Wednesday, April 22, 2009

IDP, NCARB, and (mostly) necessary evils, Part 2 of 2

To recap, IDP was created by NCARB to give folks a uniform standard for acquiring and recording/accounting for architectural training experience, which once complete qualifies you to take the Architectural Registration Exams (ARE).  Many states require participating in IDP to get licensed, though not all do.  Joining IDP and NCARB makes it easier to transfer your internship record and/or your license from one state to the next.  As you might expect, joining NCARB costs money, $285 to be exact.  Yes, that's a lot of cash, but if it's any consolation, it hasn't gone up since I got out of graduate school in 2000.

The initial $285 opens your IDP/NCARB record and pays for them to maintain your record for three years.  After that, it costs $60 a year to keep the record open and maintained.  (That has gone up; it was $50 a year when I graduated in 2000.)  Technically, it takes three years of full-time work to gain all the hours prescribed in IDP, but the reality is that it usually takes four or five years for many interns.  Some firms won't properly mentor their interns for whatever reason.  Sometimes an office designs a lot of projects but none of them get built, thereby inadvertently denying the interns on those projects the chance to gain their construction administration hours.  The current economic climate means that a lot of interns are out of work, so gaining any hours towards their IDP is impossible for a while.  I needed a shade over four years to get my hours and probably another nine months to procrastinate submitting my final record to NCARB to start taking the exam, so I paid an extra $120.  However, NCARB allows you to open your record with them for only $100 if you're in school up until about six or so months after graduating.  They're going to ask for the final $185 when you submit your record for the ARE, so have it ready.  After you pass the ARE, you can still pay NCARB a certain amount each year to keep your record active so you can have them transfer it as required for reciprocity purposes.

I have spoken with many architects and interns over the past few years regarding NCARB, and it appears that a lot of people have had less-than-delightful experiences with them.  In NCARB's most recent issue of their publication Direct Connection (2009 Vol 12 Issue 1), they have a four-page article about how they are making improvements to their customer service.  They write: "In 2008, backlogs and response times became a major priority.  While we are not yet where we plan to be, significant improvements have been realized by reorganizing the Records directorate.  Several new staff members were added, and all Records staff were cross-trained to consolidate functions, which eliminated the need for handoffs and rework."

I wonder if the article was published in response to some recent hiccups in customer service and record processing.  In late 2008 and early 2009, my interns are waiting upwards of four months to have someone a) confirm that their record has been transmitted to their state and they are cleared to start the ARE and b) that they have no outstanding bills they have to pay.  I imagine that there may be some uptick in interns applying to take the ARE while they have been laid off and have the time to study, but four months is still pretty extreme.  When my interns call NCARB and finally get through to a live person after spending half their lunch break on hold, they cannot get clear answers as to what is going on with their records and why nothing has happened and what's this extra fee for and so on.

Even worse is a new little situation that one of my interns discovered recently regarding opening your NCARB record and then immediately filing to take the ARE.  Some interns do this because they didn't know the bit about the early-application-for-$100 thing, and they can't afford the $285 once they realize they need to join NCARB.  After three or four years and a couple of raises in the profession, they plan for and save up the $285 and open their NCARB accounts.  They then fill out all the paperwork and have all their old employers fill out and sign the appropriate forms and send them in, finally submitting their records for approval to take the ARE.  Interns used to be able to do all this in a couple of months, and they still can.  However, now it costs an extra $570.  That's not a misprint.  An intern in my office discovered that if an intern submits their record to start testing within twelve months of opening their NCARB account, they must pay an extra $570 on top of the $285.  It's called a "Late Application Fee."  When my intern told me about this, he showed me the Schedule of Fees on NCARB's website.  I was so blown away that I called them myself, sat on hold for about 15 minutes, and finally left a message.  When a customer service rep called me back the next day, I confirmed this fee with him; yes, $570 "Late Application Fee" on top of the $285.  However, I could not get a straight, clear answer out of this gentleman regarding why the fee and why so much.  What exactly was the $570 doing for NCARB?  Is it because a "late" application requires more manpower to be processed?  Is it a different kind of record?  Does it have electrolytes?  He could not tell me much of anything except that "it's the fee you pay for submitting your record late."  I have since emailed someone higher up at NCARB (who was very polite, I might add) for some insight on what the $570 is for--stay tuned for details.

If you want to make it easy on yourself to move and/or get licensed in other states, NCARB is the only game in town for having national acceptance of your licensing process.  And if you want to do IDP in order to maintain that portability as an intern, NCARB is again the only place to register for it.  Note that many architects let their membership in NCARB lapse after they become licensed.  This is totally okay as long as they never have a need for that reciprocity again.  However, if they need to reactivate their NCARB record, that architect in question will have to pay back fees for every year that the license was lapsed.  I have to admit that this makes zero sense to me.  I could see some kind of fee, but not $285+$570 for the record that generally costs $285+$60+$60, and not six years of back fees for a licensed architect (which I don't even want to think about right now).  Bottom line: being a member of IDP and NCARB may be necessary depending on your career path and goals as well as the state in which you start your career.  

Note: When I say (mostly) necessary evils, I mean that they're mostly necessary, not mostly evil.  I know dealing with NCARB can be frustrating as sin, but the point of this blog is not to blame, slam, and talk smack.  I'd rather be helpful than snarky.  And believe me, those who know me know what a snarkoleptic I am; however, sarcasm and bashing doesn't really help anyone and doesn't solve anything.


  1. Why hasn't anyone challenged these policies?

  2. Well, it's 2010 and as a licensed architect, my current renewal fee is $225 ANNUALLY (not $60)! It sure seems like a lot of money to just take up space in a file drawer (or a hard drive) somewhere. By contrast, my state license renewal is less than half of that for two years!

    It breeds resentment when the fee has no correlation to the service provided. It feels like a tax rather than a service. I think NCARB should consider their professional goals rather than their profitability.

  3. Matt: you're not the Lone Ranger on this one. When I finally got my record updated as "licensed", I recall someone telling me that the renewal was $190, but that the first year fee was waived. When I get a moment here after a couple of small deadlines, your observation is part of my list of questions to ask my NCARB contacts....