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.

Accreditation standards for postsecondary education (PSE) programs for students with intellectual disability (ID) have been developed and a program accreditation process is currently being piloted.

While there is not yet a process by which PSE programs for students with ID, there are resources available to help programs learn about the standards and begin to consider how they can meet these standards in their programs.   This page has collected resources for all those interested in program accreditation.


News & Features

photo of campus steps with many students
Program accreditation standards have been finalized.  A workgroup is working to develop an accreditation process and structure by which postsecondary education programs for students with intellectual disability can become formally accredited. Why does this matter?  Read the full article! ...Read more
dictionary definiton of the word accreditation
This blog post from Accreditation workgroup chair, Dr. Martha Mock, shares her thoughts on the ongoing and important work of the Workgroup.  She shares her thoughts on what program accreditation means for students, family members, college faculty and program staff, and what each of those groups can do NOW to get involved.  Read the full blog post.  ...Read more
resources to help programs learn more about program accreditation standards
Currently, there is no formal process by which college programs for students with ID can become accredited.  While that process is being created, we offer college programs for students with intellectual disability some tools that they can use to become familiar with Program Accreditation Standards. Click here to learn about and access the tools we have developed.  ...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 creates quality benchmarks for programs that are useful to the institutions and to students and parents. It provides legitimacy for programs that meet the standards and guidelines for colleges and universities who are considering establishing high-quality programs.

How were the current finalized Accreditation Standards developed?

The first National Coordinating Center Accreditation Workgroup was established in 2011 and completed its work in 2015. That Workgroup developed, for the first time, model program accreditation standards for these programs by consulting with existing accreditors, working with experts in the fields of higher education for students with intellectual disability and gathering input from hundreds of key stakeholders such as family members, educators, and accreditors.

The second NCC Accreditation Workgroup began its work in 2016 and concluded in 2020. This Workgroup conducted a field test of the model standards developed by the first Workgroup, held sessions to gather public input, surveyed programs regarding their interest in becoming accredited, and reached out to existing accreditors to ascertain interest in using the model standards.

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

Program 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 continues 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, the accreditation workgroup and the Think College NCC are exploring the steps involved in establishing an accreditation organization. In the meantime, program applicants and institutions may use the program standards to prepare for accreditation.

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

An exact timeline cannot be stated at this time – work continues to establish a process for program accreditation and the creation of an entity to conduct accreditation peer review visits, and to determine program accreditation status.

What is the process currently underway to pilot the accreditation process?

The first pilot program has been recruited and is underway, the UP Program at Western Carolina University. They were among a group of approximately 10 programs who had expressed interest to Think College. Pilot programs 2-5 are being selected through an open call for pilot programs that began in late 2022, and will be announced in the spring of 2023.
The accreditation process takes approximately 1 full year including 4-6 months for the program to write their self-study, and then another 4-6 months for the peer reviewers to review the self-study, conduct the site visit, and complete the accreditation report. The self-study is the heart of where programs explain how they meet the 38 standards, provide evidence, and explain how they demonstrate quality programming.