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.

This page shares resources to help you familiarize yourself with the Standards and learn about the work of the NCC Accreditation Workgroups, both current and past.

News & Features

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:

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


Martha Mock, PhD

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

University of Rochester, Rochester, NY

Past Chair

Stephanie Smith Lee

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


W. Drew Andrews, Ed.D.

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

University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL

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

Jon Fansmith

Director, Government Relations, Division of Government and Public Affairs

American Council on Education, Washington, DC

Therese Fimian

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

Wilbert (Wil) Frances, MBA

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

Tarjan Center, Los Angeles, CA

Debra Hart, MS

Principal Investigator, Think College National Coordinating Center

University of Massachusetts, Boston, MA

William (Bill) Loyd, Jr.. PhD

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

David Mank, PhD

Professor Emeritus, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN

Cynthia (Cindi) May, PhD

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

Michelle Mitchell, MEd, CRC

Professor and Learning Specialist, Disability Support Services

Lehigh Carbon Community College, Schnecksville, PA

Tracy Rand

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

Linda Rhen, EdD

Associate Teaching Professor, Associate Chair of Assessment & Accreditation

Director, Career Studies Program

Pennsylvania State University at Harrisburg, PA

Terri Shelton, PhD

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

Chrisann Schiro-Geist, PhD

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

Sean J. Smith, PhD

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

Stephan Smith

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

Madeleine Will

Policy expert and advisor, Washington, DC

Ex Officio Members

Meg Grigal, PhD

Principal Investigator, Think College National Coordinating Center

University of Massachusetts, Boston, MA

Cate Weir, MEd

Program Director, Think College National Coordinating Center

University of Massachusetts, Boston, MA