Historic Preservation Craft Education Leads the Way: The Colorado Story

Robert W. Ogle, Associate Professor, Director Historic Preservation Program Colorado Mountain College. Presented at the 2007 International Trades Education Symposium & International Preservation Trades Workshop Tällberg, Sweden May 21, 2007. (used with permission of the author)


A new comprehensive model in historic preservation education took root in the state of Colorado, USA during 2006. The mission of this innovative approach is to integrate preservation education with the demands of industry, professional practice and government policy.  One of the main goals of the effort is to allocate public education and historic preservation funds efficiently and to work within the parameters of the current state higher educational system.  The significance of this initiative cannot be appreciated without first detailing the context of historic preservation education evolution in the United States.


Historic preservation curricula developed in the United States as the result of three seminal events (see chart 1.1).  First, the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 created an environment where professional historic preservationists were needed to determine and document historic significance and gauge potential effects of federally funded projects on historic resources.  The preservation project needed to comply with prescriptive methodology administered by the National Park Service and state historic preservation offices.  Second, the National Trust for Historic Preservation approved The Whitehill Report on Professional and Public Education for Historic Preservation in October, 1968.  The research and report findings were “rigidly limited to architecture and the building crafts, for it is only by continued practical use of some kind that most buildings can or should [emphasis author] be preserved.”  The Whitehill committee concluded that specialization in historic preservation education would be most effective at the graduate level in schools of architecture.  This narrow view discounted any contribution to historic preservation professional development from other academic disciplines such as public history, geography, historic archaeology, and anthropology.  Ironically, the elitist approach effectively created an insurmountable barrier to entry for those practicing in the historic building trades despite the findings.  The third event contributing to the development of historic preservation pedagogy was the founding of the National Council for Preservation Education (NCPE) in 1978.  This independent group of academics was formed to develop academic standards and core course work for graduate level historic preservation programs.  NCPE became the de-facto accrediting body for historic preservation programs and maintains this status today.  Unlike the Whitehall researchers, NCPE officials and members recognized the necessity for interdisciplinary contribution to a new academic specialty.  NCPE also became more progressive by adopting standards and accepting membership from baccalaureate, associate and certificate programs during the 1990’s.

The Whitehill authors and NCPE acknowledged the need to foster historic preservation education in public primary, secondary, and technical schools (K-12).  However, their organizational infrastructure comprised exclusively of post secondary educators limited their practical contribution to the development of curricula at these “primary” levels.  As a result, the number of graduate schools offering historic preservation curricula is disproportionate to the number of programs offered at feeder levels of education (see chart 1.2).

Chart 1.1

Logically, the number of students studying historic preservation in the United Sates is also skewed toward the graduate level (see chart 1.3).

Chart 1.2

Beyond the skew in learning level, the subject of study reveals the true crises in historic preservation education in the United States.  There are only a handful of educational institutions that confer degrees with an emphasis in historic preservation building arts, craft, and construction related skills.  One is at the high school level, four at the 2-Year level, two at the 4-Year level and one at the graduate level.  Therefore less than 14 percent of our educational institution capacity is oriented toward these practitioner skill sets. 

The aggregate curricula emphasizing the skills necessary to compete in the historic preservation marketplace is also revealing (see chart 1.4).  NCPE gathers program emphasis data from its members on a dynamic basis.  There are 57 options demonstrating the breadth of the field.  However, when one synthesizes the data into more manageable categories, it is apparent that only 31 percent of aggregate curriculum emphasis is dedicated to the categories of (1) Preservation Building and Technology, (2) Business, Economics and Entrepreneurship, and (3) Heritage Tourism-the economic drivers of the historic preservation industry.

Chart 1.3

Chart 1.4

The Colorado Story

Colorado has and continues to be a progressive historic preservation state.  During the 1990’s the legislature successfully put forth two key financial bills that spurred preservation development.  First was a state income tax credit incentive for rehabilitating historic buildings which compliments Federal tax incentives.  Second, the voters agreed to earmark a percentage of gambling tax revenue for use in brick and mortar preservation projects.  These funds are administered by the State Historical Fund and awarded twice a year on a competitive basis to qualified organizations.

Despite these grass root efforts, there was no formal historic preservation education capacity in the state until 2003.  The University of Colorado Denver created a graduate certificate within their College of Architecture and Planning.  The certificate studies emphasize design, history, and cultural landscapes.

During ensuing years, plans were developed to create additional educational capacity through a partnership of educators, practitioners, and government policy makers.  The primary goal of the effort was to develop graduates that could meet the market demand for professional historic preservation services in Colorado and beyond.

The catalyst to implement this concept was the founding of the historic preservation program at Colorado Mountain College (CMC) in 2006, which emphasizes preservation craft/trade skill and preservation entrepreneurial skill development.  Curriculum design is based upon the educational model developed during the inaugural ITES gathering held in St. Clairsville, Ohio, USA in 2005.  Students are exposed to a balance of classroom, vocational and experiential learning regardless of subject matter. Students are eligible to earn an Associate of Applied Science degree or a Certificate of Occupational Proficiency.  Graduates are empowered to enter practice immediately and/or continue their education at a higher level.

CMC has aligned with the other major public higher educational institutions in Colorado offering preservation curricula i.e. Colorado State University (CSU) and the University Colorado-Denver (UCD) to form the Preservation Practice Partnership.  This group is committed to matching student learning with industry and professional practice demand on a sustainable basis. The effort is supported and advised by professionals from the preservation community, government agencies, private industry, and the Colorado Commission on Higher Education authority. Considering the deficit of qualified preservation graduates, the partners are in the process of developing an innovative inter-institutional articulation mechanism that focuses on student learning needs regardless of level of matriculation.  Students enrolled in high school, technical school, certificate, associate, baccalaureate or graduate programs are able to participate in courses together and receive credit from their respective ceding institutions.  To enhance efficiency, each participating institution offers a complimentary curriculum: CMC (preservation trade and business skills), CSU (construction management and public history), and UCD (design and planning). During the summer semester of 2007, the first inter-institutional course work is starting.  One course will involve study of historic building structural systems and materials.  Students from Lake County High School, CMC, CSU and UCD will join faculty and practitioners to study and execute a historic structures report for two buildings located in the Grand Teton National Park.  A second course will be a Historic American Building Survey project in Lake County Colorado.  The third course will be hands on craft training at four different venues.  The skills include, metal roofing, adobe construction/repair, building stabilization, and wooden window and door restoration/repair.  The content is the same, however each institution will award credit within its own curriculum.

CMC has developed a cooperative program with the Lake County School District.  Currently, high school juniors and seniors are studying preservation and earning dual credit. The next degree to be developed in the state will be a stand alone Master of Historic Preservation degree at the University of Colorado Denver followed by a Bachelors degree program at Colorado State University. 

Colorado is committed to developing a public K-12, 2 year, 4 year, graduate, and post-graduate historic preservation education track.  The effort is a testimony to the importance of preservation trade skills education as a catalyst for preservation education reform.



William J. Murtagh, Keeping Time The History and theory of Preservation in America
(New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 1997) 13.

Walter Muir Whitehill and others, The Whitehill Report on Professional and Public Education for Historic Preservation (Boston: Boston Athenaeum, 1968), 3.

Ibid, 6.

National Council For Preservation Education, National Council for Preservation Education, Brochure 2000.

All statistical references to NCPE throughout this paper are extracted from data published by the National Council for Historic Preservation Education.  Data is compiled from the most recent updates posted to the NCPE web site; http://www.uvm.edu/histpres/ncpe/chart.htm.

Robert W. Ogle is the Director of the Historic Preservation Program at Colorado Mountain College.