November 18, 1999
Call it lagniappe. Students entering the School of Architecture's traditional five-year program this year will exit with a little something extra: a graduate degree. In a move aimed at keeping current with trends and philosophies in the academic and professional fields of architecture, the school is implementing a change in the status and expression of its terminal degree.
The five-year "undergraduate" program, which once yielded a bachelor of architecture (BArch), will, beginning with the class of 2004, confer a master of architecture (MArch).
"It is a decision the faculty undertook in the larger context of the national debate on degree structure and nomenclature in architectural education," says Don Gatzke, dean of architecture. That debate, says Gatzke, has focused on crafting national standards for architectural degrees.
Currently, architecture schools across the country offer a variety of both nonprofessional and professional degrees. By changing the degree awarded to graduates of its five-year program to a master of architecture, the school is positioning itself in the forefront of this debate, says Gatzke.
"We are the first major private school to make this change," he says. "We can be leaders in this issue."
According to Bruce Goodwin, associate professor of architecture and chair of the schools curriculum committee, a nationwide standardization of academic degrees is needed. Currently, architectural programs come in a variety of configurations.
Many older schools like Tulane traditionally offer five-year programs leading to the conferral of a bachelor of architecture, while newer programs confer a master of architecture. There are hybrids of these two approaches, as well as postgraduate degrees and four-plus-2 programs that confer bachelor and master of architecture degrees in six years.
Further complicating the issue is that some schools issue non-professional degrees such as a bachelor of arts in architecture. Holders of non-professional degrees are not eligible to become licensed architects, while holders of professional degrees such as the BArch and MArch are eligible to sit before the licensing exam.
"There is a lot of confusion in the public about the status of the bachelor of architecture because it sounds like an undergraduate degree and therefore not a professional degree," says Goodwin.
Scott Wall, associate professor of architecture and graduate and undergraduate admission coordinator, believes that upgrading to an MArch will help clarify the quality of the five-year program.
"The degree change recognizes our belief that architects have a significant contribution to make to society and we want to transmit that through the degree," he says. Gatzke says there is no question that the curriculum is worthy of the status and prestige of a graduate degree.
"Look at our educational expectations, the rigor of the program, the professional overlay that makes a student responsible not just to himself or herself but to the welfare of the public, and that we require an independent project, which we call a thesis. This moves us closer to parity with other disciplines and fields that offer professional, graduate degrees."
It doesn't hurt admissions, either. According to Wall, the school enrolled 97 students into its five-year program this fall, as opposed to 65 last year. In the past, it would have taken another year of coursework and an additional thesis for students graduating with a BArch to obtain an MArch.
In fact, students graduating through the year 2003 are still required to attend the additional year of "graduate school" in order to earn an MArch. Gatkze is well aware that this has been a concern for many students not benefiting from the upgrade.
"We are explaining the logic for the faculty decision," he says. "We are stressing that there is a degree nomenclature change, but their BArch degree is still recognized as a professional degree." Beyond that, he says, the faculty continues to "look carefully and with all deliberateness at what is a fair and reasonable policy to establish for our alumni and current students."
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