Program Accreditation

In the US, institutions of higher education and programs within the institutions are accredited using standards that help ensure that the educational experience  offered to students meets an acceptable level of quality. Program accreditation standards provide guidelines for colleges and universities on how to develop and improve programs, validate these programs within institutions of higher education, and give students and their families an assurance of quality.

In the 2008 Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, Congress directed the National Coordinating Center to convene a workgroup to develop model program accreditation standards for college programs for students with ID. When implemented, the standards will move the field forward by offering accreditation of college programs that support students with ID.

News & Features

photo of Stephanie Smith Lee
Stephanie Smith Lee has served as the Chair of the Think College National Coordinating Center's Accreditation Workgroup since its inception in 2011. ...Read more
Model accreditation standards for higher education programs for students with intellectual disability were developed by a workgroup convened in early 2011 by the National Coordinating Center. ...Read more
The Think College National Coordinating Center has an established  Accreditation Workgroup that is working on developing and refining model accreditation standards for prog ...Read more

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is accreditation of programs important?

Accreditation offers a way to indicate that a program is meeting basic quality standards in a number of key areas. Accreditation of programs will create quality benchmarks for programs that will be useful to the institutions and to students and parents. It will also provide legitimacy for programs that meet the standards and guidelines for colleges and universities considering establishing high-quality programs.

What is the current accreditation status of college programs for students with ID?

Model accreditation standards have been developed and field tested. The National Coordinating Center Accreditation Workgroup is currently doing the following:

• Making edits to the model standards based on feedback from the field test and other public input.
• Creating guidance and recommendations regarding an accreditation process based on feedback from the field test and public input.
• Continuing to pursue options for an accrediting agency to implement the accreditation process or developing a new accrediting agency.
• Submitting a report with recommendations to Congress, the Secretary of Education and NACIQI.

This work will be completed by September 30, 2019. While no entity is currently accrediting these programs, it is likely that accreditation will become available. In the meantime, program applicants and institutions will be able to use the final model standards as indicators of quality.

What is the timeline for program accreditation for college programs for students with ID to be implemented?

A strict timeline cannot be stated at this time – work continues to establish an entity to conduct accreditation peer review visits, and to determine program accreditation status.

Is being an approved Comprehensive Transition Program the same thing as being accredited?

No, this is not the same thing. Institutions can submit an application to the U. S. Department of Education to have a program for students with ID approved for financial aid purposes. This application requires basic information about the program to be submitted, such as the course of study and satisfactory academic progress policy. This is a separate process from program level accreditation. For more info, see: https://thinkcollege.net/topics/federal-student-aid.

When it is available, will accreditation be required for every program?

Once an accreditation process is established, program accreditation may be required of programs by individual institutions for quality assurance purposes.

Are postsecondary programs for students with ID interested in becoming accredited?

Yes, it appears that college programs are very interested in becoming accredited. A survey was sent out to all the programs listed in the Think College database in April 2019. Of the 107 programs that responded to questions about participating in accreditation, over 80% reported that, if an accrediting body for postsecondary education programs for students with ID were created, they would be “highly likely” or “likely” to participate in the accreditation process.