues, the decreasing numbers of licensed architects capable of owning risk and practicing—on all levels—would further weaken the profession’s impact. “The last defense against the trivialization of the constructed world is this profession,” Friedman says. If fewer people value the one credential necessary to practice, “we diminish the value of the profession [and] we inadvertently diminish the intelligibility of our value with the public. We have to be relentless in strengthening that understanding so that we can continue to have influence in the development and growth of cities.”

Still, for a generation of talented designers, such as Scharmen in Baltimore, capable of establishing varied and vibrant practices and wanting officially to join the profession’s ranks, the road to licensure remains daunting. “Pursuing licensure is time consuming, it’s expensive, and it’s a commitment to a certain way of practicing architecture,” Scharmen says. Does licensure matter? “If you had asked me 10 years ago, I would have said that I wouldn’t have considered anyone who wasn’t licensed to be a ‘real architect.’ And now I would have a different opinion,” he says. “I don’t think licensure is as important as it once was.”