Architecture education has come a long way since the Massachusetts Institute of Technology launched the first program in the United States in 1865. Prospective students today have hard decisions to make, and their potential investment of time and money could hardly be greater. In this special section, record presents the latest installment of its annual feature “America's Top Architecture Schools,” ranking the top 10 programs, both undergraduate and graduate, along with an assessment of which colleges and universities are best at providing key skills. We also look at the architecture of half a dozen architecture schools—and how they function as places to learn and stay up all night sweating over that charrette. Finally, we examine why architecture remains one of the least ethnically diverse professions. This and other concerns need to be addressed more forcefully. Even so, architecture schools are still attracting great talent and devoted future practitioners.

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The Art of Ranking Architecture Education

Rankings rankle. Whether the rankings are for colleges and universities, law schools, or, in this case, architecture programs, they can irritate almost anybody involved in academia. Unless you are number one, of course. The Greenway Group, management consultant to the architecture, engineering, and construction industry, undertook the architecture-school rankings in 1998 as part of its strategic mission with the report DesignIntelligence, and for a very good cause. Much time and money are spent by students on architecture education, and rankings indicate to these 'consumers' how well prepared they appear to be from the point of view of those hiring them.

For 2013 we collected surveys from 282 American architectural and architectural/engineering offices employing a total of 42,778 professionals. We asked leading practitioners which schools best prepared architects for professional practice. This is an increasingly difficult question in a changing architectural world. In many ways, the current economic climate resembles last year's. It is sluggish.

Yet we see positive signs: According to the Department of Labor's September 2012 figures, the unemployment rate is only 5.1 percent for the fields of architecture and building engineering. The National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) reports that as of 2011, student enrollment in the 51 B.Arch. programs was 16,077, and in the 99 M.Arch. programs, 11,031'both down only 1.1 percent from the previous academic year.

Nevertheless, students and their parents may be concerned about their investment. More than ever, being a successful architect requires skills beyond design: business acumen, management know-how, digital savvy, and a facility in communication, to name a few. For that reason we asked practitioners to respond to questions about how well prepared graduate architects are in these areas, as well as their familiarity with such matters as building, equipment, and facility life cycles, not to mention sustainability.

All architecture education could stand improvement. Please see additional thoughts.