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Professor helps Think College launch a national accreditation agency for inclusive higher education

Student with down syndrome taking notes

Think College, a center within the Institute for Community Inclusion (ICI) at the University of Massachusetts Boston, launched the Inclusive Higher Education Accreditation Council (IHEAC), a new accrediting agency for inclusive postsecondary programs for students with intellectual disabilities. University of Rochester Warner School of Education Professor Martha Mock is chair of the Accreditation Workgroup for the National Coordinating Center (NCC) at Think College which was instrumental in developing and launching the accrediting processes.

In 2020, Think College established program accreditation standards to ensure the quality and accountability of college programs for students with intellectual disabilities. The Think College NCC received funding from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Postsecondary Education for this work.

The NCC Accreditation Workgroup has created a guidance manual as well as self-study and site visit processes. The Workgroup is currently field-testing the entire accreditation process. Dr. Kelly Kelley at the UP Program at Western Carolina University volunteered to complete the first accreditation self-study report, and host a two-day site visit, for accreditation from the IHEAC.

“We are excited that the IHEAC will now provide the opportunity for inclusive higher education programs to obtain accreditation and grateful to the UP Program for their willingness to be the inaugural program seeking accreditation,” says Mock, who directs the Warner School’s Center for Disability and Education, which helps people navigate the world of disability by providing expertise, guidance, and linkage to community members, students, families, school districts, non-profit agencies, and higher education institutions.

Mock has worked alongside and on behalf of individuals with disabilities and their families as a teacher, professor and advocate for over three decades. She is widely known for her work in the area of college options for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. She co-founded the New York Inclusive Higher Education Coalition, a group of colleges, agencies, and families interested in promoting inclusive higher education throughout New York State. Mock is also on the editorial board of the Journal for Inclusive Postsecondary Education.

In addition, NCC Accreditation Workgroup members Mary Judge Diegert (University of Rochester Warner School) served as a liaison, and Carol Britton Laws (University of Georgia), Bill Loyd (University of Iowa), and Cynthia May (College of Charleston) served as peer reviewers for the two-day accreditation site visit for the University Participant (UP) program at Western Carolina University. They met with current students, alumni, faculty, staff, employers, university partners, and families to discuss the UP program. All reviewers have extensive experience in the area of inclusive higher education.

The creation of the new agency builds on the work of previous accreditation workgroups, which started in 2011. In 2021, a Report to Congress from the NCC described the work to date and shared finalized program accreditation standards for the first time. Debra Hart, Co-Principal lnvestigator, indicated that “the resulting standards and accreditation process will go a long way to ensuring that higher education options for students with ID are of the highest quality.”

The Institute for Community Inclusion (ICI) promotes the inclusion of people with disabilities in their communities through training, consultation, clinical, and employment services, and research. ICI is a University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities based at the University of Massachusetts Boston and Boston Children’s Hospital.

This historic accomplishment was highlighted in articles from Inside Higher Education, BestColleges News and Research Center, and Disability Scoop