New NCARB report details the sharp decline of architectural licensing during the pandemic

Rough Patch

New NCARB report details the sharp decline of architectural licensing during the pandemic

(Sven Mieke/Via Unsplash)

It’s not in the least bit shocking that architectural licensing plummeted throughout 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic upended all corners of life, personal and professional, in the United States and beyond. But exactly how steep was that decline?

Quite steep, according to the data in a special new report on the impact of the pandemic on licensure and mobility released this week by the Washington, D.C.-based National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB).

Examining the period from January through December 2020, NCARB found that a variety of pandemic-prompted factors—chief among them test center closures throughout the spring and some of the summer, the transition to remote work, and an overall unsteadiness within the profession including a wavering demand for architectural services—were responsible for the nosedive, one that saw the number of newly licensed architects (just over 2,900 in 2020) drop 40 percent from the previous three-year average of 4,800.

As noted in the NCARB report, delivery of the Architect Registration Examination (ARE) fell 44 percent from March through June 2020 due largely to test center closures, while just north 5,800 candidates began their licensure process by creating an NCARB Record in 2020—a 33 percent drop from the previous three-year average of 8,800.

Also experiencing a significant decline was the number of candidates who submitted Architectural Experience Program (AXP) reports in 2020. The total number, 25,000, is 20 percent less than the previous three-year average, which, as NCARB noted in its report, can be attributed to unemployment and project delays.

One area that did not experience a considerable downswing was applications for reciprocal (out-of-state) architectural licenses; applications only fell roughly three percent when compared to figures from previous years.

As noted by NCARB, the rebound thus far from these dire 2020 figures has been a remarkably strong one, with a mid-2021 review showing that the key licensure metrics—NCARB Record applications, monthly exam deliveries, newly licensed architects, and applications for reciprocal licenses—have resumed to normal, pre-pandemic levels and, in some cases, have improved. Further details on this climb back to regularity will be made available in the forthcoming 2021 edition of NCARB by the Numbers.

“2020 was a challenging year for every industry, and architecture was no exception,” said NCARB CEO Michael Armstrong in a statement. “As we begin to turn the corner on the pandemic, we are seeing an upward trend that reflects a renewed national focus on infrastructure that protects the public’s health and wellbeing. This focus highlights the important role architects play. NCARB is excited to help support the pool of licensed talent, and foster this new period of growth for the field.”

The special report, which includes month-by-month breakdowns of the data, can be viewed in full here. Established in 1919, NCARB operates as a nonprofit corporation and comprises the architectural registration boards of all 50 states along with the District of Columbia and four U.S. territories.