The accreditation of professional programs in the United States began after earlier efforts to accredit post-secondary educational institutions. Standards and procedures were developed in consultation with professional schools, academic institutions, professional societies, state registration boards, members of the profession, representatives of related professions, students, and the public.
Accreditation in architecture began in Illinois, where legislation regulating the practice of architecture was first passed in 1897 based on the state’s recently enacted regulation of medicine and law. Dankmar Adler, a principal in the eminent Chicago architecture firm of Adler and Sullivan, and Nathan Ricker, head of the architecture program at the University of Illinois, are credited with moving the law through the Illinois State Legislature. The Illinois Board of Examiners and Regulators of Architects gave its first exam in 1898 and, by 1902, had established a rule restricting the exam to graduates of the state’s approved four-year architecture curriculum. In 1903, the board expanded this policy to include graduates from Cornell, Columbia, and Harvard Universities, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of Pennsylvania, an action that brought to light the need for a system of equivalency among programs nationally.
The first attempt to establish national standards in architecture education came with the founding of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) in 1912 and its adoption two years later of “standard minima,” which schools had to meet to be granted membership. For eighteen years, while the standard minima were in place, membership in the ACSA was the tacit equivalent to accreditation, a practice common among other professions at that time and still in use today.
However in 1932, the ACSA abandoned the use of standard minima, causing an eight-year hiatus in the profession’s national system of education—a hiatus brought to an end when the ACSA, American Institute of Architects (AIA), and National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) established the NAAB and gave it the authority to accredit schools of architecture nationally. The NAAB’s founding agreement of 1940 announced its intention to create an integrated system of architecture education that would allow schools with varying resources and circumstances to develop according to their particular needs.
Over time, as architecture education and practice became more complex, the NAAB continued—and still continues—to revise its accrediting process in response to the advice of its various constituencies. At first, ad hoc committees were formed to address specific concerns identified by one of the organizations within architecture, allied professional organizations, or regional and federal agencies. Today, the process of review and revision has become a formalized process of validation.
The NAAB initially accredited schools of architecture; today it accredits the professional degree programs within schools, although other programs are reviewed on an advisory basis when they are identified by a school as being relevant to its professional program. In addition, accrediting standards have evolved to include general studies in combination with professional and elective studies, outcome-based performance criteria for evaluating student work, and procedures for guiding the accreditation process.