Program accreditation is important to all educational programs located at institutions of higher education, as it demonstrates ongoing commitment to accountability and quality. Seeking program accreditation is desirable in numerous fields such as business, education, counseling, and health related fields, and attending an accredited program provides value to students. For postsecondary education programs for students with intellectual disability, accreditation is critical. In this relatively new type of PSE program, accreditation provides agreed upon standards of practice and a meaningful process to assure that programs are operating under a set of principles and practices that establish a level of quality and consistency.
Programs for students with intellectual disability are a new concept in higher education, beginning as a grass roots effort and eventually being formalized by the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008. As programs were created around the country, there was not an established set of standards to guide their development. While programs sought to create high quality and meaningful educational experiences, there was no formal way to determine how well they were meeting that goal. Starting in 2011, the Think College National Coordinating Center developed, field tested and refined Accreditation Standards for Programs for Students with ID, resulting in their publication in 2020. These Program Accreditation Standards are not only the culminating work of the Accreditation Workgroups, but they are also the foundation on which programs need to build their “house,” so to speak.
The existence of finalized program accreditation standards is a huge step forward for the field of postsecondary education for students with intellectual disability. They represent the practices that students should expect when attending a program. Program can use them to support development and continuous quality improvement efforts, as they offer guidance and direction when determining and refining their operations and practices.
The next goal is to establish an accreditation process by which programs can be accredited. In the next year, there will be multiple opportunities for programs to provide feedback on the accreditation process that the NCC Accreditation Workgroup is creating. Input from existing inclusive higher education programs is essential in establishing an accreditation process that is effective and meaningful.