Associate Degree in Landscape Architecture?

Landscape Architecture for Landscape Architects Forums GENERAL DISCUSSION Associate Degree in Landscape Architecture?

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    I believe the “NEED” for a MLA is coming from firms trying to look more prestigious. 

    A lot of the posted job openings recently are stating that they are only looking for an MLA.  That is forcing LA’s with BLA, BSLA’s to go back to school to get their MLA if they want a prestigious job because a firm looking only for an MLA with 4 years experience and a 2 year degree with 1 year of drafting classes is more important than a candidate that has their 5 year BLA degree with 6 years experience.


    Leslie B Wagle

    Andrew, I think we’re coming to the same place from different starting points, but that is my gripe here. There is no way such grads would be familiar with the methods, much less comfortable with the process of layout, staking, details, and everything else needed for a portion of a state park, campus plaza with water feature and handicap concerns, etc. And if anybody is going to notice the piggy-backing of terms and unfair leading of students, it would naturally be someone from within the practice who does know better.


    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    I don’t think that “need’ will pan out. Many firms are trying to find how to function in the current economy. Some are trying to look more prestigious, some are trying to take advantage of interns/new hires, and some are trying other things. My belief is that it will be the market that will shake it out and prestige will not be the force that the market brings to re-shape landscape architecture – it will be back to basics. Sustainability will also be on a back burner other than on government projects or forced by regulation, but I think that momentum is running out of $team.


    This degree is, in a way, responding to that “back to basics” need in the market place. 


    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    I used to get bent out of shape about the brand, but I have grown to realize that there are two types of people who actually know what “the brand” is – those in (or looking to get in) the profession and those who actually  need or want what we do no matter what we are called. The rest don’t know, wouldn’t know what to do with us if they did, and are not going to impact us by their misunderstanding unless we have fragile egos about non-LAs being refered to as LAs. 


    I think it is good that there is some landscape designer training programs out there. Which would you rather have open a shop in your neighborhood – someone with an AA in “landscape architecture” or someone else with a stamp?  … or does it really matter to you?


    I’m surrounded by excellent design/builds, lots of Boston/Cambridge LAs working in my area, and a pair of ASLA National Award winning firms on this sand bar. I don’t think too many are very worried about the others – I’m not. We all just do what we do and get clients who want what we do, how we do it, and how we charge for it more than the other options available to them. Most of us don’t change how we do things to suit clients. We just do what we do and get found by those that are interested in our ways of designing and doing business.


    I don’t think they take my work or I take their work. …. if the lesser trained designers were not out there, how many dead leads would I have to respond to? I’m sure the Harvard guys don’t mind me occupying clients that don’t want to spend $30k on a set of plans and 20% on contract administration – they don’t want them and they are not going to change them.


    Craig Anthony

    I’m with you Andrew. I’m not going to worry about competing against an Associate in LA from the local community college, just like I’m not going to be intimidated by an MLA from Harvard GSD. Mainly because the people I’ve worked for could careless about what school I went to. Secondly the general public doesn’t know the difference between an RLA, CLP, the ASLA, or the APLD. It’s all the same to them.


    “Is this designer you are referring to a Registered Landscape Architect?” I asked the prospective client who has set back issues and wants to build a cabana and pool on his steeply sloped lot. “Well the guy does everything on a computer with labels, color and everything. So he has to be a Landscape Architect right?” he responded.


    Like half of the homeowners here on Long Island, I get a feeling this guy’s going to have to learn the hard way that he needs an LA. LI is full of crappy million dollar landscape packages that already need to be redone after being installed less than 5 years ago. Clunky monumental hardscapes accented by mustaches of tightly spaced forsythia, burning bush, and emerald green arborvitae. Incredible vistas framed by battered ‘Bradford’ Pears.


    I focus my marketing efforts towards Architects and property owners that want to do good work and pay me for my talents. If they want a custom landscape that’s designed to last along with good service they’ll call me or some one like me. The fact is (on the residential side of things) there are outfits around here that are run by Landscape Designers with community college educations to Landscape Architects with Ivy League educations that can do good design just like I can. I’m just happy there are not a lot of them.


    So let the hack RLAs design for the commercial property owners that want to beat you up for your fee and do the bare minimum the town requires. And the fly-by-night landscape design build firms can take the bubbling boulder waterfalls (in the middle of the lawn) jobs. There’s a niche for everyone.  



    The AA program you gave the link to leans more towards “landscape design” skills. I graduated from an AA program in Reno directed by an ASLA fellow, with a FAIA and other practicing LA’s as instructors. The program takes 3 years from scratch but I finished in 2 because I already had my BA.  I’m now in an accredited 3-year MLA program and feel a lot of the studio design and sustainable land planning emphasized at community college was BETTER than the accredited program I am in, in many ways (but not all). The AA degree I received had an ‘articulation’ created with it to seamlessly enter an accredited BLA program as a Junior, but I wanted a Masters.

    The AA degree in Reno is also recognized by the NV State Board, which allowed me to take sections A & B of the LARE; of which I passed both, helped very much by the community college program. Unfortunately, strong AA programs in Landscape Architecture do not have an accreditation process, but they should! Community colleges are the perfect gateway to professional OPTIONS in landscape architecture; work, transfer schools, licensure. I felt strongly that my BA in Environmental Analysis & Design and my AA in Landscape Architecture (legitimately not landscape design) qualified me to begin my MLA program in the second year with students who have accredited BLA/BSLAs. But no dice, so I am completing an ‘extra’ 4 quarters to round out my education. ASLA has expressed interest in accrediting community college programs…

    We need affordable access for a broader diversity of people to the profession with recognized AA programs that develop articulations in line with the curriculum of in-state Universities with accredited programs! Bringing legit LA programs to community colleges can only help the profession by making students aware of opportunities in the field at a low cost, and helping to spread the word about what landscape architects do….


    Leslie B Wagle

    I helped in the initial stages of Dr. Fountain setting up a BS program at A&T State U in Greensboro using the same logic: putting a program on a new campus, but in the early unaccredited stages he still worked very closely with a full program school and maybe this one in CA is likewise. However the promo language seemed to not stress future transferring being needed, rather more like a going straight to work plan but maybe that’s just an elderly brain at work on my part. If ASLA is really steering some of these that are set up to meld people forward into the rest of needed training, so that the AA is an affordable first step, that is good to know. But this college strikes me as mainly having a big horticulture program on their website….I just hope the length of time and all the steps you outlined will be clear to their students. 



    Digging a little deeper, linkedin shows the head of the program has a MLA by the way so that’s a good sign. Now we’ve really advertised for them!  




    Craig Anthony

    I’m very curious to know how a three year AA degree works. I went to a five year program that consisted of two years of just basic design – form, space, order, scale, color, etc. Not until the third year did we do anything that resembled Landscape Architecture. After five years of intensive study I was just beginning to know what I didn’t know about the profession.


    It just seems that the better solution would be to make BLAs and BSLAs more affordable at state institutions as opposed to introducing more AA programs. Especially since it appears that the AA program does not prepare someone to sit for the entire LARE, at least I hope not.


    Maybe I missed something, but it seems like you’ll be racking up some serious academic hours by the time you’re finished. It’s too bad you weren’t able to get the MLA and skip the AA degree.



    I couldn’t get into an accredited program with my low GPA from undergrad: 2.81, so I had to prove myself through recent achievements. I should only need 1 year of experience in Nevada with my 5 years qualified education credits by the time I finish my MLA, of which I already am halfway done with. Actually I got a lot out of the AA program. Check it out if you like:“landscape%20architecture”

    They make it look like you could do it in two years without having the general ed stuff, but this is totally unrealistic as the design classes are very time intensive, and people work… 

    The architecture students design side by side in studio with landscape students. The Fundamentals of Design studios had us doing 5-6 design problems over the semester; all hand graphics, boards, models, presentations and often professional juries. The program director’s motto was “Design is Design is Design” which I agree with. The Design With Nature and Climate courses had us contextualizing the sites we designed for politically and ecologically for real sites in the region. The program begins with AAD100 which required students to study and write about the path to licensure for various design professions. The director of the program was a former president of CLARB. This is definitely a unique program but I think my experience there made me realize how much practical, theoretical and design experience you can get in just two years for less than $2000/year tuition; accessibility!

    I certainly like the idea of making BLA/BSLAs more affordable at state schools, but for California at least, tuition is going nowhere but up and fast.


    Craig Anthony

    Thanks for the link. I’ll check it out.


    You’re doing a great job Curly. You’ll be a fine LA one day.




    Sarah Gronquist

    I teach at Merritt. With the demise of other part-time/night school programs in the Bay Area, Merritt offers a solid path for mid-career changers or people already working in the field who want to transition to a more professional environment. I think it is a different thing than a formal BA or MLA. The faculty and students at Merritt are very focused on hands-on, practical applications of design and construction education. 

    Our profession used to be much more of an apprentice/journeyman/professional path, and I came up that way. I don’t see a problem with providing multiple gateways into a very diverse profession. And making sure some of them are accessible to people who need to study part time or at night just seems like a good idea. 

    Happy to answer any questions about Merritt or the two-year AA track!


    J. Robert Wainner

    I checked out Merritt College.  So, each of the (2) Yr. Landscape Architecture AA degree program costs $20k per yr. (In-State)….closer to $25k (out-of-state)…though, I saw an Out-of-State Tuition figure for each year of just over $6,000.00.

    IMO….with so many TOP accredited 4 and 5 yr. LA programs @ Top Ranked Universities….not sure why a HS graduate would consider going for an AA in Landscape Architecture.  I believe that “most” major University LA programs require you to “begin” their LA degree programs as a “Freshman”.

    Students also need to consider, WHERE a University is located.  What is the “cost of living” in that area, the State?  IMO, living in a high cost of living area (such as California or NY), as a student, it can be very expensive.  And, as intense as most LA degree programs are….working even a part-time job during the Fall or Spring semesters is just not an option.

    And, nobody will convince ME….that LA design firms don’t look at which University or Universities you earned your degree/s from.

    And, of course, getting through an outstanding LA degree program is only a “start”…..your REAL education comes in those first (5 to 10 yrs.) working for an LA firm…..the studio design experience.


    Sarah Gronquist

    Well, as I say, it’s different than a formal BA or MLA. What is the cost to go through the full program at UC Berkeley?

    Most of our students are not high school students, they live and work in the Bay Area already. And many go on to work in well-regarded local design firms… so I guess it comes down to what your personal circumstances are. If you get an AA and then spend 5-10 years working in a good firm, you will know a lot and you will be eligible for sitting the LARE.  

    I also find these programs very useful for people who have a BA or MLA. When I moved to CA after earning an MLA in Massachusetts, Merritt’s plant id courses got me up to speed quickly and were quite thorough in what they covered. 

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. 


    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    Reality is that it is such a diverse field that no one can even define what is and what is not Landscape Architecture. I don’t think that is a bad thing. An apples to oranges comparison is the “medical profession”. You have everything from beyond brain surgeons to CNA’s and Dental Hygienists. Each is important on their own, each has a different level of training, and no one goes to a Dental Hygienist to remove their brain tumor or a Brain Surgeon to clean your teeth.

    It is a good thing to offer an opportunity to have an educational option that fits a different niche. Especially if that is a strong niche in the marketplace. I believe it is. I also believe that holds true for accredited LA programs or high school vocational landscape programs. One does not cancel out the other.


    J. Robert Wainner


    I appreciate your input here….but, you have to admit, you have to be a bit “BIAS”, since you are a Professor @ Merritt College.  As I mentioned, an AA in Landscape Architecture, IMO, is pretty much useless.  Young people seriously interested should be looking at a major University…and seeking a 4 or 5 yr. Undergraduate LA degree program.

    I’m not even sure that with an AA degree…a person could be accepted for an MLA degree program….or even, starting over at a major University and enter an undergraduate LA program.  

    OK, you mention the costs of an LA degree at U.C. Berkeley….and you’re absolutely right, very expensive.  In-State @ Berkeley (includes tuition, books, room & board) is $34,200.00 per year.  Now…let’s look at the University I attended….Texas A&M. Comparing everything, apples to apples, at Texas A&M, you’re looking at $10,398.00 per year.  And yes, I realize I’m partial to A&M, but, I don’t set the tuition fees, etc…and no way anyone will convince me that Berkley is worth $24,000.00 more per year for a degree than a degree at Texas A&M University.  I know, there are many other top public Universities in the U.S. with excellent LA degree programs that are much less expensive than U.C. Berkeley.

    I also noticed that you are a graduate of UMASS….great school, but, extremely Liberal…located in the MOST Liberal State in America. And, of course, Sarah, you and I and all Americans are entitled to “free speech”…but, when I see on your Face Book page a photo of a beach…with very large letters that say “RESIST”….I personally believe that is a VERY Un-American statement.  As a 4 yr. Veteran of The U.S. Navy…and a strong American Patriot…that term written in the sand is very offensive to me.  But, like I said, respectfully, you are entitled to “free speech”.

    But, back to an AA degree in Landscape Architecture.IMO, that LA degree will NOT prepare a graduating student for the REAL World.  A 4 or 5 yr. LA degree gives a student the best chance for a successful LA career.  And, I feel sure that many graduates from 4 and 5 yr. LA programs begin to sit for the L.A.R.E. soon after graduation.  They just need a min. of (2) yrs. of exp. working under a Licensed LA before they are eligible to be a “Licensed LA” in a State.  Though, a hand full of States do have a State LA Exam they must pass in order to be Licensed in those States.  However, a “license” in of itself, doesn’t mean any LA grad. is actually competent to design anything…the “License” only means, that that person is “legally eligible to practice and use the title of Landscape Architecture”.  Graduates really need 5 to 10 yrs. of studio design experience working for established LA firms in order to start becoming competent LAs in the real World.

    One of my concerns for many LA students today is….that way too many of the LA professors are pushing a Liberal design agenda.  There is more than (1) way to view the design world. 

    Kind Regards,


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