We’ve all seen the dollar signs next to restaurants listed in a Zagat guide for an unfamiliar city. One sign means the place is cheap, two is not so cheap but not expensive either, three…well, you get the idea. Last week, I stumbled upon an NPR program discussing the latest planned tuition hikes at universities across the country and a thought struck me; with the ever increasing cost of education, can you afford to be an architect? I find 500 words is a bit limiting, so I will scratch the surface with this post, treating the subject more like a “part 1 of ?” miniseries.
Architectural education is a tricky business, (more on this in a later post) but if you want to become a licensed architect, it is all but mandatory that you study through the MARCH level. Assuming that you make it through undergrad in 4.5 years, finaid.org publishes that the average student leaves their undergraduate institution with around $25,000 in loan debt. If you studied architecture as an undergraduate, at least 4 more semesters of study await you. If you studied something other than architecture, you can count on 7 semesters in addition to the prerequisites to get you caught up in the areas you are deficient in. Costhelper.com publishes that public university MARCH degree programs average $6,900 per semester. Doing the math, that adds an additional $27,600 to $48,300 to your loan balance. In total, the average student will owe between $52,600 and $73,300. Keep in mind, this is just for tuition. Add books, computers, rent, food…the list goes on and on. If you happen to study at a private university…$$$$.
If you believe the universities, lack of state assistance is what is causing the cost of tuition to rise at such an astronomical rate. But it’s a double edge sword. As the economies of our nation and individual states continue to struggle, revenues from tax collection no longer allow higher education funding at levels seen in years past. To add insult to injury, as the economy struggles, employers are not as busy as they need to be, and fee percentages continue to be squeezed. So, as we pay higher and higher costs for our required education, salaries for architects have remained relatively unchanged of late.
From my admittedly small sampling, intern architects can expect to earn somewhere around $40,000 per year in the Denver Metro market. Your true earning potential begins with licensure. Unfortunately, for the average architect, this takes years and costs money which may never be reimbursed. Comparatively, starting wages for architects are nowhere near where they were 20 years ago, and the relative cost of the education and available paths to licensure put today’s Emerging Professional in a terrible position.
The AIA stresses that, as a profession, we need to educate the public on the value of the architect. But this is a classic chicken and egg game. Until fee percentages come up and the steady flow of quality work begins to keep the lights on in the offices, wages will remain stagnant. Until states are able to to collect from the tax base, monies for public universities won’t be restored (if ever). Are talented people going to flock to the discipline if they struggle to see the value in it? If we struggle to see the value in our education, how can we expect the public to see the value in our profession? As always, comments appreciated.