How Licensure Raises Design Quality

Category: News and Updates

Date: December 28, 2021

Carisa McMullen, Principal of Landworks Studio, was recently voted President-Elect of CLARB at last year’s Annual Meeting in Phoenix. In this new role, she’ll serve this not-for-profit organization for the next 3 years, championing licensure. Below, you'll find a recent interview with her, discussing the importance of licensure.

1. Why do you think licensure is important for landscape architecture?

Licensure for design professionals, landscape architects included, is important to provide confidence to the general public regarding the protection of their health, safety, welfare, and property. 


2. How does licensure protect the landscape architecture profession?

The goal of licensure isn't to protect our profession, but to protect the public.  Through education, experience, and examination, state licensing boards can ensure design professionals in their states are competent to practice.


3. How does licensure help support a clear career pathway for landscape architects?

Licensure establishes consistency of qualifications making the path to a professional career, like landscape architects, clear.  Additionally, a licensure process makes it possible for landscape architects to move from state to state utilizing reciprocity to maintain their careers regardless of where they might choose to live. 

Professional licensing creates a defined pathway for professionals based on verified expertise. It helps level the playing field by removing subjectivity and setting clear, objective levels of qualification. It makes it possible for professionals to be mobile. Because standards are relativity consistent, through reciprocity, states can trust the underlying quality of the initial license. Weakening or eliminating licensing for highly complex, technical professions would undermine these systems and hinder professional mobility nationwide.


4. What benefits does licensure offer landscape architects?

Alliance for Responsible Professional Licensing (ARPL) commissioned Oxford Economics to produce a first-of-its-kind quantitative research study, Valuing Professional Licensing in the U.S., which explores the impacts of professional licensing in highly complex, technical fields.  Some of the key findings are very enlightening and need to be communicated to educators, students, practicing professionals, and elected officials. 

Currently, many states are considering reducing legislative actions believing it benefits citizens in their state, drives a better economy as it invites more individuals to provide services.  However, evidence does not prove this to be true.  ARPL's research indicates "67% of voters believe that consumers are best protected by a system that regulates education, examination, and experience standards—all of which are overseen by a professional licensing board."

The public instinctively understands this key difference [between occupation and profession], which is why nearly 75% of voters want licensing protected for professions that are entrusted to protect our health, safety, and welfare.  

Additionally, as many state elected officials are looking to eliminate the regulation of some professions believing licensure is a barrier to equity in the practice, research proves this is a false assumption and a dangerous one, as well.  Licensure of technical professions has proven to level the playing field by reducing gender and racial gaps.


5. What steps do individuals need to take to become licensed?

The first and easiest step is to contact CLARB by calling the staff or visiting the website.  By obtaining a CLARB Council Record, transcripts, work references, and experience can all be recorded and saved.  This information can then be shared with the state licensing board when a candidate is ready to apply for licensure in any particular jurisdiction.  In most states, education from an accredited university/program, passing scores from examinations administered by CLARB, and experience are required.  Requirements vary slightly from state to state, however, in order to reduce friction on the path to licensure, some state licensing boards have been charged with reducing any friction in the rules, regulations, and statutes.  CLARB has been researching and facilitating conversations around a universal standard set of qualifications that could be adopted as a uniform standard that state boards might use as a resource.  In most cases, alternative paths are also possible.  Additional experience might serve as a substitute for an unaccredited degree or an absence of a degree.


6. How can companies support employees in their effort to become licensed?

Valuing licensed professionals for their proven competencies and their abilities to perform to their highest potential should not need any additional support.  Yes, the salaries are higher for licensed professionals, but so should their billing rates.


7. How has licensure impacted your career?

 While still in high school, I was in search of a professional career.  As I began to explore options, the fact landscape architecture is a licensed profession, along with the ability to combine artistry and science, is the reason I opted to pursue this path.   From my graduation date, I was on the path to licensure with a goal to have it completed before I started my family.  I almost made it. The sense of completion and pride when I received the final passing scores is indescribable.  I still have the portfolio my parents gifted me with my initials in the leather.  They were equally proud of the accomplishment.  Without licensure, I would not have been able to start my own firm and would not be where I am today.


8. Why did you decide to get involved with CLARB?

CLARB was an opportunity afforded to me through my appointment to the Kansas State Board of Technical Professions.  To be involved with CLARB is an easy decision as this group is goal-oriented and high-performing.  Additionally, the opportunity to understand the practice of landscape architecture from diverse perspectives, work collectively with talented professionals, travel, and meet people from all over the world is something I enjoy. It is a privilege to work with a great group and I will no doubt be a better professional once my time serving the organization is completed.  


9. What are you excited to achieve in your new role with CLARB?

My intention is to continue the work the board has put into motion over the last two years, this includes the adoption of a uniform standard and a strategic roadmap, called CLARB 2.0.   This is an extensive project outlining the future of the organization to the vision of a future. This ensures fulfillment of CLARB's governing intent with built-in resiliency.  Additionally, I intend to continue to offer service and transparency to our board members and to strengthen relationships with our partners in post-secondary education.

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