A couple of weeks ago, we told you about plans for the expansion of Shepherds College, a faith-based institution in Wisconsin that offers post-secondary education for students with intellectual disabilities. Shepherds is unusual because it provides an authentic college experience including campus life, recreational and extracurricular activities that are similar to those at mainstream colleges and universities.
But Shepherds isn’t the only place where ID students can continue their educational journeys post-high school. According to Disability Scoop, “the number of programs at colleges and universities aimed at this population has ballooned to more than 300 in recent years, but they vary significantly in structure, length, how integrated they are in the campus and much more. As a result, families have had little way to assess different offerings despite program costs that can rival traditional college tuition.”
That’s where a new accrediting agency called the Inclusive Higher Education Accreditation Council comes in. The nonprofit agency will use a set of standards developed by the Think College National Coordinating Center Accreditation Workgroup to evaluate postsecondary programs in areas such as mission, curriculum, faculty, student achievement and financial status. Schools and programs are not required to become accredited and some may choose not to since the accreditation process can be costly in time and money.
Still, Martha Mock, executive director of the council and chair of the Think College National Coordinating Center Accreditation Workgroup, told Inside Higher Ed that post-secondary programs that become accredited will have certain advantages. Says Mock, “[Accreditation is] a way for programs to demonstrate and share how they are providing a high-quality program to students.”
It will take time before all students benefit from the accreditation standards. Just five schools are expected to complete the process from now through the end of the 2024-2025 academic year. Western Carolina University’s University Participant Program was the first program to begin the process. A site visit to the program took place last month.
Meanwhile, ID students and their families are clamoring for a spot at one of the 300-plus programs already in operation. As Inside Higher Ed reported, statistics from one study at University of Massachusetts Boston showed that “59 percent of students who completed such a program had a paid job a year later, compared to a 19 percent employment rate for adults with intellectual disabilities in the general population.”
An additional benefit? Post-secondary programs also help students to learn skills of independent living that allow them to be more self-reliant.