Higher education has long been a priority in North Carolina, and history proves it -- in 1795, the first public university was founded in lovely Chapel Hill. Since those promising beginnings, higher education has grown by leaps and bounds in the state. Today, the University of North Carolina system is comprised of 16 public universities and 59 community colleges, serving over 380,000 students, according to the Leaders & Laggards Report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. And those numbers don't include the numerous private colleges, religious institutions, and for-profit universities that are thriving in the state.
This dedication to higher education becomes clear with a report from the Lumina Foundation, which found that 38.4 percent of all working-age North Carolina residents held a two-year degree or higher in 2012. Of those degree holders, 19.42 percent had earned their bachelor's degree, 9.56 percent held an associate, and 9.47 percent had gone on to earn a graduate or professional degree.
Students who want to earn a degree in North Carolina have many options to choose from in their pursuit. North Carolina is home to many storied colleges and universities, including Duke University and Wake Forest University, as well as numerous smaller colleges that cater to both traditional and online students. No longer limited to certificate programs and master's degrees, distance learning in North Carolina now offers all degree levels and dozens of programs for students who prefer the online experience.
- Why Should I Earn a Degree in North Carolina?
- What Makes North Carolina Ideal for Online Education?
- Top 10 Careers in North Carolina
- Top Cities for North Carolina College Students
- College Roadmap
- Scholarships and Financial Aid
- Discover Degree Opportunities
There are numerous reasons to choose North Carolina for traditional or online education. The 10th most populous state in the nation, North Carolina is home to an impressive number of universities, community colleges, trade schools, vocational schools, and the like. Students who enroll in any of these options tend to stay -- according to the Leaders & Laggards Report, North Carolina had a higher education retention rate of 81.9 percent, much higher than the national average of 77.9 percent. The completion rate is higher as well, with North Carolina graduating 58.9 percent of students who enroll, compared to the national average of 54.5 percent.
After graduation, students can look forward to great opportunities in a variety of industries in North Carolina. The Tar Heel State was once bustling with furniture makers, tobacco farms, and textile mills. Today, those industries are still there, but they have lost ground against the faster-growing sectors, such as energy, biotechnology, finance, and engineering, according to the North Carolina Commission on Workforce Development. The result is that many North Carolina residents who didn't earn a degree in the past might now need one in order to compete for new jobs. Fortunately, the wealth of higher education opportunities in the state, as well as the options for online education in North Carolina, make earning a degree a very attainable goal.
With a degree in hand, many graduates choose to stay in North Carolina. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, North Carolina has a population of almost 10 million people, many of which reside in the several large cities across the state. The median household income in 2012 was $46,450, and the average value of a home was $153,600. Over 67 percent of residents owned their homes, and their average commute to work was only 23.5 minutes -- better than the national average.
Aspiring residents shouldn't forget the sheer beauty of the state, as well as the recreational and cultural activities that await. The state has highs and lows -- literally -- from sea level at the Outer Banks to the highest point in the eastern U.S., Mount Mitchell, at a stately 6,684 feet. Between the coast and the Appalachian mountains, there are huge cities where museums, amusement parks, theaters, and music venues thrive.
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Online education in North Carolina is slowly gaining traction, with numerous colleges and universities offering certificates, online courses, and full degree programs, from associate to doctorate. Students interested in pursuing online education through the University of North Carolina system or the North Carolina Community College System can find a wealth of information through their online portals.
UNC-Online offers over 300 fully-online programs in a wide range of fields, including business, nursing, education, liberal arts, agriculture, criminal justice, and more. The Virtual Learning Community of the NCCCS system began in 1999 and has grown wildly since, now offering a variety of online courses and degree programs to distance learners. More information on distance learning in North Carolina can be found at eLearningNC, a clearinghouse for information on virtual education from the kindergarten level through professional continuing education credits.
North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities opens up even more opportunities for online degrees with a listing of all online learning programs available through 36 universities accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Here students will find familiar names like Duke University, Barton College, North Carolina Wesleyan College, Salem College, and Wake Forest University, among others. Some offer online courses that serve to enhance the traditional college experience, while others offer fully online degrees.
No matter where a student chooses to attend, it is important to look for a college that has earned accreditation. Accreditation means that a school has been evaluated by an independent body and found to meet the rigorous standards of a high-quality education. In addition, students can visit NC Tower, an online resource for students who want to see the graduation rates for various majors, how many students found jobs immediately after graduation, and the median salary those graduates earned.
When it comes to online education, students should be aware that the rumors are false -- online learning is not easier than a traditional education. In fact, it may even be tougher for some. Robin Thompson knows this firsthand. She is the president of TT&K Inc. and currently teaches an online leadership course through an MBA program in Chicago.
"When I took my first online class through Indiana University several years ago, I was surprised at how much work it was," Thompson says. "I believe that online classes are more intensive because of requirements for online discussions, homework assignments, and a tremendous amount of reading. The bottom line is that without a real classroom and class discussion there is no way to know if the students are learning the material that they need to know. So the extra work is needed. Students need to understand that it won't be easier. If someone is not a self-starter they may have difficulty adapting."
Many new online courses focus on recreating real world scenarios in an effort to keep students on their toes -- and possibly contribute to their understanding of the work environment. One of these new innovations is virtual reality. "Instead of using live actors, the courseware uses animated characters to represent real people and situations," Thompson explains. "The program is designed so that there is a 'real' building with offices that simulate the office environment. Students have a pager device. They may get notification at 3:00 in the afternoon that a project is due at 8:00 a.m. tomorrow morning. They have to assemble their team of classmates and prepare the presentation to senior management. I think this type of learning is imperative to helping people learn in an environment that simulates the real work world."
How can students figure out whether they have what it takes to be an online learner? Massive open online courses are a good place to start. "There are lots of free programs being offered through major universities in the form of MOOCs. I would recommend signing up for one of those programs and see how they like that learning environment," says Thompson.
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Due to industry changes over the last several decades, new occupations have risen to prominence in North Carolina. According to Projections Central, the sectors seeing the highest rates of growth in the state between 2012 and 2022 include psychology and psychiatry, medical support professions, and construction. The following jobs are expected to be the top 10 in terms of growth in the coming years:
- Industrial-organizational psychologists. Those who choose to pursue this line of work should be prepared for serious competition; though it is the fastest-growing job in the state of North Carolina and the nation, only 900 job openings are expected nationwide between 2012 and 2022. To snag one, students typically need to earn a doctorate. Great schools to consider include North Carolina Wesleyan College, St. Andrews University, and North Carolina State University.
- Personal care aides. With six research hospitals and 100 community hospitals in the state, there is little doubt that personal care aides are in high demand. Though the job doesn't require formal education, those with postsecondary training are likely to find the best opportunities. Students can consider earning an associate degree from any of the numerous community colleges or technical schools in the state.
- Mechanical insulation workers. The traditional education for this job is found while working -- an apprenticeship of at least four years is the standard. However, those who want to advance in their career would do well to earn a degree in a related field, such as civil engineering or construction management. Students could consider North Carolina State University, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical University, or Cape Fear Community College.
- Assistants to brickmasons. A construction job that demands attention to detail and a strong grasp of blueprints, many brickmason helpers earn a one-year degree through technical schools. This degree in basic masonry sets the stage for their apprenticeship. Numerous community colleges offer options for brickmasons, including Halifax, James Sprunt, and Mayland colleges.
- Dental hygienists. An associate degree is required to enter this job, though those who want to teach or conduct research must typically earn the rarer bachelor's or master's degrees in dental hygiene. Many community colleges in North Carolina have dental hygiene programs, including Central Carolina, Central Piedmont, and Coast Carolina locations. The UNC School of Dentistry also offers a dental hygiene program.
- Psychiatric aides. Those who work as psychiatric aides can enhance their job prospects by taking online courses in psychology or mental health technology, or possibly advance to psychiatric technician by earning a certificate or associate degree. South Piedmont Community College and Western Piedmont Community College are both good bets for those looking for a one- or two-year degree program in the field.
- Insulation workers. Those who work with insulation need a strong grasp of the construction business, and that can be honed through a wide variety of degree programs. Though the job technically does not require a college education, those who do earn a degree could see better job prospects. In addition to community colleges, students can find great options at Appalachian State University and East Carolina University.
- Brickmasons and blockmasons. An in-depth understanding of blueprints, ordering materials, cutting sizes to fit, and structural integrity are important points in the brickmason's arsenal of knowledge. One or two-year programs are available through community colleges, and after that, students are prepared to begin an apprenticeship. Community colleges and technical schools across the state offer this degree, including Pamlico, Piedmont, and Pitt.
- Assistants to electricians. Working as an electrician's helper can be made easier with technical school courses or a degree. Then an apprenticeship is required, followed by continuing education. Many community colleges in North Carolina offer the initial courses, certificates, or associate degree programs, as well as the opportunity for continuing education credits.
- Diagnostic medical sonographers. This job requires an associate degree. Fortunately, North Carolina offers so many hospitals and health centers that the job outlook is good, and community colleges have caught on to the opportunities. Students can look for degree programs through the North Carolina Community College System, or they can opt for any number of technical schools in the state.
When it comes to the highest paying jobs, North Carolina is like most other states, with many top salaries going to those in the medical profession. With the exception of chief executives, the top 12 highest-paying jobs in the state in 2013 were in the medical field, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Other fields that broke the top 20 highest-paying occupations included physicists and managers of natural sciences, marketing, finances, general operations, architectural and engineering, and computer and information systems.
North Carolina is poised to educate in these areas with five significant medical schools: The Duke University School of Medicine, the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, the Campbell University School of Osteopathic Medicine, and the Wake Forest School of Medicine. In the world of business and management, top business schools include those at Duke University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Wake Forest University, Elon University, and North Carolina Central University.
It is important to note that the state is facing big changes in terms of traditional "middle jobs" in the state. Middle jobs were those in manufacturing and the like, where skills were required but a college degree was not. As the state shifts to industries that typically require a degree for entry-level work, some might find that higher education is suddenly a necessity in order to stay competitive in the workforce. Those who must juggle family obligations and other commitments during their professional transition might find what they need through online education in North Carolina.
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North Carolina is much more than just great educational opportunities -- this land of 9.3 million people is also the home of NASCAR, the place where the first successful flight took place, and where Babe Ruth hit his first professional home run. For those who love their college sports, four universities are part of the Atlantic Coast Conference. Thirty-six state parks are available for those who love to get outside and play. Here's what to expect from five of the largest cities in the state:
- Charlotte. Home of the Carolina Panthers and the Charlotte Hornets, this largest city in the state contains almost 800,000 people. It is part of the metro area known as the Metrolina, which also includes Gastonia and Salisbury. Charlotte is the 5th fastest-growing metro in the nation according to the U.S. Census. Numerous colleges call Charlotte home, including Johnson C. Smith University, Johnson & Wales University, and Queens University of Charlotte, among others.
- Raleigh. This capital city is the home base of the Carolina Hurricanes and part of the famous "Research Triangle" -- other cities in the triangle include Durham and Chapel Hill. Over 430,000 people call this city home, and so do numerous colleges and universities, including North Carolina State University, Wake Technical Community College, and Shaw University. Several rankings place Raleigh among the best-run cities, fastest-growing cities, and best places to live, according to the city's official website.
- Greensboro. Home to over a quarter million people, Greeensboro is part of the Piedmont Triad region, which also consists of High Point and Winston-Salem. Along with its many institutions of higher learning, including the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Guilford College, and the Elon University School of Law, the town is also known for a vivid arts and culture atmosphere, including numerous museums, arts centers, and music venues.
- Durham. Part of the Research Triangle, this city has just shy of 250,000 residents and welcomes 7.8 million visitors each year, according to the city's official website. Healthcare is such a major industry here that it has become known as Medicine City, USA. Durham is home to the Duke University campus and Medical Center, as well as North Carolina Central University and Durham Technical Community College.
- Winston-Salem. About 236,000 residents call this city home, and so does Wake Forest University, Salem College, and Piedmont International University, among others. Part of the Triad Region, Winston-Salem is home to several medical centers, as well as Hanes Brands and Reynolds American, a major tobacco company. In 2012, CBS Moneywatch named Winston-Salem one of the ten best places for retirees.
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With the largest state-maintained highway system in the nation, it's easy to get around in North Carolina. Start at the northeastern corner of the state, with Elizabeth City State University, where students can look forward to earning a master's degree. The back roads will take you to places like Greenville and Goldsboro -- where you can visit East Carolina University and Mount Olive College, respectively -- before meeting with I-95 at Rocky Mount, the home of North Carolina Wesleyan College.
Which way to go now? Decisions, decisions! Taking I-95 to the southern part of the state will lead students to Fayetteville, where numerous institutions of higher learning await. Here's where students can find Methodist University, Fayetteville State University, Carolina College of Bible Studies, and so much more. While there, stop to take a look at the Botanical Gardens and numerous museums. Move down the road to Lumberton and Robeson Community College, then meander along the smaller roads until hitting I-40 and Wilmington, home of College of Wilmington, Miller-Motte College, and University of North Carolina at Wilmington. While there, spend an extra day to see the Battleship North Carolina and relax on the pristine beaches.
Back on the road, Interstate 40 heads to the heart of the state, right through Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. A wealth of opportunities can be found in Raleigh, including Wake Technical Community College, North Carolina State University, and Shaw University, just to name a few. Motor up to Durham and visit Duke University, ranked 8th among public universities in the nation, according to U.S. News and World Report. Then relax in picturesque Chapel Hill before touring the main campus of the University of North Carolina.
Travel on to Greensboro, where students can enjoy Guilford College, Bennett College, and North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. Here the roads diverge -- take I-85 to the south or stay on I-40 and head to the western part of the state?
Students who stay on I-85 will run through Concord, Charlotte, and Gastonia. Barber-Scotia College and the Carrabus College of Health Sciences is ready for visitors in Concord, while the larger Charlotte area is home to dozens of institutions, including Queens University of Charlotte, Johnson & Wales University, and a branch of the University of North Carolina. Gaston College and Belmont Abbey College round out the area.
Those who turn to I-40 will soon find themselves in the mountains, headed toward Winston-Salem, home of Wake Forest. While there, take the time to do some mountain biking and take in the rustic beauty of the Appalachians. Spend another night enjoying the vivid nightlife of the area, and then move on toward Statesville, where Mitchell Community College and Saint Andrew's Theological College and Seminary await.
A few more miles down the road and Asheville appears, home of the famous Biltmore Estate. It's also home to Warren Wilson College. Finally, take a drive down to Sylva, at the western tip of the state, nestled between the Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee borders. There, students can visit Western Carolina University before driving back through the Tar Heel State.
Aspiring students can choose to plan out an itinerary much like this one, hitting schools they like throughout the state. A virtual roadtrip is another option, allowing students to look not only at the traditional offerings but also at the possibility of pursuing an online degree in North Carolina.
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Whether students choose a traditional college experience or opt for an online degree, there is one question that always comes up: How much does it cost? The cost of a college education isn't cheap, and tuition rates often seem to go up even as the economy sees a downturn. Unfortunately, most North Carolina colleges have tuition rates that are higher than the national average, according to the Leaders & Laggard Report. This means that financial aid, scholarships, and tuition assistance are very important points to ponder for any student who is considering traditional or online learning in North Carolina.
The College Foundation of North Carolina aims to help students afford college through a clearinghouse of financial aid opportunities, scholarships available to students, and tuition assistance programs that might help bridge the financial gap. Federal and state loans and grants are also available for students who qualify. Some students may qualify for additional scholarships, such as those who have served in the military, or those who have been displaced from their jobs due to the industry shifts in the state. There are also numerous scholarships and financial aid opportunities on the state, regional, and local levels that North Carolina students might be able to use while pursuing a traditional or online education.
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About North Carolina, Official Site, http://www.ncgov.com/aboutnc.aspx
Brickmasons, Blockmasons and Stonemasons, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/construction-and-extraction/brickmasons-blockmasons-and-stonemasons.htm#tab-4
City of Charlotte Official Site, http://charmeck.org/city/charlotte/Pages/default.aspx
City of Greensboro Official Site, http://www.greensboro-nc.gov/index.aspx
City of Raleigh Official Site, http://www.raleighnc.gov/
City of Winston-Salem Official Site, http://www.cityofws.org/
College Foundation of North Carolina, https://www.cfnc.org/index.jsp
Dental Hygienists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dental-hygienists.htm#tab-4
Diagnostic Medical Sonographers and Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians, Including Vascular Technologists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/diagnostic-medical-sonographers.htm
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Electricians, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/construction-and-extraction/electricians.htm#tab-4
Insulation Workers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/construction-and-extraction/insulation-workers.htm#tab-1
Interview with Robin Thompson, MS, President of TT&K Inc.
May 2013 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, North Carolina, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nc.htm
National Universities Rankings, http://colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-colleges/rankings/national-universities
NC Tower, http://nctower.com
North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities, http://www.ncicu.org/student_online.html
North Carolina, Leaders & Laggards, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, http://www.uschamberfoundation.org/reportcard/north-carolina/
North Carolina Official Website, http://www.ncgov.com/aboutnc.aspx
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North Carolina Long-Term Projections, Projections Central, https://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm
North Carolina, The Lumina Foundation, http://strongernation.luminafoundation.org/report/#north-carolina
Personal Care Aides, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/personal-care-aides.htm#tab-1
Psychiatric Technicians and Aides, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/psychiatric-technicians-and-aides.htm#tab-1
Psychologists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm#tab-1
"State of the North Carolina Workforce, An Assessment of the State's Labor Force Demand and Supply, 2007-2017," The North Carolina Commission on Workforce Development, January 2007, http://www.nccommerce.com/Portals/11/Documents/Reports/StateoftheNorthCarolinaWorkforceFinal.pdf
"The Ten Best Places to Retire," CBS Moneywatch, Yahoo Finance, March 8, 2012, Nancy F. Smith, http://finance.yahoo.com/news/the-10-best-places-to-retire.html
UNC Online, http://programs.northcarolina.edu/
Virtual Learning Community, North Carolina Community College System, http://vlc.nccommunitycolleges.edu/faq.html