Design School Survey Results Reveals Surprises

November 1, 2001 · by DesignIntelligence

Since its introduction, the rankings have generated much attention and debate from students, design firms and the schools themselves. Prospective students have sought out the ranking as a useful tool in helping to formulate their educational goals.

For the last three years, the Top Design Colleges and Universities series of studies, conducted by Counsel House Research for the Almanac of Architecture and Design, has been one of the most talked about surveys among the body of research for that year. It has been a source of pride, and ultimately found its way into recruiting literature for those institutions that fared favorably. For those that did not, it was a source of contention and,in some cases, resulted in plaintive requests to reconsider the school’s ranking on the list or to “give us another chance.” What was missing from this picture is the understanding that the results were not developed by CHR staff, based on their own personal opinions and biases but on detailed survey responses received from private sector practitioners.

Beginning in July, a survey was sent to nearly 3,000 design professionals in firms across the country. The purpose of the survey was clearly stipulated in the accompanying cover letter: “Through the real world experience of top design firms from around the country, we will be able to track the shifting trends in design education...you have been sent this questionnaire and are being asked to name the schools you feel have best prepared students for the entry into and success in the profession.”

Since its introduction, the rankings have generated much attention and debate from students, design firms and the schools themselves. Prospective students have sought out the ranking as a useful tool in helping to formulate their educational goals.

That having been said, the DesignIntelligence editorial staff are pleased to present this year’s survey results. Let the chips fall where they may.

School Critique

Top 15 Schools and Colleges of Architecture

This year, principals of over 800 leading U.S. architecture firms responded to the question “In your firm’s hiring experience within the past five years, which schools do you feel have best prepared students for the architecture profession?”

Respondents chose from NAAB (National Architectural Accrediting Board) accredited programs.

Firms in each market sector— including commercial, health care, education, hospitality, residential, institutional, laboratory, sports facilities, and office buildings—and throughout all regions of the country were contacted. The following list is for architectural schools, with the schools ranked in the order of the most highly acclaimed (with last year’s ranking given in parenthesis).

1. Cornell University (1)

2. Harvard University (2)

3. University of Cincinnati (6)

4. Syracuse University

5. Georgia Institute of Technology

6. University of Michigan (5)

7. Iowa State University

8. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

9. University of Virginia (14)

10. Texas A&M University (15)

11. Yale University (3)

12. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (8)

13. Columbia University (7)

14. University of Notre Dame

15. University of Pennsylvania (11)

From this list, we would like to focus on two specific programs.

Cornell: Coming in at number one for the third consecutive year, this school in upstate New York must be doing something right. With a five-year, B.Arch program the school has approximately 300 full time students, accepting only one out of five applicants, with nearly 70% of their candidates coming from out of state.

If one could identify a singular philosophy for the architecture program at Cornell, it would be that architecture is a conceptual, problem-solving discipline. The goal of the program is to produce conceptual thinkers. The intention has always been to instruct architecture students in issues of basic as well as more sophisticated formal principles, developing an
Aptitude for functional and programmatic accommodation, structural and technological integration, energy-conscious design, and materials and methods of construction. The program’s structure incorporates considerable flexibility for students to pursue his or her particular interests in the fourth and fifth years.

The College offers three special programs: the Rome Program, which offers students a semester in Rome at its academic facilities in the Palazzo Massimo; its Summer Term in Design which offers an intensive, design-focused studio in such places as Japan, Chile, Northern Europe and the Aegean area, and it’s Overlap Program which combines the fifth year of the undergraduate program with the first year of its Master of Architecture program.

Cincinnati: Increasing from sixth to third this year, the character of architectural education at the University of Cincinnati arises from four special conditions. The first is its distinctive cooperative education curriculum.

The school’s Professional Practice Division currently oversees the participation of 1,100 students and 1,300 co-op employees. Two-thirds of the architecture students are in school in a typical quarter, while their classmates hold salaried positions in professional offices in two dozen states and foreign countries. Professional practice faculty coordinate interviews and job placement and providing ongoing career counseling for students. More than three-quarters of the employers are architecture and interior or urban design firms, but co-op students also work in other design-related offices, construction and development organizations, public agencies, and commercial companies. State licensing boards grant substantial credit for Cincinnati’s co-op experiences toward the three years of internship needed to take the architecture registration examination.

The second condition is its close relationship with a highly-rated interior design program in a college with a rich mixture of other design and art disciplines. Third, it is part pf a comprehensive university made up of 34,000 students in 17 colleges. Fourth, the university is located in the center of a geographically and culturally appealing city.

A primary strength of Cincinnati’s architecture program is the academic quality of its students. Incoming undergraduate students rank highest in the university in college test scores and high school records. To sustain a total of 425 students, 65 high school graduates and 10 transfer students are admitted to the fir year class each autumn; 20 more transfer students enter the upper levels. Most of the school’s students qualify for the University’s honors program.

A six year program, 83% of the student body comes from the state of Ohio, dispersing after graduation to firms in all parts of the country.

Architecture

Recruiting Activity

76% of responding firms reported that they actively recruit on school campuses

Single most successful recruiting activity for young architects utilized within the past two years:

34% On-campus recruiting
14% Relationships with college departments
13% Internships, co-ops
13% Newspaper & internet advertisement, including company Web site
11% Employee referrals
6% Firm open house
5% Staff teaching at universities
2% Salary and benefits
2% Outside recruiter/headhunter
2% Published work

2001 Salary Information

Average starting salary for 2001 graduate hires:

16% $25-29,999
49% $30-34,999
27% $35-39,999
8% $40-44,999

Skills Assessment

Within the past three years, firms have noted a number of skill deficiencies in their new graduate hires (respondents were asked to name up to three):

90% Building/structural knowledge
78% Oral and written communication skills
28% Practical business and practice knowledge
19% Work ethic, self motivation
16% Computer skills, including CAD
14% Sketching skills
7% Detailing knowledge
6% Design theory, knowledge and history
5% Teamwork skills & discipline
5% Analytical thinking/problem solving
3% Project management
2% Knowledge of interiors
2% Research skills
2% Design skills
2% Relationship between design and technology

Interior Design

Each year DesignIntelligence and the Design Futures Council conducts a study in conjunction with the Almanac of Architecture & Design to determine the best colleges and universities for interior design in the United States. Principals of over 300 leading U.S. interior design and A/ID firms were asked the question “From which schools have you had the best experience hiring employees?” —relative to their experience during the past ten years. Respondents chose from FIDER (Foundation for Interior Design Education Research) accredited programs.

This research is the only ‘customer-satisfaction’ oriented study of leading firms, including industry giants, top sector leaders, and award winning firms. Firms in each market sector and throughout all regions of the country were contacted. The results of the third annual study are presented below, with the schools ranked in the order of the most highly acclaimed (with last year’s ranking given in parenthesis).

1. University of Cincinnati (1)
2. Kansas State University* (3)
3. Pratt Institute (2)
4. Cornell University (4)
5. Auburn University (6)
6. Syracuse University* (5)
7. Arizona State University (6)
8. Rhode Island School of Design
9. University of Oregon (9)
10. Iowa State University
11. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (13)
12. Drexel University (9)
13. University of Florida (11)
14. Harrington Institute of Design
University of Nebraska
University of Wisconsin-Madison

** This survey combined Kansas State University’s Interior Architecture and Interior Design programs and Syracuse University’s Environmental Design/Interior and Interior Design programs.*

Interior Design Recruiting Activity

57% of responding firms reported that they actively recruit on school campuses

Single most successful recruiting activity for young architects utilized within the past two years:

28% Internet job postings,including firm Web site

25% Hiring interns

15% Active participation in university programs

14% Campus job fairs

6% Employee referrals

3% Head hunters/recruiting agencies

3% Networking with fellow design firms

3% Networking with representatives of manufacturers

3% Mission/culture statement

3% ASID Conference

2001 Salary Information

Average starting salary for 2001 graduate hires:

8% $20,000-24,999
32% $25,000-29,999
44% $30,000-34,999
16% $35,000-39,999

Skills Assessment

Within the past three years, firms have noted a number of skill deficiencies in their new graduate hires (respondents were asked to name up to three):

51% Technical knowledge

32% Oral and written communication skills

24% Conceptual design philosophy and theory

22% Computer skills, including CAD

16% Practical business and practice knowledge

16% Sketching skills, illustration techniques

14% Understanding the design process

5% Real world project application skills, practical experience

3% Holistic design

3% Lighting design

3% Product knowledge

3% Knowledge of commercial design

3% Time management

3% Level of taste

3% Professional expectations

Landscape Architecture

The following information was complied by the American Society of Landscape Architects from a survey of the 2000 landscape architecture graduates.

2000 Salary & Benefit Information

Average starting salary - undergraduates: $31,100
Average starting salary - graduates: $39,400

Respondents (undergraduate and graduate) reported the following benefits:

79% Major medical
63% 410k retirement plan
38% Life insurance
37% Profit sharing
24% Professional dues
15% Car allowance
20% Other

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