Who Teaches Planning?

What role does the background of planning faculty, and the institutions from which they earned their degrees, have on the training of future planners? Tom Sanchez examines the profile of the nation’s planning faculty to help advance this discussion.

Urban planning is a relatively small academic discipline with 88 accredited programs (73 master’s and 15 bachelor’s) in the U.S.  By comparison, there are over 150 accredited architecture programs and over 250 accredited civil engineering programs.  Using the most recent Guide to Undergraduate and Graduate Education in Urban and Regional Planning (17th Edition, dated 2011), I’ve endeavored to chronicle the characteristics of tenure-track, planning faculty including where they received their degrees, how long they have been teaching, types of non-PhD degrees, and areas of teaching and research expertise. 

Where Planning Faculty Come From

The top ten schools produced almost half (46%) of all planning faculty (out of approximately 850 total faculty).  It is important to note that these are not all planning PhD holders, but these also include degrees from allied disciplines and are regular faculty in accredited planning programs.  UC Berkeley is the clear leader followed by Cornell, MIT, and UCLA.  The top ten schools are also some of the top ranked universities overall in the world.  The top 20 schools produced nearly two-thirds of all planning faculty (63%).  It should be noted that the top 20 actually includes 21 schools because there are 2 schools (Georgia Tech and University of Florida) that have nine graduates currently teaching in planning programs.  Many of the top PhD producing schools also hire graduates of their own doctoral programs.  These include MIT (8), Harvard (7), UC Berkeley (5), Cornell (4), and Rutgers (4).


Years of Teaching

Using the year of terminal degree completion from the faculty data (as a proxy for number of years teaching) the overall average for all planning faculty is 19.2 years.  The highest average number of years is nearly 30 for the University of Maryland and the lowest is 5.4 for Boise State.  These are shown for descriptive purposes only and do not imply anything about these particular programs. In addition, this does not account for program size.

Year of Degree

Looking at the year(s) that degrees were completed over the past 20 to 30 years, hirings have generally been in the range of about 20 planning faculty positions per year.  During the years 2003 to 2008, hiring by planning programs averaged over 30 per year before dropping back down in 2009 and 2010.  Positions filled in 2011 were among the lowest historically (adjusting for retirements in the data) corresponding with university budget freezes or decreases that were being experienced. 


Degree Types

Of the current planning faculty included in the data (regular, tenure-track), about 93 percent have doctoral degrees.  The degrees of the remaining faculty are distributed relatively evenly among legal, architecture, planning, landscape architecture, and various master’s degrees.  The planning degrees include a variety of master’s degrees including Master of City Planning, Master of Urban Planning, Master of City and Regional Planning, Master of Urban and Regional Planning, Master of Planning, and Master of Urban Design.  If complete data were available in the ACSP guidebook, it would be interesting to compare these degree types with adjuncts teaching for planning programs.  Most of these are professionally oriented, where programs can increase practitioner and student contact.

Social Network of Planning Academics

Because the top 10 schools that produce planning faculty represent nearly half of all planning faculty, they also have extensive reach across accredited planning programs.  These schools currently have faculty in nearly all (about 80) planning programs.  UC Berkeley, for instance, has faculty in nearly half of all accredited planning programs, followed by Cornell, UCLA, and Penn.  This also results in a very dense network of interconnections between planning schools and programs.  The network diagram shows the connections between the top 10 schools that produce planning academics and the planning schools where there students teach.


Some Thoughts

Planning is a specialized discipline and planning educators make up a small community.  Looking at the data from planning programs we see that there is a dense group of influencers on planning training and thought.  Is this a good thing?  Do these programs provide a diversity of approaches to design and manage our towns, cities, counties, and regions?  A recent Planetizen article by Randall Arendt (October 31, 2012) suggests that there may be a disconnect between planning education and the needs of the profession.  While the data presented here does not directly address his point(s), they do give us some ideas for where to look.


Tom Sanchez earned his PhD in City Planning from Georgia Tech and has since taught at Iowa State University, Portland State University, the University of Utah, and is currently professor of Urban Affairs and Planning at Virginia Tech.  In 2012 he co-authored, Planning as if People Matter: Governing for Social Equity (Island Press) with Marc Brenman.  He is on Twitter at @tomwsanchez.




It would also be interesting

It would also be interesting to see some data on race and gender amongst planning profs. We are becoming more diverse as a nation and certainly there are many groups (e.g. inner city residents, women, low-income neighborhoods) that have been left out of planning decisions in the past. Our cities will only be truly inclusive and friendly to everyone when the planning profession itself is diversified. I have definitely noticed the lack of a diversity of speakers in terms of race and gender at planning conferences, and as we all know as planners - what gets measured, gets done.

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Planetizen's Guide to Graduate Urban Planning Programs contains information on faculty and student demographics. http://www.planetizen.com/node/21298

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faculty demographics

The Planning Accreditation Board (PAB) maintains an online database containing demographic information on students and faculty at all PAB-accredited programs: http://www.planningaccreditationboard.org/index.php?id=112

Planning Educators

I've been a member of the planning profession for more than 35 years. I'm pleased to have been a presenter at a national conference of the American Planning Association, been a guest lecturer in planning, geography, and real estate classes at the University of Cincinnati, presented at numerous regional planning and zoning workshops, taught a Retail Geography course at U.C, taught an Introduction to Planning course at Golden Gate University, made a Tuesday at APA presentation, and written a book on retail and restaurant site selection. My Master's degree is from the University of Cincinnati where I majored in Urban Geography. Before becoming a Planning and Development Director in Ohio and California I was accepted into the PhD program in Planning at UCLA. However, I made a decision not to pursue a higher degree for one very important reason: I wanted real world experience. That's a decision I'm happy to say I've never regretted.
I believe that lack of real world experience is the most glaring shortcoming of college faculty members charged with educating both undergraduates and graduate students in planning, geography, and/or real estate. This is a weakness I would like to see corrected in the future if the goal of our top planning programs is to graduate students who (a) have a practical understanding of specialty areas such as zoning and site/land use planning, and (b) know that it is critical to build relationships with not only Planning Commissions, Architectural Review Boards and City Councils, but other city departments. Learning negotiating skills and having a basic understanding of how the real estate market works are other practical skills which planning students need to be introduced to early in the education process. I also believe that every student needs to gain a minimum of 6-12 months of "hands on" experience via Co-op and work study programs, not just in the public sector but, very importantly, in the private sector as well.
Furthermore, I believe every undergraduate and graduate planning program should make much better use of Adjunct Professors as well as guest lecturers if they are serious about providing students with a more "balanced" education. And, if they are really serious about giving planning students a more comprehensive and "balanced" education, the "icing on the cake" would be to require that each planning student take two or more classes in allied fields such as geography, real estate, and business.
Do I think planning education needs to be reformed? The answer is a resounding yes! Do I believe we'll see changes such as those I've suggested occur anytime soon? The answer is no. Why? Because I firmly believe that too many college and university faculty members lack any significant real world experience, and, have not placed a high priority on building strong working relationships with two important "power brokers" - the business community and local real estate developers. This type of "head in the sand" mentality plus very little desire to "rock the boat" will, I am convinced, continue to prevent planning programs from graduating more effective leaders and achieving my goal of a more "balanced" education.
I'm sincere when I say, I hope I'm wrong.
I am very much looking forward to learning what advice other people have on how we can improve the scope and overall quality of planning programs. Planners are bright, articulate people who would be capable of making a more significant contribution faster if planning degree programs were restructured. (Reinvented might be too bold a word, but it merits additional thought.)

"Planning Lineage"

It's interesting to see if tracing "Planning Lineage" makes a difference in the shaping of academic experiences. For example, in my case, I was very heavily impacted by my mentor and advisor, Michael Larice (formerly at UBC and Penn, now at University of Utah) who himself was influenced by Alan Jacobs. Many of the students who studied under Michael Larice have very concrete ideas about Great Streets, Great Neighborhoods, public space amenities, "3rd places", walkability, etc.

In this case, it's not so much about what SCHOOL they came from, but what school they taught at when. My formative ideas will always be linked to Michael because he was at Penn when I was there. Therefore the "best" planning schools are the ones who have the professors you want to study under and become part of their "Planning Family Tree." I am glad and satisfied to have been taught and mentored by Michael Larice, Genie Birch, John Landis, Gary Hack, and the list goes on. A "Good" school is all about who is there when to create a magic spark in the minds of the students. The class of '08 from Penn is doing some pretty cool stuff, but sometimes I think it could have been anywhere, perhaps. We just lucked out to have all been there at the same time, digging ourselves into debt and bonding over it. (We did learn a ton too...)

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