Program Accreditation

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.

Through the work of two previous accreditation workgroups, and following extensive development, review and field testing, Program Accreditation Standards have now been published. The Standards, as well as the full report to Congress are shared on this page, along with additional resources to help you learn more about the current state of program accreditation for college students with intellectual disability.

While there is currently no formal process by which college programs for students with ID can become accredited, these standards offer guidance to college programs as to best practices, as well as to students and their families in terms of what to expect from a college program.  The NCC is currently working to develop a process by which college programs could be formally accredited. 

Featured Resources

cover of report featuring colored boxes and photos of college students
The Think College National Coordinating Center has completed the Report on Model Accreditation Standards for Higher Education Programs for Students with Intellectual Disability: Progress on the Path to Education, Employment, and Community Living, and submitted it to the US Department of Education and relevant Congressional committees. ...Read more
photos of Martha Mock and Stephanie Smith Lee, chair and past chair of the Accreditation Workgroup
The  2021-2025 Accreditation workgroup will work with the National Coordinating Center to support the development of a program accreditation process for college programs for students with intellectual disability.   ...Read more
The Think College National Coordinating Center has released finalized Program Accreditation Standards for Higher Education Programs enrolling students with intellectual disability (ID). ...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 finalized, and The National Coordinating Center Accreditation Workgroup has submitted a final report on the work conducted on Program Accreditation Standards from 2015-2020 to Congress, the Secretary of Education and the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity.
The Think College National Coordinating Center 2020-2025 will continue to work on program accreditation with the assistance of an accreditation workgroup that will develop, pilot and finalize a program accreditation process that college programs for students with ID can participate in.

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 a process for program accreditation and identify 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.

Who are the current members of the Accreditation workgroup?

Think College National Coordinating Center Accreditation Work Group: 2021 – 2025

Chair

Martha Mock, PhD

Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor, Warner School of Education

University of Rochester, Rochester, NY

mmock@warner.rochester.edu

Past Chair

Stephanie Smith Lee

Senior Policy Advisor, National Down Syndrome Congress, Charlotte, NC

stephaniesmithlee@gmail.com

Members

W. Drew Andrews, Ed.D.

Assistant Director and Technical Assistance Coordinator, Florida Center for Students with Unique Abilities

University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL

drew.andrews@ucf.edu

Carol Britton Laws, PhD, MSW, FAAIDD

Assistant Clinical Professor in Disability Studies; Director, Destination Dawgs Inclusive Postsecondary Education at UGA; Institute on Human Development and Disability/UCEDD, College of Family and Consumer Sciences, University of Georgia, Athens, GA

cblaws@uga.edu

Jon Fansmith

Director, Government Relations, Division of Government and Public Affairs

American Council on Education, Washington, DC

jfansmith@acenet.edu

Therese Fimian

Director of Operations, Marc Gold & Associates, Vienna, VA

tfimian@marcgold.com

Wilbert (Wil) Frances, MBA

Project Director, Open the Doors to College, University of California-Los Angeles

Tarjan Center, Los Angeles, CA

wfrancis@mednet.ucla.edu

Debra Hart, MS

Principal Investigator, Think College National Coordinating Center

University of Massachusetts, Boston, MA

Debra.Hart@umb.edu

William (Bill) Loyd, Jr.. PhD

University of Iowa REACH Director, College of Education, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA

william-loydjr@uiowa.edu

David Mank, PhD

Professor Emeritus, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN

dmank@indiana.edu

Cynthia (Cindi) May, PhD

Professor, Department of Psychology, College of Charleston, Charleston, SC

mayC@cofc.edu

Michelle Mitchell, MEd, CRC

Professor and Learning Specialist, Disability Support Services

Lehigh Carbon Community College, Schnecksville, PA

mmitchell@lccc.edu

Tracy Rand

Managing Director, Disability Services, Bergen Community College, Paramus, NJ

trand@bergen.edu

Linda Rhen, EdD

Associate Teaching Professor, Associate Chair of Assessment & Accreditation

Director, Career Studies Program

Pennsylvania State University at Harrisburg, PA

lxr29@psu.edu

Terri Shelton, PhD

Vice Chancellor for Research and Engagement, Carol Jenkins Mattocks Distinguished Professor, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, NC

shelton@uncg.edu

Chrisann Schiro-Geist, PhD

Professor and Director, University of Memphis, Institute on Disability, Memphis, TN

cschrgst@memphis.edu

Sean J. Smith, PhD

Professor, Department of Special Education, School of Education and Human Services, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS

seanj@ku.edu

Stephan Smith

Executive Director, Association on Higher Education and Disability, Charlotte, NC

stephan@ahead.org

Madeleine Will

Policy expert and advisor, Washington, DC

madeleinecwill@gmail.com

Ex Officio Members

Meg Grigal, PhD

Principal Investigator, Think College National Coordinating Center

University of Massachusetts, Boston, MA

Meg.Grigal@umb.edu

Cate Weir, MEd

Program Director, Think College National Coordinating Center

University of Massachusetts, Boston, MA
cathryn.weir@umb.edu