2018 Guide to Online Colleges and Universities in North Carolina

Home to the Blue Ridge Mountains, part of the Appalachian Trail, and 17 major river basins, North Carolina was the 12th state to enter the Union. With more than 10 million residents, it’s the 9th most populated of the United States. The state’s capital city is Raleigh, although its most populous city is Charlotte, with more than 8,000 residents.

While North Carolina is famously known for being the “First in Flight,” and the state that can lay claim to creating the Krispy Kreme donut, it also boasts a bevy of higher education options for students looking for quality instruction and learning. North Carolina is home to the first public university in the United States, The University of North Carolina. Seventeen public universities are part of the UNC system. Among them are Appalachian State University, Winston-Salem State University, and North Carolina State University. North Carolina also has 36 private, nonprofit liberal arts colleges to pick from. These independent universities represent 14 different religious affiliations, and enroll more than 800,000 students statewide. Additionally, North Carolina has 58 public community colleges.

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North Carolina’s Online Education Profile

Any students seeking opportunities at online colleges in NC will not be disappointed. North Carolina has more than 173 post-secondary institutions, of which 57 offer online programs. A total of 13 are public four-year colleges or universities, 28 are public community or technical colleges, and 16 are private colleges, universities, or career and vocational schools. These schools offer 1,138 online certificate programs, 6,164 online associate programs, 6,503 online bachelor’s programs, 2,429 online master’s programs, 3,073 online professional programs, and 644 online doctoral programs.

eLearningNC was created by the state in 2009 and is considered North Carolina’s system for online education. It boasts a “collaborative online learning environment that promotes student achievement, business success, economic stability, and lifelong learning for every citizen of North Carolina.”

North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities is an online database of 36 private, nonprofit colleges and universities, which are all accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Here, students can access information on online degrees in NC.

Number/Percentage North Carolina National Average
Number of Title IV 4-year colleges 74 56
Number of Title IV 2-year colleges 65 33
Percentage of students enrolled in distance education 32.7% 25.8%
Postsecondary education spending per full-time student $8,750 $6,954
Percentage of adults over 25 with associate degree 9% 8.1%
Percentage of adults over 25 with bachelor’s degree 18.4% 18.5%
Percentage of adults over 25 with graduate degree or higher 9.9% 11.2%

Sources: NCES, SHEEO, U.S. Census Bureau – American Community Survey

Average Cost of College Tuition & Fees in North Carolina

Number/Percentage North Carolina National Average
Average in-state tuition & fees – public 4-year $6,944 $8,778
Average in-state tuition & fees – private 4-year $29,307 $27,951
Average in-state tuition & fees – public 2-year $2,391 $3,038

Source: NCES

Best Online Colleges in North Carolina

Students interested in online colleges in NC have a wide variety of institutions to pick from. Online learning is a huge part of the higher education system in North Carolina. With seemingly endless opportunities to find a well-suited online degree program in North Carolina, there are accredited degrees offered in a number of concentrations at the associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate levels. One of the biggest online schools in NC is its oldest institution, The University of North Carolina. The school has more than 300 online programs and enrolls close to 70,000 students in its online programs.


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North Carolina’s Higher Education Outlook

There are 584,772 students enrolled in higher education programs across North Carolina. This includes traditional programs and online colleges in NC, and both undergraduate and graduate students.

North Carolina tuition is about $2,000 less than the average of public universities across the country. North Carolina has an 83% retention rate at four-year colleges, higher than the 79% U.S. average. Retention accounts for students who entered as freshman, and returned their sophomore year. Additionally, North Carolina has a 36.5% four-year completion rate, and a 61.2% five-year completion rate. Both are slightly below the national average of 33.3% and 57.6%, respectively.

Tuition varies for traditional colleges and North Carolina online colleges depending on factors such as the type and location of the institution as well as the program. In a recent study ranking the best states for higher education, coming in fifth and receiving an A- grade.

Further, the study found that North Carolina is the ninth-highest when it comes to in-state attendance, with 65% of its college enrollment coming from in-state students. The study also found that almost 65,600 high school students went on to enroll in one of North Carolina’s many public two- or four-year colleges in 2014.

Higher Education Initiatives in North Carolina

In both North Carolina and across the country, the need for quality high education opportunities is greater than ever. By the year 2020, 67% of jobs in the state will require some form of post-secondary education. What’s more, only 16% of the state’s high school graduates complete high school college- or career-ready.

As cost is a frequent barrier for students to enter school, three colleges in the University of North Carolina will reduce in-state tuition by $500 per semester, starting in 2018. The 2016 state budget is doing its part by capping increases for annual fees and has also fixed tuition rates for incoming students.

Resources for North Carolina

  • Universities in the University of Carolina Online System: This system provides a list of the schools and universities throughout the state that are part of the University of North Carolina’s online system.
  • State Library of North Carolina: The State Library links you to public libraries across the state. Here you can search for available books at a certain library location or view digital texts.
  • College Cost Tools and Calculators: These calculators are provided by North Carolina’s Department of Education, and help you estimate how much an online degree will cost you in the long run.
  • Grants and Scholarships in North Carolina: This is a state-approved list of scholarship and grant programs available to students enrolled in North Carolina colleges and universities.
  • North Carolina Education Links: This site provides a collection of links to sites covering many aspects of online education in North Carolina, from facts about the state to links to teacher’s organizations.
  • North Carolina Employment Data: For those looking for employment data, this site provides detailed information regarding general job data in North Carolina as compiled by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

College Savings Plans

Sponsored by a state or state agency, a college savings plan is just that: a savings plan for college. Individuals and families can set aside money to be saved for future educational costs, and these funds are exempt from federal taxes. It gets its “529” moniker from the section of the Internal Revenue Code for which it was named. Those who create the plan can select from a variety of investment options, much like a 401(k) or IRA. Once a savings plan account is created, the funds can be used for college tuition, books, or a variety of other education-related expenses. Most accredited colleges accept 529 plans.

North Carolina’s savings plan is called the National College Savings Program. It’s usually dubbed “NC 529 Plan” for short. Residents of any state are eligible, and funds saved can be used at eligible colleges anywhere in the United States. Savings in the NC 529 Plan are exempt from federal taxes, and state taxes for those who pay in North Carolina. North Carolina does not offer an income-tax deduction for savings plan contributions. Keep all this information in mind if you’re looking to attend one of the online colleges in NC.

Educational Nonprofit Organizations in North Carolina

In addition to the many state-run programs and resources available for higher education and online schools in NC, there are also many nonprofit organizations with missions of assisting those interested in obtaining a post-secondary degree.

  • BEST NC: This nonprofit works to improve educational opportunities and enhance the North Carolina education system. Through advocacy and policy work, BEST NC prioritizes student achievement and helps to ensure students graduate primed and ready to enter into post-secondary institutions.
  • Higher Education Works Foundation: Higher Education Works Foundation uses fact-based research about North Carolina higher education to assist in the growing need for financial assistance and reform within the state. As costs continue to rise, the nonprofit seeks to find answers on how families can continue to afford the price of online colleges in NC.
  • The James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal: This nonprofit dedicates its work to improving the higher education system in North Carolina. They work to increase the diversity of ideas taught on campuses and increase teaching quality throughout post-secondary institutions and online schools in NC.

Accrediting Bodies in North Carolina

To earn credibility and enhance their reputation as an educational leader, schools seek accreditation. Accredited schools have been certified and meet the standards of the governing agency. Depending on what type of school it is, the college is expected to meet a certain set of standards by the regional or national accreditation agency to which it is applying. Schools must demonstrate a solid foundation and mission of educating its students, and must show that they have the resources to continue this work long-term. Accreditation requires frequent reviews and checks to ensure they maintain these standards.

Some colleges have received regional accreditation, while some have been nationally accredited. Most regionally accredited colleges (98%) are nonprofit and degree-granting. Typically, nationally accredited schools are for-profit schools, often with a religious affiliation. Both types require quality outputs from the colleges, can be recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, and can accept financial aid.

Southern Association of Colleges and the Schools Commission on Colleges is the regional accreditation agency for colleges in southern states, including North Carolina. It is recognized by the U.S. Secretary of State, and it selects schools for accreditation based on staff, classes, and degree programs. Look for online schools in NC that hold accreditation with this body.

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Job Outlook for North Carolina

When selecting any degree program, it is important to consider the job prospects and employment outlook for the state, post graduation. After determining if a specific field of study or career path is a good fit, it’s a good idea to think about that field’s growth and stability. Overall, North Carolina has seen a steady decrease in its unemployment rate.

The state’s GDP is predicted to increase by 1.9%, with the sectors of business, information, and professional services expected to see the biggest bump.

Top Industries in North Carolina

Industry Description
Aerospace, Aviation, and Defense There are over 1,000 aerospace companies in North Carolina’s aerospace supply chain, including Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Cessna.
Automotive, Truck, and Heavy Equipment There are more than 26,000 automotive manufacturing jobs in North Carolina, and over 160 automotive and heavy equipment companies in the state.
Biotechnology, Pharmaceuticals, and Life Sciences LabCorp, Pfizer, and Novo Nordisk all have a large presence in North Carolina, making biotech a large and profitable industry for the state.

Top Employers in North Carolina

Top Employers Number of Employees
University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill 30,000
Merrill Lynch 15,000
Carolinas Medical Center 12,184

North Carolina by the Numbers

Per capita income:

  • State: $26,801
  • US average: $29,979

Median household income:

  • State: $47,830
  • US average: $55,775

Gross Domestic Product:

  • State: 517,904
  • US: 18,456,292