The B.Arch. program is accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) and therefore subjected to a rigorous ongoing review process. Most states require that licensed professional architects first obtain a degree from a professionally-accredited institution.
The accreditation process defines both the content of the bachelor of architecture degree requirements and verifies that those requirements have actually been met. Verification occurs during periodic on-site accreditation reviews of the program conducted by peer groups of practitioners, educators, administrators, and students. The primary means by which the NAAB verifies compliance with its performance criteria is through examination of student projects, reports, tests, assignments, and other course work. Additionally, NAAB reviewers organize meetings and discussions with students, faculty, and department, college, and university administrators.
The criteria promulgated by the NAAB, which are periodically revised and updated, form the basis of the NAAB's ongoing evaluation and assessment of Cornell's architecture program, and also provide a useful structure within which Cornell architecture faculty and administration can re-examine departmental goals and outcomes.
The current, and typical, term for Cornell's accreditation is six years and between accreditation reviews, assessment and revision of the undergraduate curriculum happens on a continual basis. An undergraduate curriculum committee composed of faculty members representing all major areas of the curriculum (design, theory and analysis, history of architecture, visual representation, and technology) typically meets twice monthly during the academic year to scrutinize the effectiveness of program requirements and to incorporate new and emerging technologies relevant to the production and understanding of architecture.
Such assessment relies on the judgment of faculty members in the various curricular areas, who have direct experience with issues of professional practice and pedagogic practice. Faculty members involved in studio teaching have direct and continual connections with the work produced by students — such faculty have individual contact with students in the studio setting and are often invited to "critique" the work of other students at reviews, both during and at the end of each semester. Such reviews constitute the primary means of evaluation and assessment of student design work, and typically occur several times during each semester (sometimes as preliminary and sometimes as final project reviews), and always at the end of each semester when students formally present their work to a panel of faculty members.
Non-studio courses are evaluated in more traditional ways: through examinations, papers, or projects. There are numerous models, depending on the nature of the material being taught. In general, individual faculty members refine their own teaching based on the feedback they obtain directly from the tests, assignments, and projects given, as well as from student-evaluation forms distributed at the end of each semester for each course. Representatives from each curricular area also participate in the discussion of goals and outcomes within the framework of the departmental curriculum committee.
Since the number of faculty members within the various non-studio curricular areas is relatively small (e.g., four faculty members teach construction, structures, and environmental systems; four faculty members teach in the area of history), the general assessment of student outcomes, based on the various modalities mentioned earlier (tests, papers, projects, etc.) is readily discussed amongst faculty members within each curricular subgroup, both informally and formally within specially-constituted curricular task forces. Specific proposals for curricular reform in specific areas of the curriculum are then brought to the larger curriculum committee meetings, where both practical and ideological conflicts are resolved, and where opportunities for synthesis and integration across disciplinary lines are discovered and implemented.
In the final analysis, there are two interrelated ways in which we assess program goals and outcomes, one internal and the other external. Day-to-day curricular refinement is based on two primary internal inputs: feedback received by faculty from student work and student evaluations; and the ever-changing challenge of incorporating new ideas and technologies discovered through faculty practice, research, and scholarship. Such self-assessments and curricular modifications are validated by two external sources of feedback. First, our program is evaluated and rated annually by organizations such as DesignIntelligence — Cornell's undergraduate architecture program has received consistently high ratings. Second, the six-year cycle of NAAB accreditation reviews detail both positive and negative aspects of our program. Both of these external forms of assessment act as a means of periodically validating and improving curricular strategies that have been developed internally on an ongoing basis.