North Carolina Online Colleges & Universities – Top Schools for ’16

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Guide to Online Colleges in North Carolina

Online schools in North Carolina make higher education accessible to everyone, everywhere. Private colleges and career schools were among the first institutions in North Carolina to experiment with web-based learning, but today, both private and public North Carolina colleges provide online degree programs to distance students.

Leading the way in online programs in North Carolina are the 16 campuses of the University of North Carolina system. Each individual campus offers numerous online degree and courses. Multiple private colleges also offer online programs in North Carolina, including Duke University in Durham, Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem and Campbell University in Buies Creek.

The largest centers for postsecondary education in North Carolina are found around its largest metropolitan areas, Charlotte and Raleigh. Check in on what’s happening in these two cities to get a pulse on the college climate in North Carolina.

Education Focus: Colleges and Universities in Raleigh

In the last three years, Businessweek named Raleigh as the best place in the nation to live. Dice called Raleigh the “fastest-growing city for technology occupations,” and Forbes Magazine listed the city number three in the nation based on career potential. As home to North Carolina State University, Raleigh comprises part of the intellectual and technological Raleigh/Chapel Hill/Durham Research Triangle. Today, the Raleigh area is home to a state university, several seminaries, a law school, a technical community college, a private women’s college and more than a dozen vocational schools.

Established in 1887 as the North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, North Carolina State University is the Carolinas’ largest university with nearly 35,000 students. Students can choose from 105 bachelor degree programs, more than 100 master’s degrees and 61 doctoral programs. North Carolina State University is home to a veterinary medicine school, ranked third in the nation by U.S. News and World Report. Three campus areas are located in Raleigh, with the major academic divisions in agriculture, design, education, engineering, social sciences, management, natural resources, sciences and veterinary medicine.

Raleigh’s Wake Technical Community College (Wake Tech) offers undergrads a choice of 180 associate degrees, certificates and diplomas. Major career areas include agriculture, architecture, business management, education, finance, health sciences, hospitality and tourism, information technology, criminal justice, marketing, engineering and mathematics and transportation logistics. Wake Tech’s offers students degree plans in Associate in Arts (AA), Associate in Science (AS) or an Associate in Fine Arts (AFA) degree. Wake Tech maintains articulation agreements with public and private 4-year colleges and universities in the Tar Heel State.

Other post-secondary schools in Raleigh include Meredith College, Miller-Motte Technical College, Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law, Campbell University, Saint Augustine’s University and William Peace University.

Spotlight on Raleigh Online Learning

Busy Raleigh-area students can find solid alternatives to traditional degrees and certificates through online and hybrid programs in most major fields. Miller-Motte Technical College offers online programs in accounting, business administration, technical certifications (Cisco, CompTIA, Microsoft), nursing, paralegal studies and criminal justice. Wake Tech provides degree and certificate programs in advertising, accounting, business administration, computer programming, criminal justice, fire science, medical office administration and early child administration.

For 4-year and graduate students, NC State offers highly-ranked online programs in business, computer information technology, engineering and education. The university’s online graduate technology program is among the top five ranked schools in the nation. Other institutions providing online college and university programs in Raleigh include Winston-Salem State University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Greensboro College and Wake Forest University.

A Look at Tuition and Fees for North Carolina Online Colleges

College is an investment that, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, pays off in earnings and employability. Of course, as with most investments, there is some up-front cost. Consider these expenses when researching North Carolina schools. Tuition is the highest cost associated with attending college, though it can vary from one school, program or region to the next. Residency can also influence tuition costs since many schools – especially public universities – offer North Carolina residents reduced rates. In 2012, North Carolina colleges charged in-state residents and average of $9,540 for tuition, a figure that places it 16th among all states nationally. Out-of-state students may pay considerably more, depending on the institution. In some cases, non-residents can live and work in North Carolina for a time to establish residency before enrolling in a program, helping to reduce tuition costs.

While tuition may be the most central college expense, it is not the only one. Additional fees can quickly add to the overall cost of education. Some of these fees, like parking and recreational fees, are optional and apply to individuals who take advantage of those services. Others, like lab or health center fees, are mandatory. In 2012, North Carolina colleges and universities charged students an average of $900 in fees, bringing the total cost of tuition and fees to $10,440 for in-state residents.

Another major – and sometimes overlooked – financial concern is the cost of living. Housing, groceries, healthcare, transportation and utilities are fundamental budget items. The cost of living in North Carolina is about 3 percent lower than the national average, but these rates can vary. The following chart illustrates how much living costs can shift from one major North Carolina metropolitan area to the next. Note: Costs are compared to a national average, which has an index of 100:

Urban Area Composite Index Housing Groceries Utilities Transportation Health Care Misc.
Thomasville-Lexington -10.8% -22.8% 5.5% -19.3% -11.2% 9.1% -6.5%
Marion-McDowell County -7.9% -12.1% 3.1% -6.0% -10.5% -3.7% -9.1%
Winston-Salem -7.6% -17.1% -1.5% -11.5% -16.7% -0.7% 1.5%
Hickory -7.1% -8.7% 1.1% -7.7% -13.5% -6.2% -7.0%
Charlotte -6.8% -20.5% -2.9% -8.8% -4.3% 10.3% 1.4%
Kinston -6.2% -23.9% 2.5% 8.8% -3.3% 2.9% -0.7%
Burlington -5.4% -14.0% -1.4% -17.7% -2.5% 2.5% 2.5%
Fayetteville -4.8% -17.5% 5.1% -7.2% -4.0% 17.9% 0.1%
Jacksonville -3.5% -12.0% 3.2% -0.8% -2.2% 1.2% -0.4%
Durham -3.4% -13.2% -2.1% -3.7% 5.5% 8.5% 0.6%
Raleigh -1.8% -11.2% 4.2% 5.6% -3.3% 1.0% 1.9%
Greenville -1.5% -15.6% 5.9% 8.5% -2.4% 13.5% 3.3%
Wilmington -1.2% -10.3% 8.0% 8.5% -2.4% 0.1% 0.3%
Asheville 1.1% -2.2% 4.6% 13.1% -5.8% 4.7% 0.6%
Dare County 7.3% 16.7% 11.7% -7.1% 10.2% 11.7% 0.4%
Chapel Hill 13.0% 27.0% 0.9% -14.3% 22.8% 5.8% 12.1%

The money a student earns after graduation is an important consideration when choosing a degree plan. Therefore, when analyzing college options, students and their families should look at each institution’s track record of producing graduates that go on to lucrative careers. Look for colleges that have degrees that hold value and generate a high return on investment (ROI). The following North Carolina schools have the highest documented ROI in the state:

  1. Duke University
  2. Wake Forest University
  3. North Carolina State University
  4. North Carolina Wesleyan
  5. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

College Accreditation in North Carolina

North Carolina students hoping to qualify for financial aid should look for accredited colleges. Accreditation is a process by which a third-party organization reviews programs to ensure they meet quality standards at the national or regional level. Agencies accrediting North Carolina colleges and universities include the regional Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and the national Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and College. The Distance Education and Training Council is a national accrediting agency for online degree programs. Institutions in North Carolina can also earn specialized or programmatic accreditation for specific programs, departments or colleges. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, for instance, maintains programmatic accreditation from dozens of agencies such as the American Bar Association, the American Chemical Society, the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education, and the American Nurses Credentialing Center.

Best Online Colleges in North Carolina for 2015-2016

North Carolina residents now have the option to attend numerous state-based colleges, completely online. Rising to meet the demand for these convenient and flexible programs, North Carolina’s universities have begun offering an increasing number of online degree and professional certificate programs. While convenience and flexibility are both important factors to consider when choosing an online college, the number one factor remains quality. Taking this fact into careful consideration, we ranked the following schools as the Best Online Colleges in North Carolina for 2015-2016 based on quality, programs offered, price, accreditation and flexibility.

RANK COLLEGE ScoreStudent-Teacher RatioFinancial AidCost MORE INFO
1 Fayetteville State University 99.5717:196%

Fayetteville State University offers its junior and senior-level courses online. Core requirements must be completed in-person at either Fayetteville or a partner community college. Once students are able to enroll in upper-level courses, they can choose to focus on bachelor degrees in criminal justice, psychology, sociology, fire and emergency services administration, and business administration with a general concentration. The program also offers master's degrees in criminal justice and business administration. Coursework consists of online discussions, exams, quizzes, blogs, social rooms, wikis and online assignments. There is no set login time; the only requirement is to ensure that all due dates are met.

2 Mid-Atlantic Christian University 95.1412:1100%

Mid-Atlantic Christian University offers undergraduate and continuing education focuses in Christian ministry, family studies, business administration, biblical studies and the continuing education for teachers certificate. The school was established in 1948 to meet the needs of an understaffed church environment and was founded on the principal of the New Testament under the motto, “A New Testament School - Set for the Defense of the Gospel.” Students who focus on ministry degrees will be prepared to work in a wide variety of church roles, while those focusing on business and education will receive a biblical foundation for leadership success.

3 University of North Carolina at Pembroke 93.8815:192%

The University of North Carolina at Pembroke recommends students complete the school's general education courses in-person and at a physical location, since some of them do not transfer well online (for instance, two hours of physical education). The online program, however, consists of all courses in the major necessary to complete the degree. Undergraduate programs such as criminal justice, sociology, applied professional studies, applied information technology, criminal justice, public and non-profit administration are available as well as three business administration tracks in economics, finance and management. The school has two online master's programs, in elementary education and public administration.

4 East Carolina University 92.8017:173%

The distance-learning program at East Carolina University is tailored to students who complete their first two years of college in-person at a local university. After that, students transfer their credits and can focus on topics like business, communication, education, health services management, hospitality management, industrial distribution and logistics, industrial technology, information technologies and nursing. Students in the education program can focus on kindergarten education, business education, family and consumer sciences education, elementary education and special education. Business students can focus on general business, management, management systems, and operations and supply chain management. Industrial technology allows students to focus on bioprocess manufacturing, health information technologies and industrial supervision, to name a few.

5 Campbell University 92.6116:1100%

Students at Campbell can interact with their professors in a format that allows them to log in at times that are convenient for them, but must still take care to ensure that all professor-set deadlines are met. Classes begin with an online learning seminar, designed to help students become familiar and comfortable with the system. Courses are available in topics such as businesses administration, criminal justice, information technology and religion. Online courses are presented through the Blackboard Learning Management System, which also has an app, enabling students to stay on top of their courses.

6 Appalachian State University 92.5416:167%

Students at Appalachian State University have a wide variety of areas to study. The university offers undergraduate majors in business, child development, communication, criminal justice, education (elementary, middle grades and special education), health promotion, management, nursing and social work. Informational sessions are offered five to 10 months before the beginning of coursework. The distance program also offers graduate-level certificate programs in educational media, elementary mathematics, gerontology, middle and secondary teaching, school leadership and sociology. Students can gain master's degrees in businesses, a wide variety of education topics, nursing, public administration and social work. The program provides access to traditional educational support, like library and technology support, as a part of the distance program.

7 Heritage Bible College 92.437:1100%

This institution of higher education is a member of the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools and welcomes students of all denominations. While enrolled, students will be able to earn a bachelor or associate degree through the systematic and comprehensive curriculum, which is taught through a Pentecostal perspective. Undergraduates can earn their Bachelor of Religious Education (BRE)along many different tracks, including Missions and Evangelism, Christian and Counseling, Youth and Ministry, and Discipleship. An Associate’s Degree in Christian Studies is also available, with opportunities to earn their degree entirely online

8 Winston-Salem State University 92.3516:196%

Students may majors in diverse areas such as accounting, chemistry, or mathematics to middle grade education, reading and special education. The school offers bachelor's, master's and certificate programs. Students must declare a major specifically in the distance education program, which places a strong emphasis on online discussions with the teacher and other students, team projects and course requirements. Online courses are designed to contain the same workload as a traditional in-person education, though there is no in-person requirement, as everything takes places 100 percent online.

9 University of North Carolina Wilmington 92.1517:169%

The online courses at University of North Carolina, Wilmington, come in two formats: fully-online courses with no in-person requirements, but which may still require students to meet on a set schedule in a virtual classroom; and hybrid courses in which at last one-third of the program exists online. Students can choose undergraduate degrees in clinical research, elementary education and nursing (RN to BS). The school offers master's programs in chemistry, clinical research, education (with an emphasis on either elementary education, curriculum, instruction, supervision focus, instructional technology or middle grades) and liberal studies.

10 Cabarrus College of Health Sciences 91.689:193%

Cabarrus College emphasizes keeping its distance learning programs as true to the traditional classroom as possible, and as such classes are filled with discussions and exchanges more typically seen in a classroom environment. Student and teacher interaction is facilitated via the Learning Management System, through which students engage in responding to materials posted by the teacher, complete project work with peers, participate in online chats and take their quizzes/tests. Students can choose from three tiers of online education: web based/online, where 75 to 100 percent of the course is virtual; hybrid, where 26 to 74 percent of learning takes place online; and web enhanced, where 0 to 25 takes place online. Programs are offered in areas such as nursing, occupational therapy and pharmacy technology.

11 North Carolina A & T State University 91.2516:195%

North Carolina A&T State University prides itself in providing self-paced, online, short courses. These courses are designed to give targeted professional development for continuing education needs, certificate completion, or for professionals who just want to learn more about a specific topic. The courses are arranged into general fields like writing, then into categories like e-books, driving and interior design, and finally down to highly focused subjects like AutoCAD, typing skills and WordPress. There are also several certificate, bachelor's and master's degree programs available in fields like business, geomatics and information technology.

12 Lees-McRae College 91.1015:1100%

Lees-McRae online courses are designed to be affordable and flexible for students with work and family obligations. Students can choose undergraduate programs in criminal justice, elementary education or human services, and the school also has a program that allows RNs to attain their bachelor's degree while still working. Students access classes via a specific website that contains syllabi, discussions and assignments. The school is accredited via the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, and their BSN program is accredited via the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

13 Montreat College 91.0912:1100%

Montreat College offers fully-online degrees at the associate, bachelor's and master's levels. At Montreat, students will encounter a Christian-based education with a focus on finding yourself within the paradigm of a Christian life. Students can obtain an associate's in business or general studies, a Bachelor of Science in Bible and Religion, a bachelor's in psychology, and human services and business administration, plus a master's degree in management and leadership. Students can further specialize their education with concentrations in general, cyber security, human resource management, criminal justice administration and marketing.

14 Apex School of Theology 91.0019:192%

Students in the Apex School of Theology distance education program can gain a Christian education online through this accredited institution. Students learn the same information as traditional location-based students, but with the flexibility of an internet-based program. The program allows students to focus on Christian education, theology, or Christian counseling or obtain a Master of Divinity Degree. Students also have the option to take continuing education courses. Apex's online program is tailored to students of a wide array of backgrounds who may have special circumstances, like living in a remote area or living with disabilities.

15 William Peace University 90.6717:1100%

William Peace University offers every course for every degree requirement each semester, so there's limited juggling of when to do which courses.  They're always available, even if you need to take a semester off due to other obligations.  The online program offers a bachelor's in business administration, liberal studies or psychology.  Everything is completed in a virtual classroom, so you'll never need to set foot on campus. Students also have access to the bookstore and library online.  All classes are also asynchronous, so you can login when your schedule allows you to meet course deadlines.

16 North Carolina State University 90.0817:171%

North Carolina State University at Raleigh's online programs are full-campus programs brought to students in a convenient online format. They hold the same accreditation as the traditional programs and are taught by the same faculty that teaches the campus-based versions. Programs are offered as undergraduate degrees, graduate degrees, certificates and teacher licenses. Students can choose from engineering, technology science and education topics, just to name a few. The school even has a doctorate program for adult and community college education. The university prides itself on its flexibility, allowing even the busiest and most distant of students to receive a quality education.

17 Gardner-Webb University 89.9713:1100%

Gardner-Webb University requires students to have completed 60 to 64 hours of coursework before enrolling in online courses. Once students have completed this, they can choose to focus on accounting, business administration, computer information systems, criminal justice, elementary education, entrepreneurship, healthcare management, multidisciplinary studies, nursing or religion. Master's degrees are available for accountancy, business administration, international business administration, nursing and sport pedagogy. There is also a Doctor of Nursing Practice offered that requires 20 to 23 hours of in-person lectures. Students receive the Blackboard Student Orientation so they can successfully navigate the blackboard system, through which online courses are conducted.

18 University of Mount Olive 89.4914:1100%

University of Mount Olive has a 100 percent online RN to BSN program for working registered nurses. This program has a strong basis on the liberal arts, sciences and humanities with the aim of graduating students who are strong, well-rounded professionals. Student experiences as an RN will transfer to earning their bachelor's, and the program is designed with the hectic life of a working professional in mind. Students can login to their courses when it is convenient for them, and it is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. Students do not need to complete standard clinical requirements, and instead do a local community-nursing requirement and an “evidence-based” capstone with a mentor. Students can expect to learn from experienced nursing professors.

19 Johnson & Wales University 87.4523:1100%

Johnson & Wales University places a special emphasis on career-focused courses. Students can expect to learn from an experience-based foundation and have access to a practical curriculum, which was developed in conjunction with employers at the top of their industry. Students still have access to services like technical help and career resources. Johnson & Wales offers undergraduate programs in baking and pastry arts, business administration, business studies, culinary arts and food management, hospitality management and liberal studies. Graduate programs include master's degrees in business administration, business administration-hospitality, criminal justice, finance, human resource management and nonprofit management.

Search Accredited Online Colleges in North Carolina

Students must weigh factors such as choice of major, costs of tuition, fees and materials, school reputation, time expenditure, return on investment, ultimate career goals, and family and work commitments before choosing to attend an online college. Each college must match the individual student’s academic requirements and preferences with the online college that best accommodates their individual needs. The customized search tool below is designed to help students choose the best online college based on location, price and degree plan.

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Spotlight on North Carolina Online Colleges

We’ve asked some of the universities on our list of best online colleges in Vermont to share what makes their institutions stand apart from the crowd. Find out what they had to say below.

Online Departments in North Carolina

Fayetteville State University

How would you describe your institution's approach to online learning?

Our approach is holistic. We believe in training and supporting faculty in the development and teaching of high quality online courses. We also believe in preparing and supporting students to be successful in the online environment to make receiving an education at a distance as obstacle free as possible.

What makes your online programs so valuable to students?

Small class sizes, dedicated faculty, and campus wide services and support for students at a distance make FSU a desirable option.

Where do you see your online programs in the next five years? Beyond?

We see the number and types of programs continuing to grow, and the commitment to faculty and student development also strengthening. We intend to stay on the cusp of emerging technologies and teaching as we learn new methods to meet the needs of our students.

Valuable Resources for Online Students in North Carolina

There are hundreds of programs, applications, tools and resources available online to help college students achieve success. Available resources include knowledge databases, library books and reference materials, time and money management apps, and subject-specific program aids and tutorials. The list below provides useful information for students located in North Carolina.

Major North Carolina Educational Resources: