Demand for educated workers is growing nationally, and North Carolina is no exception, according to Lumina Foundation. The state’s booming higher education market strives to meet that demand. In 2013, North Carolina was home to 192 accredited colleges, universities and career schools, which served more than 765,000 students statewide at all levels, from entry-level certificates to graduate degrees. This placed North Carolina 13th among all states for number of colleges, and 14th in student enrollments. That means one in every 38 U.S. college students attended a North Carolina institution in 2013, including public, private non-profit, private for-profit and religious schools. Here is a breakdown of the different types and prevalence of North Carolina colleges and universities:
|College Type||Number in North Carolina|
|Private not-for-profit (religious affiliation)||36|
|Private not-for-profit (no religious affiliation)||14|
Top Cities for Higher Education in North Carolina
As in most states, North Carolina’s major economic hubs -- like Charlotte and Greensboro -- boast a fair share of colleges, universities and career schools, but they are by no means the only higher education centers. The following information highlights which North Carolina cities host the most colleges and the most college students:
Popular North Carolina Cities for College Students (Total)
- Charlotte (72,000)
- Raleigh (66,800)
- Greensboro (33,400)
- Wilmington (31,900)
- Fayetteville (29,700)
North Carolina Cities with the Most Colleges (Total)
- Charlotte (26)
- Durham (12)
- Raleigh (11)
- Greensboro (8)
- Fayetteville (8)
Education Focus: Colleges and Universities in Raleigh
In the last three years, Raleigh has received accolades as the best place in the nation to live (Businessweek), fastest-growing city for technology occupations (Dice), and third nationally for business and careers (Forbes). As host of North Carolina State University, Raleigh comprises part of the intellectual and technological Raleigh/Chapel Hill/Durham Research Triangle. Since founded in the 1960s, The Triangle has fostered university development and attracted subject-matter experts from the world over. Today, the Raleigh area is home to a state university, several seminaries, two historically Black universities, a law school, a technical community college, a private women's college and more than a dozen for-profit vocational schools and colleges.
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. State, as students call the university, also hosts a veterinary medicine school, ranked 3rd 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. In addition, Wake Tech’s college transfer program is designed to enable students to satisfy North Carolina general education requirements along with an Associate in Arts (AA), Associate in Science (AS), or an Associate in Fine Arts (AFA). Wake Tech maintains articulation agreements with public and private four-year colleges and universities in the Tar Heel State. Other 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 Schools
Busy Raleigh area students can find solid alternatives to traditional degrees and certificates through online and hybrid programs in most major fields. For career-college students, Miller-Motte Technical College offers online programs in accounting, business administration, technical certifications (Cisco, CompTIA, Microsoft), nursing, paralegal studies, and criminal justice. Wake Tech also serves up a large array of degree and certificate programs in advertising, accounting, business administration, computer programming, criminal justice, fire science, medical office administration, early child administration and more.
For four-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 offering the major. Other institutions providing online college and university programs include Winston-Salem State University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Greensboro College, and Wake Forest University.
North Carolina Online Learning Options
Online schools help make higher education accessible to everyone, everywhere, no matter how remote or busy they may be. Private, for-profit colleges and career schools were among the first institutions to experiment with web-based learning, but today some of the most prestigious private and public North Carolina colleges provide online degree programs. In 2013, a total of 30 schools in the state offered at least one online course. Duke University, for example, gives students the chance to learn online via its Duke Continuing Studies program in partnership with Coursera. While many of these classes are not for credit, the university has many courses and programs that do. The University of North Carolina also has an extensive distance learning program that offers online degrees at the bachelor's, master's, and doctorate levels. Certificate and licensure programs are also available online as well as individual online courses and MOOCs.
A Look at Tuition and Fees at North Carolina Colleges
College is an investment that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, pays off, both in earnings and employability. Of course, as with most investments, there is some up-front cost, and it is helpful to consider these expenses when researching North Carolina schools. Tuition is the most basic 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 $9,540 on average in tuition, a figure that places it 16th among all states nationally. Out-of-state students can pay considerably more, depending on the institution. Note that in some cases, non-residents can live and work in North Carolina for a time in order to establish residency before enrolling in a program, thereby reducing education costs. Potential students can contact schools directly to learn more about residency requirements.
Tuition may be the most central college expense, but it is not the only one: Other fees can quickly add to education costs. 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, tend to be 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 state residents, and higher for out-of-state students.
Another major, but sometimes overlooked financial concern, is the cost of living, particularly for students with limited or no income. Housing, groceries and utilities are fundamental budget items, but transportation, health care and other costs can add up, too. Generally speaking, 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.|
The money a student earns after graduation rivals in importance the money spent while attending. 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. In other words, which colleges 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:
- Duke University
- Wake Forest University
- North Carolina State University
- North Carolina Wesleyan
- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Financial Aid and Scholarships in North Carolina
There are a number of programs designed to help North Carolina students pay for college, including state, federal and school-specific financial aid options. Federal aid includes subsidized and unsubsidized federal student loans, which must be repaid, and grants, which are essentially free money. Overall, 70 percent of North Carolina undergraduate students received federal aid in 2012, placing the state 17th nationally. Eligibility for different types of federal funding depends on financial need. Students seeking financial aid start by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which is available online. Applicants should be prepared to provide tax and other financial information, and those under the age of 23 may be required to provide documentation for their parents or legal guardians.
Scholarships are another tool for minimizing education costs. Like grants, scholarships do not typically need to be repaid. Some scholarships are awarded based on financial need, but others are merit-based, meaning they are reserved for students who have demonstrated some type of academic, athletic or artistic achievement. Scholarships may also be tied to certain characteristics or lifestyles, like those reserved for women, minority students and military service members, or for students pursuing careers in specific industries, like business or nursing. Schools, private businesses and non-profit groups may award scholarships. The following are just some of the groups in North Carolina that offer scholarships:
- American Red Cross
- Carson Scholars Fund, Inc.
- Colon Furr Memorial Nursing Scholarship Fund
- Crumley Roberts, LLP
- Greensboro Community Swim Association
- Korean American Scholarship Foundation
- Michael A. DeMayo Scholarship Program
- North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority
- North Carolina Sheriffs Association
- Procter & Gamble
- Rose of Raleigh
- Winston-Salem Foundation
College Accreditation in North Carolina
North Carolina students hoping to qualify for financial aid of any sort should keep in mind that many programs require that they attend accredited programs. Accreditation is a process by which a third-party organization reviews programs to ensure they meet certain quality standards. These organizations can accredit colleges nationally or regionally. Examples of agencies accrediting North Carolina colleges and universities include the regional Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (www.sacscoc.org) and the national Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (www.accsc.org) . The Distance Education and Training Council (www.detc.org) is another national accrediting agency dealing specifically with 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.
Choosing a college or degree program can seem a daunting task. Students must consider their career goals, individual learning styles and pocketbooks when narrowing their options -- a process that requires they learn as much as they can about potential opportunities. Check out the profiles below to find out more about online schools and programs in North Carolina.
While they share many of the same characteristics, not all online learning programs are created equal. We spoke with Fayetteville State University about what makes their distance learning options unique. Read the interview here:
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.
Ranking: Most Affordable Online Colleges in North Carolina
North Carolina takes pride in the variety of online distance education choices that can be found within this state. Fully online degree programs in North Carolina rival similar programs that can be found on a traditional campus. In some cases the degrees and certifications granted online are even identical to those issued on-site. Thanks to excellent online programs that often employ the same professors and provide identical curriculum, North Carolina online colleges are unsurpassed. We’ve compiled a complete list of online schools in North Carolina. From lowest tuition to highest, this list will aid you in determining which online college in North Carolina will best fit your needs.Click here to see our methodology.