Evan Davis, a student in the SUCCESS program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, goes to class with his red backpack. (Emilie Eastman / Capital News Service / TNS)
Work is underway to establish, for the first time, accreditation standards for hundreds of post-secondary programs across the country serving students with intellectual disabilities.
The programs at colleges and universities have grown to more than 300 in recent years, but differ greatly in their focus, length, degree of campus integration and much more. As a result, families have little reason to judge the quality of various offerings whose costs can keep up with traditional tuition fees.
Now a group of experts has defined a number of model standards that could ultimately form the basis for the accreditation of these programs.
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The plan is the culmination of nearly a decade of work pushed forward by a requirement of the 2008 Federal Law on Opportunities for Higher Education. The standards provide that post-secondary programs meet the minimum expectations of their mission, curriculum, academic performance, faculty, tax capacity, and performance in other areas.
“There’s a lot of excitement about accreditation,” said Stephanie Smith Lee, Chair of the National Coordination Center’s Accreditation Working Group responsible for the Model Standards. “Families are particularly happy about the accreditation, as it ensures that the programs achieve an acceptable level of quality.”
Several additional steps are required before accreditation can be achieved. Lee’s working group is preparing a report with their recommendations to Congress. A new iteration of the panel is expected to begin this month to set up a process for using the standards and creating an accreditation organization.
In the meantime, however, Lee expects post-secondary programs to use the Model Standards to evaluate and improve their offerings.
Even if accreditation does become a reality, the programs need not be followed, but many are likely to. In a 2019 survey of more than 100 post-secondary program directors, 82% said they would be “very likely” or “likely” to participate in setting up an accreditation process.