Payback Time

Today, MArch graduates routinely rack up six figures in student-loan debt. Yet starting salaries for architects hover around $40,000. What would you say to a prospective student confronting this huge imbalance between the cost of architecture education and the earning power of newly minted professionals?

Eric Owen Moss
Southern California Institute of Architecture
Yearly Tuition: $33,976

Southern California Institute of Architecture’s (SCI-Arc) fiscal paradigm mandates low tuition in order to facilitate the broadest student access, and we provide financial assistance to an increasing number of applicants.

But SCI-Arc rejects the premise that the measure of the value of an architectural education comes from relating what that education costs in dollars, to the salary an architect can demand. We will never judge the critical and intellectual qualities we inculcate based on the remunerative capacity of those skills. The marketplace of ideas will always attach a long-term value to each student that is quite distinct from how it compensates architectural skills at any particular moment. Students will decide whether or not to equate that qualitative educational premise with quantitative money-making. If enrollment remains strong, then students are confirming SCI-Arc’s educational proposition. If enrollment dissipates, SCI-Arc will reimagine itself or disappear.

Sarah M. Whiting
Dean of Architecture,
Rice School
of Architecture
Yearly Tuition: $27,480

Students face a big squeeze at the moment. Congress is threatening to double the interest rates on student loans. Shortsighted financial mechanisms apply pressure from outside the field, while equally shortsighted behavior compresses architecture from within. Annual spending in the U.S. construction industry reached $820 billion last April. If just 0.04 percent of that was invested in students, graduate education could be debt-free, much as it is in other disciplines.

Every citizen needs to resist Congress’s squeeze on student aid. Within the industry, action is both possible and urgent. “Aggressive innovators,” companies that spend an average of 11.2 percent on research and development, lie within certain sectors: technology, pharmaceuticals. Why isn’t architecture among them? A little collective thinking by the construction industry and educational institutions would create a powerful pool of architectural research. Anything less puts all architecture, not just its students, in debt. Keeping the pressure on, and on all fronts, might bring about changes soon enough that those seeking admission today could benefit by the time they graduate.

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