What Does Accreditation Really Mean?

dictionary definiton of the word accreditation

When you hear the word accreditation, what comes to mind? Perhaps you think about quality—or assurance. Assurance that if you’re signing up for a course that someone who has knowledge and expertise has looked at the content and structure—and agreed that it’s worth offering. “Yes, this is a course that is going to be worth my time, energy and money.” That’s what accreditation will provide to students with ID who attend college.

If you haven’t had a chance to take a look at the 2021 NCC Accreditation Work Group Report to Congress and the Model Program Accreditation Standards, you may want to. The Program Accreditation Standards are not only the culminating work of the 2015-2020 NCC Accreditation Workgroup, they are the foundation on which programs need to build their “house,” so to speak. Seeking program accreditation is desirable in numerous fields such as business, education, counseling, and health related fields. Attending an accredited program that has been approved by a group of experts provides value to students. In this blog I explain where we are headed on this journey together.

I have the privilege of chairing a group of folks who make up the third NCC Accreditation Workgroup. We are working on accreditation with the National Coordinating Center and on behalf of our field. Our charge as a newly formed Accreditation Workgroup (2021-2025) is to focus on creating a process by which programs will pursue accreditation.

This winter we will be working with programs who have volunteered to try out this accreditation process that the Accreditation Workgroup is drafting. While being a volunteer will not currently lead to program accreditation, it will give us valuable insight into what is working and what’s not working. The developmental process is key to creating a rigorous, yet reasonable, plan for programs to become accredited. The NCC team has created tools to help program staff familiarize themselves with the standards and begin to understand what it will take to become accredited. So, what can you do next?

If you’re a student looking for a college – or a family member helping with a college search – what can you do right now? As you look for colleges, use some of the areas that our program standards are based on and compare programs: Mission, Student Achievement, Curriculum, Faculty and Staff, Facilities, Student Services & Complaints. For example, does the program have a mission that you believe in? Decide what supports you want and need to go to college and see what the college offers? What classes do you want to take, and are they available? Do you want to live on campus, what are the dorms like? If something is problematic and you need to make a complaint, is it clear who you would contact and what supports you would have to make a complaint? You have a right to a safe, educational, meaningful college experience. Remember, YOU are sought after; you are being recruited – so make sure you’re getting your questions about the quality and structure of the program answered. You deserve to find a good college fit and focus on the education you want!

If you’re a program staff or faculty member - what can you do right now? Be on the lookout for tools from the NCC team about ‘getting to know’ the accreditation standards, so that you can familiarize yourself with them. In the next year there will be multiple opportunities for you to provide feedback on the process that we (the Accreditation Workgroup) are creating. Please participate in these opportunities to share your thoughts about the Guidance Manual: is it clear enough? Are the expectations and process meaningful to your program? Tell us what additional information and resources would be helpful to you as a program staff or faculty member to have a successful application for accreditation. We want to hear from you!

We are YOUR accreditation workgroup. We are here to serve the field and establish a workable process so that we can all ensure that institutions of higher education are providing quality and accountable programming. Sign up for the e-News from Think College to stay in the know about our work. Feel free to also email any questions you have about accreditation and the process that the accreditation workgroup to ThinkCollegeTA@gmail.com.

Finally, when Accreditation Workgroup Member Jon Fansmith, Assistant Vice President of Government Relations at the American Council on Education, and I spoke this summer to the TPSID Project Directors, we talked about the meaning of accreditation and why students with ID deserve to enroll in accredited programs. We also talked about what the past few years have meant to all of us as we continue to make our way through life with COVID – the endurance, and stick-to-it-iveness that our personal and professional journeys have needed since 2020. The journey towards program accreditation is truly a tenacious and collective one - it takes time, but we – all of us -are on the brink of making it happen.

About the blog author: Martha Mock, Ph.D., is a Professor at the Warner School of Education and Human Development, at the University of Rochester. She is also the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and the director of the Center on Disability and Education. Mock has worked alongside and on behalf of individuals with disabilities and their families as a teacher, professor, and advocate for three decades. Mock is widely known for her work in the area of college options for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). She is the chair of the Accreditation Workgroup for the National Coordinating Center at Think College, and is the co-founder of the New York Inclusive Higher Education Coalition, a group of colleges, agencies, and families interested in promoting inclusive higher education throughout New York State.