Assuring Quality in Inclusive Higher Education: Program Accreditation Standards Finalized

The Think College National Coordinating Center has released finalized Program Accreditation Standards for Higher Education Programs enrolling students with intellectual disability (ID).

The National Coordinating Center Accreditation Workgroup (2015-2020), 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 program accreditation standards reflect recent progress in the field of inclusive higher education and address policy and implementation challenges and opportunities. The 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 final Program Accreditation Standards, along with associated guidance and evidence required for review are available for download from our website.

Read the full report to Congress on the development of these standards and guidance.