Education Needs Your Commitment

November 15, 2003 · by James P. Cramer

Many [architecture] programs have had serious budget cutbacks and some programs and professors have been eliminated. The bottom line: all the design professions face an uncertain future if our schools do not get stronger standards soon.

Colleges and universities that teach architecture and design have been steadily undermined by budget cutbacks, especially in state funded programs. Tuition increases are advancing rapidly and this year some schools reported double-digit increases. In architecture, there are 125 schools offering professional degree programs in the United States and Canada. Many of these programs have had serious budget cutbacks and some programs and professors have been eliminated. The bottom line: all the design professions face an uncertain future if our schools do not get stronger standards soon.

Here’s part of the context we face: a typical 15-year-old in the United States is highly computer-literate but the U.S. is only ranked between 10th and 20th out of 32 countries for literacy, math and sciences according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. U.S. students now rank considerably below South Korea, Japan, and Finland. The trends point to even more trouble.

The profession of architecture too is facing many steep challenges in the years ahead. Yet clearly, the importance of education for the profession’s advancement cannot be in doubt. A conundrum we face when we visit design schools is that the deans and presidents are quick to point out that the design professions do not support higher education to the levels that other disciplines do. This, we believe, is a core weakness facing the future of the design professions.

Money is just part of the solution to improve the quality of education. Certainly the way we teach must also be improved. The Design Futures Council’s think tank on higher education believes there needs to be much more robust connectivity between higher education and professional firms.

As for money, in the U.S. we project that architects will likely bill out over $24 billion dollars in 2004. These professional fees will generate net earnings of over $2.4 billion dollars before taxes and discretionary bonuses. Just 1 percent of profits in professional practices earmarked to improve higher education would generate millions of tax-exempt “gifts” to programs in need. Add in in-kind lecture time, serving on boards, and quality mentoring—the hope factor increases substantially.

So practitioners should not neglect making a financial commitment. Here is an example: a 125-person practice in Ohio will likely generate professional fees of $13,750,000 dollars at year end. In a typical year their profits will be $1,512,500. They use a factor of 1.25 percent of pre-tax, pre bonus income to contribute $18,900 in cash. Then factor in time contribution of 160 hours in studio and advisory boards at a billable rate of $150 per hour and the contribution amounts to $24,000. The combined target contribution then is $42,900 at base, not including estate planning. If all firms responded with their own plan we could make architecture one of the most respected of all programs in higher education. And we could become more optimistic about the future of the design professions.

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