Why Being Together Matters

Recently, the National Coordinating Center Accreditation Workgroup (NCC AWG) members met in Washington, DC at the U.S. Department of Education. Flying into DC is always a powerful experience for me. I’m reminded of the disability rights protests and rallies on the Washington Mall, on the steps of the Capitol, and front of the Supreme Court. I grew up about an hour south in Virginia. My family would spend at least one hot summer day every year touring the Smithsonian museums, and seeing the memorials, buildings, and the monuments of DC. The power of what happens in our nation’s capital is evident to me every day in the education laws and regulations that have shaped our accreditation work, such as the reauthorized Higher Education Act (2008). This most recent reauthorization provided our field with the federally funded National Coordinating Center focused on championing college programs for students with intellectual disability—including accreditation.

Accreditation is a necessary mechanism to ensure that students receive the experience programs promise.  The NCC AWG is charged with creating, refining, and implementing a program accreditation process. In DC, our NCC AWG members met for the first time in person. Since the formation of the most recent workgroup (2020) the global pandemic had prevented our annual in person meetings. While meeting online via video meeting has allowed us to continue to move the accreditation work forward, for me, there was something missing. Professional relationships are built outside of meetings – from engaging in before and after meeting conversations, to discussing recent travel adventures, and generally getting to know colleagues in a broader way with the benefit of seeing a ‘whole person.’

We invited Dr. Kelly Kelley, Professor and Director of the UP Program at Western Carolina University to speak to the NCC AWG members about her program’s experience with accreditation. The UP Program is the first program to receive accreditation by the newly formed Inclusive Higher Education Accreditation Council. The access to education and supports provided to students who enroll in the UP Program exemplifies the model program standards. A major goal of the NCC AWG (2020-2025) is to build an accreditation process. This requires input from program directors like Dr. Kelley, as well as peer reviewers and observers. While accreditation is about program accountability, it is also about building program quality and integrity. The NCC AWG members come to the concept of accreditation with collaboration, curiosity, and commitment in mind. This excitement was ever present throughout our daylong in person meeting to celebrate the first accredited program in the nation. To quote Dr. Kelly Kelley in her recent post about the UP Program accreditation being award it is achievable and “#HardButWorthIt.”

About the blog author: Martha Mock, Ph.D., is a Professor at the Warner School of Education and Human Development, at the University of Rochester. She is also the director of the Center on Disability and Education. Mock has worked alongside and on behalf of individuals with disabilities and their families as a teacher, professor and advocate for three decades. Mock is widely known for her work in the area of college options for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). She is the chair of the Accreditation Workgroup for the National Coordinating Center at Think College, and is the co-founder of the New York Inclusive Higher Education Coalition, a group of colleges, agencies, and families interested in promoting inclusive higher education throughout New York State.