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University Participant Program continues to move UP

up program


By Brandon Rice

Ever since its establishment in 2007, Western Carolina University’s Participant Program has provided an educational path for students with intellectual disabilities and it’s on the brink of history in 2023.

The WCU UP Program provides an inclusive, two-year, on-campus living and learning experience for college-aged persons with intellectual disability. The goal of the program is to facilitate UP students' transition from secondary school to adult life with education, employment and independent living.

The Inclusive Higher Education Accreditation Council recently announced WCU would be its first campus site visit for possible inclusive postsecondary education accreditation for the UP Program. If approved, WCU will be the first college in the U.S. to receive accreditation.

“It’s very exciting to be here at Western Carolina University for our first accreditation site visit and it was chosen because we know there’s an outstanding program here with tremendous support across campus,” said Stephane Smith Lee, president of IHEAC.

Kelly Kelley, program director of the UP Program, stated that the program continues to excel to new heights with student growth, awareness and inclusivity.

“The expectations rise and so do the opportunities,” Kelley said. “Just the joy of seeing our students grow beside each other, whatever profession they are going into is building awareness.”

The council was able to travel to WCU for a two-day visit. During their stay, peer reviewers were able to talk to students, staff and faculty of the UP Program to gather their experiences and expertise.

“We really see this school as setting the benchmark and recognizing excellence in the field and promoting that,” said Carol Britton Laws, professor at the University of Georgia.

The council also recognized how involved the students were as well as the support from faculty and peers. “The level of community and integration of these students as a whole is very impressive at Western Carolina,” said Debra Hart, director of Education and Transition for Community Inclusion at the University of Massachusetts.

The accreditation process is now under review and the UP Program staff are hopeful for an accreditation approval notification very soon.

For more information about the UP Program, visit

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