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American Society of Landscape Architects


November 2006 Issue

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 glamorous.

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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