The 0.1 Percent Dilemma
How can academics grow the profession when 99.9 percent of high school students don’t apply to landscape architecture programs?
By Brian Orland, FASLA
For me, a professor at Penn State University, a crisis in
student recruitment to landscape architecture programs took on real shape one
afternoon when an idle thought led to a back-of-the-envelope calculation. That
calculation led to the horrifying realization that only one in 1,000 high
school students in Pennsylvania was applying to our highly ranked program—one
student out of every 40 classrooms!
The late Jot Carpenter first alerted us to the growing gap
between the number of students entering the profession and the numbers needed
to sustain the powerful growth in practice. The reports that Jot (see
Resources) and more recently ASLA have developed showed that the numbers
entering the profession through our array of accredited programs have only
grown slowly for the past 20 years—from 1,113 degrees awarded in 1987 to 1,439
in 2004. The Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates a continuing vigorous
growth in job availability in the profession at the same time as the relatively
abundant numbers of baby boomers start to retire. How are we going to address
that need? And how can we simultaneously increase the academic and intellectual
readiness of our students for the marketplace?
It often seems that discussions of this gap in numbers imply
that the schools are not trying hard enough. That is not the case. There is no
sign that our programs are unappealing. When students learn about landscape
architecture, they are excited. Talking to prospective students and their
parents, it doesn’t seem to matter that it is hard to show or explain what they
will do on graduation or that five years of college are expensive (at Penn
State, $102,000 in state, $154,000 out of state). Salaries after graduation are
good, and many of the fringe benefits of practice are quite exciting and
After my initial calculation I contacted my counterparts at
10 other large undergraduate landscape architecture programs—leading schools
from the Midwest, Northeast, and Mid-Atlantic. These programs and others
elsewhere are a significant part of the “engine” supplying new landscape
architects entering the profession. Most of these programs are at full
capacity. We are not as ethnically diverse as we would like, but in general our
numbers of minorities exceed those for the profession at large. We advise and
counsel intensively, and much of our instruction is delivered by professors
rather than graduate assistants, thus achieving retention rates in our programs
far greater than in other disciplines. We embrace the philosophy that we will
strive to enable any student who diligently fulfills his obligations with assignments
and attendance to become an effective landscape architect, contributing further
to our high graduation rates. Graduates seek, and find, jobs regionally and
nationally, often with “name-brand” private practices.
Still, recruiting high-quality prospective students to our
programs, mainly directly from high school, is one of our biggest challenges.
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