Assuring Quality in Inclusive Higher Education: Program Accreditation Standards Finalized

The Think College National Coordinating Center is proud to announce the release of the newly finalized Model Program Accreditation Standards for Higher Education Programs enrolling students with intellectual disability (ID).

The Center’s Accreditation Workgroup, led by chair Stephanie Smith Lee, created and field-tested the Program Accreditation Standards for Inclusive Higher Education (National Coordinating Center Accreditation Workgroup, 2016). These standards are necessary to provide quality assurance for institutions of higher education (IHE) and accrediting agencies, as well as students with ID and their families. These program standards have been created, vetted, and refined through rigorous field testing, and are ready to be used to validate and strengthen higher education programs enrolling students with ID throughout the US.


The Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) enacted in 2008 created new opportunities for students with intellectual disability to access higher education. This Act authorized access to certain forms of federal student aid for qualified students with ID and created a new program of model demonstrations called the Transition Postsecondary Programs for Students with Intellectual Disability (TPSID) and a corresponding National Coordinating Center (NCC).

In 2011, the National Coordinating Center established the first accreditation workgroup comprised of policy and practice experts from around the country (National Coordinating Center Accreditation Workgroup, 2016). This workgroup drafted an initial set of model national Model Program Accreditation Standards, obtained significant public input, and subsequently revised the model program standards. These standards were shared with the Secretary of Education, Congress and the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity on September 30, 2016.

In 2015, a new Accreditation Workgroup was established by the National Coordinating Center. Building on the previous work, Ms. Lee continued to serve as the chair and directed this second Accreditation Workgroup (2015-2020) to field-test the accreditation standards, obtain additional public input, refine the standard language and craft technical guidance for use.

The model program accreditation standards reflect recent progress in the field of inclusive higher education and address policy and implementation challenges and opportunities. The model standards were developed to align with the standards structure used by the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity or NACIQI. NACIQI provides recommendations regarding accrediting agencies that monitor the academic quality of postsecondary institutions and educational programs for federal purposes. The Workgroup is currently preparing a new report on the standards that will be distributed to Congress, the Secretary of Education and to the public when completed.

Next Steps

These standards will guide the work of the 2020-2025 Office of Postsecondary Education funded National Coordinating Center for the TPSID projects and provide the foundation for data collection, evaluation, and technical assistance. Newly funded model demonstration projects will be supported by the NCC to monitor and document their progress toward attainment of accreditation standards each year and, by completion of the 5-year project, be prepared to become accredited.

The final Model Accreditation Standards are now available for download from our website.


Chaired by Stephanie Smith Lee, Senior Policy Advisor, National Down Syndrome Congress

Carol Britton-Laws, Asst. Clinical Professor & Director Destination Dawgs, University of Georgia

Jon Fansmith, Director, Government Relations, American Council on Education

Wilbert L. Francis, Project Director, Open the Doors to College, Tarjan Center at UCLA

Meg Grigal, Principal Investigator, Think College National Coordinating Center

Debra Hart, Co-Principal Investigator, Think College National Coordinating Center

David Michael Mank, Professor Emeritus, Indiana University

Elise McMillan, Co-Director, Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, Vanderbilt University

Deborah J. Amsden Micklos, Project Coordinator, University of Delaware

Rachel Quenemoen, Senior Research Associate (retired) University of Minnesota

Tracy Rand, Managing Director, Office of Specializeåd Services, Bergen Community College

Denise Rozell, Director of Policy Innovation, Association of University Centers on Disabilities

Jenni Sandler, Director, Access Services and ACHIEVE, Highline College

Chrisann Schiro-Geist, Professor and Director, Institute on Disability, University of Memphis

Terri L. Shelton, Vice Chancellor, University of North Carolina Greensboro

Stephan J. Smith, Executive Director, Association on Higher Education and Disability

Cate Weir, Project Director, Think College National Coordinating Center

Madeleine Will, Co-Founder, Collaboration to Promote Self-Determination

The late Roberta L. (Bobbie) Derlin, National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity