BAC Fall 2014 Update

A Letter from Acting President Julia Halevy

Julia Halevy

Julia Halevy, Acting President; Photo by Sam Rosenholtz

Dear Members of the BAC Community,

These are exciting times for the Boston Architectural College in many ways, and we are happy to welcome you to stand with the College as it continues to progress and make its mark on the worlds of higher education and design education. We hope you will stay connected - visit, attend lectures and gallery openings, participate in portfolio reviews, and help us with recruitment and fundraising - and anything else you can offer!

Having become a college so recently - in 2006, in fact - we are in our early years of creating systems that connect to and involve our various constituencies. The BAC is, indeed, a healthy institution, and while enrollments have dropped - as they have in design schools across the country - over the past three years, we have been able to manage prudently and are poised to take advantage of many opportunities - both internal and external. I once came across a poster that defined luck as the occasion when opportunity meets preparedness. The Boston Architectural College is, indeed, lucky: opportunity knocks often, and we are ready for it!

We do hope you'll become further acquainted with the BAC and the educational programs we offer. Beyond the growth in schools and programs that now offer degrees in Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Interior Architecture, and Design Studies - with its many and growing number of majors and concentrations at both the undergraduate and graduate levels - there have been many changes over the past four years, especially. Recently created concentrations include Historic Preservation and Design for Human Health, and we are currently planning a new area in design build. We are now in a position to offer Bachelor of Science degrees (the pre-professional BS in Architecture) and Master of Science degrees, such as our MS in Interior Architecture, a post-professional degree.

Over the past four to five years, we planned and rolled out a completely revised set of curricula for all onsite degree programs - courses of study that are integrated, developmentally sequenced, and lead to shorter times to completion. As a result, while the number of students enrolled has decreased, the number of courses and credits they complete each semester has increased significantly since the rollout in fall of 2013. Those of you who attended the BAC many years ago know that very few students used to complete their degrees at the College. Over the past four years or so, the proportion of students returning from semester to semester has increased significantly and remains around 88% from spring to fall and hit 96% from fall to spring last year. Any school of any sort would be happy with those numbers.

In the past, Practice represented a series of requirements that forced students to complete hours of professional work in firms and to achieve a certain level of proficiency in designated skills. Largely brought on by the necessity of providing practice experience for our students during a time of diminished access to firm positions during the last recession and informed by our experience with the Solar Decathlon competition, Practice has increased its offerings to include a series of professionally-led projects that serve the City and surrounding communities. We are very proud of our Gateway initiative, and we hope you will want to become connected to these opportunities.

Beyond the Gateway projects, Practice now offers two very significant credit-bearing courses - CityLab and Community Practice. CityLab, in intensive format, introduces all entering students to the fundamentals of design through organized and purposeful observation of areas of the City. In Community Practice, a course offered in the second semester after a student's entry into the BAC, students are supported to become firm-practice ready. The future holds an even weightier set of responsibilities for the Practice department as new federal regulations are leading toward opportunities for us to allow students to complete some of their studies through competency-based experiences as opposed to only credit-bearing ones, and these will be supervised by this office, as it is most equipped - because of its experience in assessing skills levels - to fulfill the tasks at hand. Courses that have been based primarily on the acquisition of skills will be able to be successfully completed by students who can demonstrate proficiency even if they haven't taken a specific course, and these opportunities will further permit them to complete their degrees in even less time.

The curricular revisions have also supported the College's mission of providing an accessible education more robustly than in the past. We have been officially recognized as a Title III school - one that serves the educational needs of financially-challenged and underrepresented populations. In fact, each year we attract an increasingly diverse student body, and unlike most other institutions of higher learning, our success rate among students of color is actually equal to and higher than that of white students, thereby reinforcing the fact that we have learned to support our students well.

If you have read recent press, you may be worried about the state of the College's finances. Please allow me to dispel any notion that the College is in financial distress. Beyond extraordinary expenses this year, our budget is a balanced one, and thanks to an extremely skilled Investment Committee of our Board, the BAC enjoys an enviable return on its investments, and our endowment has grown by about one-quarter just in the time I have served the College. We have built a solid base, and we now simply need to find more ways to support the College and its students so that we can become less tuition-dependent.

The College is privileged to depend on capable management and a predominance of faculty and staff who are dedicated, passionate, talented, creative, energetic, and extremely hard-working. We enjoy a culture of collaboration, good spirit, and maturity enviable by many. Because of our commitment to inclusivity, we are blessed with an extremely diverse faculty and staff, and because we have a culture of professionalism and high levels of communication, we are privileged to have become a learning institution that learns and moves nimbly. Unlike most institutions of higher learning, and because we are a school of design, we have been able to integrate design-related functions over academic and administrative structures: Maria Bellalta, Head of the School of Landscape Architecture, manages our graphic standards; and Karen Nelson, Head of the School of Architecture, manages our wonderful McCormick Gallery, which we hope you will visit often. Most importantly of all, our members of governance, along with our staff and faculty, are all very clear on the fact that our primary work is to serve the learning needs of our diverse body of students, and there is no question, as evidenced by our increased retention and success rates, that we do that well.

Most importantly, we must ensure the future health and continuity of the BAC. We have been entrusted with an institution that has grown and thrived over the past 125 years, and it is vital that we leave no effort untried in order to establish its further success. American higher education as a whole is facing an imminent crisis as even members of the middle class no longer find an undergraduate or graduate degree to be attainable without sacrificing their capacity to own a home or to retire without debt. We must find a way to deliver our programs accessibly, and we will look to identify paths to fulfill this mandate.

We often hear that the BAC is a best-kept secret, and here is one area in which you, members of our community, can help us quite a bit. It is vital that every person who considers her or himself a representative of this College presents clearly - at every turn and on every occasion - the BAC's identity and mission. Every decision needs to be based on whether or not it represents well our primary focus: to provide an excellent design education to students for whom this opportunity is not ordinarily accessible. The programs we create, nurture, and sustain; the employees we hire to join us; the members of governance we attract; our connections to firms and to the City; the presentations and publications we issue; and the funding we seek must all enact and express this mission.

As president, it is my job - and my privilege - to give voice to the wonderful college we have become: an institution of higher learning that educates students to join the ranks of their professions with great skill, knowledge, and understanding, and one that holds intellectual vision as well. The BAC represents the enactment of change, and it leads in this regard as an exemplar of the finest school of the 21st century. We have a wonderful story to tell, a consistent one that, from our origins, supports the success of those who wish to achieve a design education and join the ranks of design professionals but who otherwise would not find this opportunity available to them.

We have successfully contradicted the tightly-held American notions that a fine or exclusive secondary school education, high test scores, coming from a background of financial and social privilege, or even having experienced academic achievement in the past, are measures on which institutions of higher education should rely when choosing a student population. In this way, we are successfully challenging American (and global) notions of privilege, and we have the capacity to lead the way as we establish a thoughtful agenda that is closely connected to our philosophical and educational intentions. Our commitment to be inclusive has allowed us to educate well anyone who comes with a burning desire to become a design professional, and our retention and employment rates - now at 82% for undergraduates and 90% for graduate students, on the day of graduation - speak solidly for our success. This is a story that is immensely laudable, and we must tell it widely to audiences who can and will want to provide support for this endeavor.

I am absolutely confident that we can continue to maintain a growing institution. Beyond reaching fiscal health, represented by serial balanced and surplus budgets and the generation of substantial non-tuition revenues, our future will be assured by open minds, hard work, ongoing support, and productive connections among those who hold common beliefs and assumptions about educating students - the very center of all of our collective work.

Thanks to you all for the support and good will you have shown me and the College in this time of transition. I look forward to seeing more of you!

Best,

Julia Halevy
Acting President