EVOLVING THE NDSA A NATIONAL DIALOGUE
by Stephen Parker, Assoc. AIA and Korey White, AIA
s we approach graduation season, few issues touch on the anxiety of graduates more than student debt. The plethora of articles on the subject - from the siren call of the next financial crisis, to its effect on economic growth - highlight the impact on future generations saddled with over $1 trillion in collective student debt. While the causes of this issue are well-established and the product of an unsustainable education system, few solutions have come to the fore. For aspiring architects, the National Design Services Act represents a unique opportunity. NDSA Coalition That’s where the NDSA Coalition can make a difference. The Coalition is comprised of stakeholders from various groups and committees dedicated to advocating on behalf of the profession. Because this bill specifically targets student loans and recent graduates, the Coalition is comprised of Emerging Professionals from the AIAS, National Associate Committee, Young Architects Forum, the Center for Civic Leadership, the Government Affairs Committee, among others. The NDSA Coalition was built on the principles of grassroots organization and will serve as a pilot for future advocacy issues. But first, here’s a snapshot of the NDSA so far.
Qualifying Degrees In the profession of architecture, there are multiple education models, most are NAAB-accredited while others are not, anddifferent paths to licensure, with each state's board represented on the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards or NCARB. That said, the current language of the bill that requires applicants to have, (Sec 5322(h)(2)(A)) “completed an accredited masters program in architecture” is a shortcoming we hope to correct in the next iteration. The NDSA Coalition will continue to advocate for pegging eligibility to state requirements for licensure, a crucial feature that’s important to making this bill work for as many aspiring architects as possible.
What is the NDSA?
Community Design Centers
The NDSA is a proposed bill before the House, identified as H.R. 2938, which is in essence a student loan repayment bill. It draws on features of similar programs for doctors, lawyers and veterinarians. In its current iteration, applicants (Sec 5322(B)(1)(a)) “agree to provide eligible design services on behalf of a Community Design Center...”. This would allow recent graduates to volunteer (full or part-time) to pay off their student debt through community service work while pursuing a career and licensure, if they choose. For aspiring architects working at nonprofits as a full-time career, there are other debt relief programs that alleviate student loans yet few such nonprofits provide qualifying experience towards licensure. Hence the need for the NDSA. The NDSA provides a unique opportunity to maintain a career in a traditional firm setting while helping to pay off student debt through service; service that counts towards licensure. As part of a growing generational trend, the volunteerism of young architects can only elevate the profession. Just imagine thousands of emerging professionals, the brightest and most aspirational members of our profession, engaging their communities across the country through design and service leadership.
As currently written in the bill, “Community Design Centers” (Sec 5322(h)(1)) or CDCs are “non-profit organizations operated and managed by a licensed architect that conducts research and provides eligible design services for community development projects.” As this definition expands in the next iteration of the bill to reflect NCARB work experience settings, graduates will have greater opportunities to serve while working towards licensure. This could include part-time volunteer work with any non-profits where architects, engineers and landscape architects provide their design services to underserved communities. The idea is to cast a wide net and include as many opportunities as reasonably possible for aspiring architects to impact their communities in meaningful ways.
The Legislative Process Let us begin by stating that this bill, as with any first concept, is not perfect, nor will it cover or please everyone in its current form. Bills in Congress, once proposed, go through committees and subcommittees, their language refined along the way. Much like any architectural project, the journey from concept to construction can be long, complex and at times, frustrating. Once the bill becomes law, funding levels are determined through the Congressional appropriations process. The Department of Housing and Urban development will administer the program, determine the application process, repayment terms, and specific work requirements. The best scenario the NDSA hopes to achieve is to provide a recent
graduate, who works full-time at a firm while volunteering parttime at a nonprofit, the ability to pay off their student debt bill each month through their service. Moving the bill forward will require a coordinated effort to engage members of Congress, bring media attention to the NDSA and its benefits, and most of all, vocal support from AIA members. This is a role the NDSA Coalition hopes to fill: organizing grassroots efforts and advocating to the larger public. The NDSA may treat the symptoms of student debt, but it’s the best option moving forward for aspiring architects yearning to have a meaningful impact.
THE ARCHITECTURE AND DESIGN JOURNAL OF THE YOUNG ARCHITECTS FORUM
Eligible Student Loans The NDSA defines “Qualifying Educational Loans” (Sec 5322(f) (4)) as “those required for the completion of an accredited masters program in architecture, both federal and private loans.” Once the NDSA’s language is expanded to include NCARB licensing requirements, whichever degree is required for a particular state’s licensing requirements will be covered, including a B.Arch, B.S., or B.A. degree, among others. Moving Forward The goal of the NDSA Coalition is to build support from within local components and with local CDCs. Our hope is by engaging Emerging Professionals in strategic locations around the country, we can gain enough momentum to pass this bill. For those interested in getting further involved, follow our activities on Facebook. This also includes smaller tasks, such as writing letters or visiting locally with Congress members. Every effort helps and is appreciated. The Coalition is looking to grow, in order to better educate and advocate for the NDSA and aspiring architects. ■