Impact Feature Issue on Postsecondary Education and Students with Intellectual, Developmental and Other Disabilities

Postsecondary Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities: Emerging Standards, Quality Indicators and Benchmarks

The growth of postsecondary education programs for people with intellectual disabilities over the past decade, coupled with important changes to the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA), have led to a need for a more standardized approach to determine the efficacy and quality of such programs. Therefore, in 2008, the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) and the Administration on Developmental Disabilities funded research to determine a set of standards, quality indicators, and benchmarks that could be used by existing and new programs. The Institute for Community Inclusion at University of Massachusetts Boston, in partnership with TransCen, Inc., received funding to complete this research, and the process to develop a validated set of standards commenced in 2009. The ongoing research is resulting in a validated set of practices that can be used by institutes of higher education to create, expand or enhance high-quality, inclusive postsecondary education experiences to support positive outcomes for individuals with intellectual disabilities. Further, the standards, indicators, and benchmarks are aligned with the definition of a comprehensive postsecondary and transition program for students with intellectual disabilities contained in the HEOA in an effort to assist with compliance with these parameters.

The resulting standards, quality indicators, and benchmark tool includes eight overarching standards that have been identified as critical areas of focus for postsecondary education programs for students with intellectual disabilities. They are: Academic Access, Career Development, Social Networks, Fostering Self-Determination, Integration with College Systems and Practices, Coordination and Collaboration, Sustainability, and Evaluation. These eight standards represent the key areas that those establishing and/or improving these programs should consider. Each represents an area that is vital to establishing a comprehensive, inclusive educational experience for students with intellectual disabilities, and to assure alignment with requirements in the HEOA. In this way, the standards will assist programs in applying to be an "eligible program" under the HEOA and therefore be eligible for financial aid for its students.

By mid-2011 the final validated standards, quality indicators, and benchmarks will be posted on the Think College Web site as a resource for new and existing programs, eventually available on the Web site as a downloadable guide. In addition, an online self-assessment tool will also be developed that will allow those who are implementing a postsecondary education program to rate their practices with those reflected in the standards. For those establishing a new postsecondary program, the standards will provide guidance on what is promising practice in the field and what is required by the HEOA.