The Tar Heel state has been occupied by humans since at least 1000 BC, when the ancient Mississippians established communities in the Piedmont. The Spanish arrived in the sixteenth century, the first Europeans to begin colonizing North Carolina. One hundred and fifty years later, Blackbeard ran his stolen ship, Queen Anne's Revenge, aground at Beaufort Inlet. After receiving a royal pardon in nearby Bath Town, Blackbeard would only live another year, but his brief time in North Carolina seems appropriate. Throughout the colonial period, North Carolina was considered a backwater, uninhabitable and roguish; indeed, a large swath of it was, namely The Great Dismal Swamp. By the twentieth century, however, its unique topography — Appalachian mountains, Piedmont, Atlantic Coastal Plain — provided resources for economic growth, and today its diverse economic climate includes engineering, energy, biotechnology, and finance. North Carolina is also famously home to some of the nation's very best universities and the Research Triangle, which has the most PhDs per capita in the country. So, if you're a North Carolina resident looking to take advantage of online education opportunities, why not stay local?
Featured Online Schools
In-state tuition is often applied to public schools offering online programs. Many online programs require some face-to-face time, or more numerous support services at their brick and mortar locations. Intensive study experiences–often on the weekends or in several week long bouts–enable many online students to accelerate their time until graduation. And students looking at online education can drastically expand their educational options if they also look to hybrid degrees (degrees where degrees can be taken partially, or mostly online). Finally, one of the most common stipulations in scholarships is that students be from a certain state or region, often more funds are available to students seeking degrees in-state.
Considering North Carolina's wealth of higher education institutions, it's no surprise that 48 schools offer online programs, 32 of which are public — from associate tracks all the way through doctorate levels. East Carolina is the largest public provider, with 48 available degrees, including 12 bachelor's, 25 master's, and one doctoral program in Nursing Practice. (Other disciplines of note include IT, Education, Healthcare, and Business, including an MBA program.) Trailing just behind ECU is NC State, which offers 44 online master's degrees and one Doctor of Education in Adult And Community College Education; master's degrees include an MBA, MEd specializations, Engineering, Environmental Science, Health, and more. North Carolina's extensive community college system — nearly 60 schools in total — are another excellent source of affordable online degrees, top providers including Fayetteville Technical Community College (17), Guilford Technical Community College (14), and Vance-Granville Community College (14).
Sixteen private schools offer online degrees. Campbell University's offerings are the largest, including four associate's, 11 bachelor's, and two master's tracks in areas like Business, IT, Education, and more. Mid-Atlantic Christian University, with 16 bachelor's degrees, and Gardner-Webb, with eight bachelor's and six master's, are the second- and third-largest private online educators, respectively. No doubt, Duke is the most prestigious of the schools on our list, and offers four Nursing specialization master's and a DNP. There are also several religious-affiliated schools: Heritage Bible College, Montreat College, Heritage Bible College, Apex School of Theology, Mount Olive College, and Grace College of Divinity, among others, offering degrees in Biblical Studies, Divinity, Bible and Religion, and non-religious areas, like Business, Criminal Justice, and Management.
For a variety of reasons, a student may look to move to the state of their online college program whether specifically required by the program or not – be it for a job, location desirability, school benefits, etc. Different states have different policies, however, and some of them can be rather demanding. North Carolina's requirements are laid out in an extensive Residence Classification Manual, but UNC has a more succinct explanation located here. It is relatively straightforward: a person must have lived in the state and maintained a residence (i.e., have a mailing address) for at least 12 months, uninterrupted, prior to admission to a North Carolina public university. (Minors under 18 are assumed to be living at their parents' residence.) Active-duty personnel in the armed services, and their spouses, dependent children and dependent relatives may also be eligible for in-state tuition. For further FAQ, click here.
While higher education tuition is rising in North Carolina, it still remains substantially lower compared to the national average. For 2015-2016, the average in-state tuition for 4-year public schools in the US was $9,142; in North Carolina, it was $6,973. That's up 4% from the previous year, but public tuition across the country increased about 3% over the same time period. This low cost trend continues when we look at the state's flagship university — UNC Chapel Hill — which cost $8,591 in 2015 for in-state students, compared to a national flagship average of $10,622. (It's worth noting that Chapel Hill is annually ranked among the top 15 public universities in the country.) Altogether, especially when we factor in the variety of choices — from top pedigreed schools to the 50+ community colleges — North Carolina schools are among the best values in the United States, and in-state tuition projects below the national average for the foreseeable future.
Four schools offer online degrees in Charlotte, the largest city in the state: Central Carolina Community College, Montreat College, Queens University of Charlotte, and Johnson & Wales University. The latter two have the largest offerings. Queens University offers an MBA (with specialization options), an MA in Educational Leadership, MA in Communication, and MSN with a Clinical Nurse Leader Track. Johnson & Wales offers two MBAs, in Accounting and Hospitality, and four bachelor's of science in Baking & Pastry Arts And Food Service Management, Liberal Studies, and Culinary Arts & Food Service Management. Central Piedmont Community College offers a non-credit AA certificate in Humanities & Social Science, and Montreat (whose main campus is near Asheville) offers a Master of Science in Management and Leadership.
North Carolina State and William Peace University each offer online programs in Raleigh, North Carolina's capital and the Research Triangle's eastern edge. NC State is the second-largest online educator in the state, offering 44 master's degrees in a wide variety of fields, including an MBA, numerous MEd specializations (Curriculum And Instruction, Adult And Community College Education, Elementary Education, Instructional Technology, etc.), Engineering, IT, and more. NCSU also offers a Doctor of Education in Adult And Community College Education. William Peace, a private liberal arts school with an enrollment of just 1,000, offers bachelor's degrees in Business Administration, RN to BSN, Liberal Studies, and Psychology.
Greensboro's chief online educator is North Carolina A & T State University, a public HBCU with about 11,000 enrolled students. Five undergraduate degrees are available: two Bachelor's of Science in Business Education (Business Teacher Education and Information Technology), BS in Agricultural Education, BS in Environmental Safety & Health, and a unique BS in Geomatics. From there, NC A & T offers three master's degrees in Agricultural Education, Instructional Technology, and Information Technology, plus a PhD in Technology Management. Guilford Technical Community College, in nearby Jamestown, offers 14 associate-level degrees in a wide variety of professional areas, such as Business Administration, Healthcare Management Technology, Human Resources Management, Homeland Security, Simulation And Game Development, and Law Enforcement, among others.
Cost of Living: 92.5%
Top Industries: Finance, Food, Motor and Transportation
Local Online Degrees: 3
Cost of Living: 95.2%
Top Industries: Finance, Food Processing, Tech
Local Online Degrees: 2
Cost of Living: 92.4%
Top Industries: Manufacturing, Logistics
Local Online Degrees: 1
Cost of Living: 89.8%
Top Industries: Healthcare, Manufacturing, Business Services
Local Online Degrees: 2
Cost of Living: 94.1%
Top Industries: Education, Healthcare, Tech
Local Online Degrees: 2
Cost of Living: 90.3%
Top Industries: Defense, Retail
Local Online Degrees: 3
Cost of Living: 95.4%
Top Industries: Analytics
Local Online Degrees: 0
The Best Online Colleges in North Carolina
Online Programs: 45
NC State is located in Raleigh and enrolls approximately 34,000 students — the largest student population in either North or South Carolina. One of sixteen schools in the state's university system, NC State is ranked highly by Forbes, Washington Monthly, and US News, among others, with particularly notable programs in Biological & Agricultural Engineering, Nuclear Engineering, Veterinary Medicine, and Industrial Design. Also noteworthy: Kiplinger's Finance ranks State 11th in the country for "best value," and the Wall Street Journal ranks it 19th for top recruiter picks. With 45 online degrees available, 44 of which are on the master's level, NC State offers the second most online programs in North Carolina, including an MBA, numerous MEd concentrations, engineering degrees, and more. Notable alumni include John Edwards, the Chief of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and business executives at Apple, Caterpillar, SAS Institute, DuPont, and Citrix Systems.
Online Programs: 48
East Carolina University, founded in 1907, is a public university in Greenville. ECU is the state's third-largest university, with an enrollment of 28,000 and student-to-faculty ratio of 18:1. ECU is also among the best values in the country: Washington Monthly ranked it #1 in its "Bang for your Buck" guide. The Princeton Review, US News, and Forbes highlight its programs in business, primary care physician preparation, rural medicine, and family medicine. For its dedication to the military and veterans, ECU has received the Patriot Award and the Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award, the government's highest recognition for organizations that employ National Guard and Reserve service members. ECU offers the most online degrees in North Carolina: 12 bachelor's, 35 master's, and one doctorate degree, in a wide range of fields, including Business, Health Services, Hospitality Management, Industrial Technology, Environmental Sciences, and more. Notable alumni include Pulitzer Prize-winning writers, entertainment professionals, business leaders and executives, and politicians.
Online Programs: 17
Campbell University is a private university in Buies Creek, halfway between Raleigh and Fayetteville. With a student enrollment of about 7,100, Campbell is divided into nine academic schools in Business, Arts and Sciences, Law, Divinity, Nursing, Education, Osteopathic Medicine, Engineering, and Pharmacy. Campbell's online school offers 17 degrees — 4 associates, 11 bachelors, and 2 masters — the third most in North Carolina. Bachelor tracks are available in Business Administration, Information Technology Security, Information Technology Management, Criminal Justice, and Homeland Security, among others. Additional IT tracks are available as associate degrees, and Campbell also offers an MEd and MS in Clinical Research. Distinguished graduates include Paul Green, recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Drama; Michelle Koh, professional golfer and Olympian; Fred Whitfield, COO of the Charlotte Hornets; and several judges on the North Carolina Court of Appeals.
Online Programs: 11
Founded in 1947, The University of North Carolina Wilmington has an enrollment of about 14,000. One of the top schools in the North Carolina public system, Wilmington has been ranked by Kiplinger's Personal Finance, U.S. News & World Report, and The Princeton Review for academic excellence, affordability, and value. Wilmington's multi-disciplinary, applied learning model — ETEAL (Experiencing Transformative Education through Applied Learning) — is nationally recognized, combining internships, study abroad learning, community-based projects, research, and directed independent study options. UNCW offers 11 online degrees, including 3 bachelor's degrees — Elementary Education, Clinical Research, RN to BSN — and 11 master's tracks, including numerous MEd specializations, MS in Instruction Technology, MS in Chemistry, and MA in Liberal Studies, among others. Notable graduates include writers, actors, professional athletes, journalists, and politicians.
Online Programs: 14
Gardner-Webb University is a private liberal arts school in Boiling Springs, an hour west of Charlotte. Founded in 1905, it is affiliated with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina and has a total enrollment of 4,300. Gardner-Webb ranks among the top 40 schools in the region according to US News, and the Carnegie Foundation has recognized the school for its commitment to community engagement. According to the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, one of the nation's most influential education advocacy organizations, Gardner-Web's core curriculum ranks in the country's top 2% for quality and breadth. Its online programs are equally impressive: 8 bachelor's degrees and 6 master's, most of which train students in professional disciplines, such as Accountancy, Business Administration (including a unique International MBA), Nursing, Computer Information Systems, and Healthcare Management.
Online Programs: 17
Fayetteville Technical Community College, established in 1961, is the area's leading professional school, serving 42,000 students annually. (Many students come from nearby Fort Bragg, and FTCC has been awarded for its commitment to servicemen and women and unique military benefits programs.) It is also the state's largest provider of online associate's degrees, 17 in all, in Accounting, Business Administration, Banking and Finance, Marketing and Retailing, Operations Management, Healthcare Management Technology, Criminal Justice Technology, Emergency Preparedness Technology, and more. FTCC also offers dual enrollment degrees in Criminal Justice Technology and Early Childhood Associate with Fayetteville State University. With a focus on career-oriented, skill-building programs, nearly 94% of FTCC graduates find employment within six months of matriculation.
Online Programs: 16
Established in 1948, Mid-Atlantic Christian University is a private school in Elizabeth City, in Pasquotank County, whose stated mission is "to impact the world by transforming ordinary people into extraordinary Christian leaders." With a student-to-faculty ratio of just 12:1, MAC emphasizes a close-knit community engaged in collaborative learning and fellowship, and its online programs are no different. Mid-Atlantic offers 16 online bachelor's degrees — the largest undergraduate offering in the state — in a wide variety of areas: Entrepreneurial Leadership, Organizational Leadership, Education, Missions Aviation, Counseling & Psychology, and religious-focused disciplines, like Christian Ministry, Cross-Cultural Ministry, General Ministry, Youth & Family Ministry, Family Studies, and more. Alumni can be found 48 states, the District of Columbia, one territory, and 25 countries, in a range of professions.
Online Programs: 9
Consistently ranked in the top 15 public universities in the region, Western Carolina University is located in Cullowhee, between the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains, and an hour west of Asheville. With a student enrollment of approximately 10,000 — from 48 states and 35 countries — Western Carolina is divided into six undergraduate schools, one honors college, and the graduate school, which offers nine master's degrees, the second most in the state. All of these are in professional, career-oriented disciplines: Construction Management, Entrepreneurship, Human Resources, Project Management, Special Education, Health Sciences, Nurse Administration, Nurse Education, and School Administration. Courses are designed for maximum flexibility, and the Blackboard learning platform supports an intimate, collaborative learning environment through a range of web-based tools, including live chat rooms, group discussion boards, and more.
Online Programs: 14
Guilford Technical Community College is based in Jamestown, with additional campuses in Greensboro, High Point, and online. Distance education programs began in 2007 to accommodate the growing need for flexible, customizable professional degrees, and GTCC now offers the second most associate degrees in North Carolina. Areas of study include: Business Administration, Healthcare Management Technology, Human Resources Management, Medical Office Administration, Homeland Security, Law Enforcement, Computer Information Technology, Networking Technology, Corrections, and Web Technologies, among others. All associate tracks are designed specifically to help students acquire necessary professional skills and expertise, and there are a number of certificates available, as well - IT Systems Support, JAVA Programming, C++ Programming, Hospital Billing and Coding, Electronic Medical Records, and more.
Online Programs: 14
Vance-Granville Community College serves Vance, Granville, Franklin, and Warren counties. As one of North Carolina's leaders in continuing education, VGCC's online school offers both individual courses and 14 associate-level degrees in Accounting, Business Administration, Global Logistics Technology, Medical Office Administration, Bioprocess Technology, Networking Technology, Computer Information Technology, Early Childhood Education, Legal Office Administration, and more professional disciplines. All Vance-Granville courses are designed to accommodate adult learners and working professionals, and the Moodle learning platform supports an intimate, collaborative learning environment through a range of dynamic web tools. (All students receive a Moodle tutorial.) Additional resources include a WebAdvisor, ReGroup, VOLT (Vanguard Online Learning through Technology), a cutting-edge online learning tool, and tech support.
Online Programs: 12
Established in 1887, the University of North Carolina Pembroke has a total enrollment of approximately 6,200. The Princeton Review and US News rank it among the best public universities in the region, and, with a student-to-faculty-ratio of 14:1, UNC Pembroke is first in the state for percentage of classes with less than twenty students. It has also been recognized for its commitment to diversity and affordability. The university's online offerings include two master's (an MEd in Elementary Education and Master of Public Administration) and 10 bachelor tracks in Criminal Justice, Public And Non-Profit Administration, Applied Professional Studies, Sociology, Birth — Kindergarten Education, and Business Administration, with concentrations in Finance, Economics, and Management, among others. With a focus on practical, career-oriented education, 90% of Pembroke students are employed within 12 months of graduation.
Online Programs: 5
Routinely ranked among the best schools in the country by the Princeton Review, Forbes, US News, and publishers worldwide, Duke University began its Online Duke program in 2012, which promotes research and innovation in the burgeoning field of distance education. Currently, Duke offers 5 graduate degrees online, all of which are in Nursing: MSN, MSN in Adult Primary Care Nurse Practitioner, MSN in Family Nurse Practitioner, MSN in Gerontological Nurse Practitioner, and a Doctor of Nursing Practice. While most content is delivered through distance technology, because of the nature of nursing degrees, all students must complete intensive on-campus courses as well in order to gain valuable clinical experience. Given the the ambitious nature of the Online Duke program, it's also reasonable to expect Duke's online degree offerings to expand in the future to accommodate working professionals, adult learners, and other non-traditional students.
Online Programs: 11
Stanly Community College, established in 1971, is located in Albemarle with a satellite campus in Locust, North Carolina. Serving 10,000 students annually, SCC offers 11 associate-level degrees online, tied for the third-highest total in the state. Areas of study include Business Administration, Criminal Justice Technology, Accounting, Early Childhood Education, Computer Information Technology, Cyber Crime Technology, Information Systems Security, Networking Technology, and Human Services Technology. Programs are specifically designed to build practical, career-oriented skills, and SCC's mission is to "enhance the economic, social and cultural life of the community" through an "environment that encourages student access, success and completion." All courses are designed for maximum flexibility to accommodate working professionals and adult learners, and the Moodle learning platform encourages a vibrant, dynamic educational setting. All students also have access to remote tech support and WebAdvisor.
Online Programs: 11
Forsyth Technical Community College is a two-year professional school in Winston-Salem. With nearly 13,000 credit students and 24,000 corporate and continuing education students, Forsyth is one of the largest community colleges in the state, and has been recognized by President Obama for its affordable, skill-building education, which includes 11 online associate degrees in a wide range of areas: Entrepreneurship, Financial Services, Global Logistics Technology, Project Management Technology, Computer Information Technology, Interventional Cardiac And Vascular Technology, Emergency Management, and Business Administration, with concentrations in Import/Export Compliance, International Business, and Logistics Management. Courses are designed for maximum flexibility (with hybrid opportunities) and deliver through interactive web conferences. Additional resources include career counseling (including interview prep and resume-building), veterans and disability services, tech support, and more.
Online Programs: 5
Appalachian State University, in Boone, has a student enrollment of approximately 19,000. Previously recognized by Time as a "College of the Year," App State has also been named by the Princeton Review, Kiplinger's Finance, and Consumers Digest as one of the country's "best value" universities. ASU offers five online bachelor's degrees in Business Education, Communication (Advertising concentration), Management (BSBA), Health Promotion, and an RN to BSN. With a student-to-faculty ratio of just 16:1, classes are built to encourage intimate, collaborative education. Appalachian State also emphasizes civic engagement and service-learning, neither of which are exclusive to traditional on-campus students. Notable graduates include author Charles Frazier, musician Eric Church, Freakonomics co-author Stephen J. Dubner, and numerous professional athletes, musicians, artists, and politicians.
Monitoring the accreditation of a university you are interested in attending is incredibly important. Accreditation ensures your credits can transfer that you can receive Federal financial aid, and most importantly that certain standards of educational quality are during your schooling. The highest accreditation standard for most programs in the United States is provided by regional accreditation agencies. The regional accrediting agency for California is the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, one of six regional accrediting agencies responsible for accrediting schools in Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia, as well as schools for US students in Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and South America.
Making sure that a University you're hoping to attend is regionally accredited — or accredited by a real and respected accrediting agency — is one of the most important choices you can make in ensuring the quality of your education.
Three Steps for Securing Financial Aid
- Submit your FAFSA.
- Check to see if additional forms are needed at your university of choice.
- Search and apply for private scholarships.
Through the previous three steps most students find themselves offered some sort of federal grant, work study, private grant, scholarship, or stipend.
Great North Carolina Higher Education Resources
- The North Carolina State Board of Education is a good resource for state-commissioned reports, SBE news, and policy notes.
- Be sure to visit the University of North Carolina System's site for information on the state's seventeen public universities.
- For news, data and statistics, and general updates on NC public higher education, click here.
- Students interested in community college opportunities should visit the the North Carolina Community College System.
- The Southern Regional Education Board has helpful, in-depth reports on states throughout the South, including North Carolina.
- Visit the College Foundation of North Carolina for important info on grants and scholarships, savings plans, and general financial 101.
- The North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority includes more financial aid help and reports as recent as 2015.
- Students interested in private school aid should look at theNCICU.
- The Foundation For The Carolinas provides an an excellent list of several scholarships available to North Carolina residents.
- The North Carolina Community Foundation partners with 60 affiliates to administer nearly 150 scholarship funds for individuals, families, school systems, and organizations in 67 counties across the state.
- Students applying to community colleges and continuing education programs should visit the SECU Foundation, which has assisted in-state residents achieve education goals since 2005.
- Eleven schools, including many on the above list, participate in the North Carolina Principal Fellows Program, which provides competitive, merit-based scholarships for prospective state education administrators.
- Western North Carolina residents should visit the CFNW, which was established in 1978 to create a pool of charitable capital for the region's 18 counties.
- Greensboro residents click here for information on more than a dozen local scholarships.
- Southeastern residents can check out the CCF, which manages 50 endowment funds.
- The North Carolina American Indian Fund assists local American Indian students.
- The John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy's aims to improve higher education in the state through intellectual diversity, academic freedom, and cost-effective administration and governance. Visit their site for news, policy, and more.
- Students interested in, or currently working in, a technical or trade field should visit the North Carolina Association for Career Technical Education (NCACTE).
- The North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching is a useful resource to gauge current North Carolina teacher policy, practice, and standards.