After just 66.7 percent of the students entering the College of Architecture, Art and Planning in 2003 graduated — the lowest rate for all colleges that year — AAP took several measures to improve its graduation rate. Of students entering Cornell in 2005, the most recent year for which numbers are available, 93 percent graduated from the college in six years.
Many of the changes were made to the graduation requirements of the college’s five-year Bachelor of Architecture program, to which AAP Dean Kent Kleinman attributed AAP’s low graduation rate. For instance, Carly Dean ’13, an architecture major, said approximately 10 people in her 60-person first year class transferred into another college.
To help increase the graduation rate of architecture students, Kleinman said that he adjusted requirements for students’ mandatory thesis in 2009, so students would be more likely to graduate on time. While previously, students did not have a set due date for their thesis book — all the student’s final project materials — they now do. Kleinman hopes this change will help students finish their theses on time to graduate.
Additionally, in an effort to increase support for students, the college created a new, college-wide advising group last year. According to Kleinman, the initiative encompasses academic advising, career services, diversity and inclusiveness and advising for the college’s study abroad programs in Rome and New York City.
“This group offers coordinated support for AAP students in all degree tracks,” Kleinman said. “I don’t know if there will be a direct causal relationship between this unit and graduation rates, but I can state with confidence that we now have top-rate professional staff available to help AAP students manage very demanding courses of study.”
Still, some students, reflecting on their experiences in AAP, said that the college’s low graduation rate stemmed from its heavy workload, which they said has led many — especially in the Department of Architecture — to transfer out of AAP into other colleges.
Laura Filman ’12, a former architecture major, said she transferred out of AAP because she was “essentially burnt out after three semesters, [as] the studio culture of the architecture major was extremely stressful.”
Many other students who transferred out of AAP did so within their first semester or year of college, Filman said.
According to Kleinman, the administration has tried to help incoming students understand and prepare for the difficulty of the college’s workload by briefing them on it during the admissions process. As a result, “my sense is that for those … students who choose Cornell to study architecture, the vast majority are passionately committed to the field,” Kleinman said.
Many students said they were not necessarily prepared to decide what course of study they wanted to commit to when entering Cornell.
“AAP asks incoming students to declare their interest and majors before they even start college, so basically you’re deciding as a 17-year-old what you’re going to be dedicating four or five years intensely on. I don’t think everyone knows what they want at that age,” said Karen Chi-Chi Lin ’13, an architecture student.
Lin attributed the high rates of students transferring out of AAP to their desire to study other fields of interest — a phenomenon she said occurs in many colleges.
“Some people realize they just simply misunderstood their own interests before college and often transfer into something equally challenging but more in line with what they’re interested in,” Lin said.
Others said that the restrictive course of study in the architecture program contributed to their decision to transfer out.
Filman, who is now a computer science major, said that she transferred out of AAP because she missed taking classes that involved mathematical and logical problem-solving and wanted to expand her education beyond the given curriculum.
“In architecture, it was hard to branch out and take a variety of other classes,” Filman said. “Getting a bachelor’s degree in architecture at any accredited design school takes a lot of commitment and passion, and most students that I know of in their late teens and early twenties are still looking to explore their interests.”
However, Carly Dean ’13 said that she thinks that both AAP administrators and students help support students who are unsure they want to remain in AAP.
“There’s a strong sense of camaraderie in studio, so when someone decides to transfer out, it’s sad, but they have a lot of support from faculty members and students during the decision-making process,” she said.