While sectors like furniture making, tobacco farming, and textile mills are still significant contributors to the state's economy, those industries are growing at a slower pace when compared to faster-growing sectors, such as energy, biotechnology, finance and engineering, according to the North Carolina Commission on Workforce Development.
If you'd like to better your job prospects in North Carolina and are wondering how to do this with your current job and responsibilities, earning a degree online may be just right for you. Distance education is an option for students who are fresh out of high school and want to work part-time while balancing other interests alongside their studies. It's also a good opportunity for professionals seeking a mid-life career change or those who just want to complete their bachelor's degree to be eligible for higher positions.
The state is home to many colleges and universities, including Duke University and Wake Forest University, as well as numerous smaller institutions that cater to both traditional and online students. The state's higher education landscape consists primarily of:
- 16 universities in the University of North Carolina (UNC) System
- 36 independent colleges and universities
- 58 community colleges
While not all colleges in the state offer distance learning options, online education options have expanded tremendously over recent years to offer all degree levels and dozens of certificate programs for students who prefer the online experience.
Why Earn an Online Degree in North Carolina
The state's rapid economic transformation has created a growing shortage of high-skill talent. People with no college education are finding it difficult to compete for emerging, well-paying jobs that require a bachelor's degree or higher. And employment prospects for non-degree holders are likely to become even more challenging in the near future: A study on North Carolina's Workforce Needs projects that 67 percent of jobs in the next decade will require postsecondary education. According to the North Carolina Commission on Workforce Development, "The future prosperity of all North Carolinians depends on achieving higher educational attainment levels for all citizens."
North Carolina's employment rate, as stated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, is expected to grow 12.6 percent during the 2014-24 time period, adding 553,000 new jobs. This is double the national average — 6.5 percent — for the same projected period. This powerful combination of a significant job growth rate and the increased need for graduates can translate into tremendous career opportunities for those with a bachelor's or master's in hand.
Jobs that require a master's, a professional or doctoral degree are projected to experience the fastest growth rate, followed by occupations that require a bachelor's level. For the high-pay occupations with median annual wages above $75,000, employment is projected to grow 16.8 percent from 2014 to 2024, according to the North Carolina Department of Commerce.
These are all great reasons to explore online program options and earn the degree you have always wanted.
Top Online Colleges in North Carolina
Whether you're fresh out of high school, looking to complete a certificate or bachelor's program, or you've decided you're ready for a career change, knowing which online college to choose to meet your career goals can be a hard decision for some. We've kept you in mind while developing our methodology for this top ten college ranking.
Using data from the National Center for Education Statistics, our ranking methodology considered many factors that are likely to be important to distance learners. This includes degree completion rates, placement services, percentage of students participating in distance education and the percentage of students awarded financial aid.
In short, we believe these top online schools present you with the best opportunities.
Top Ten Online Degree Programs in North Carolina
If you plan to seek employment in the state after earning your degree, you may want to consider online colleges that offer these degree programs aligned to the state's shifting and expanding industry base. Some schools offer degree completion programs that allow you to transfer credits of coursework done in a previous university. These might be a boon to completing your degree as they tend to help save on cost and time.
Quality of Online Education in North Carolina
No matter which school you choose to attend, it is important to look for a college that has earned accreditation — an important sign of quality. Accreditation means that a school has been evaluated by an independent body and found to meet the rigorous standards of a high-quality education.
The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) is the regional body that grants accreditation to degree-granting institutions in North Carolina and ten other Southern states. Elon University and Davidson College are just two of the 36 private, nonprofit liberal arts, comprehensive, and research institutions and universities accredited by the SACSCOC. Even though this accrediting body focuses on postsecondary education providers in general and is not specific to distance education, its goals still apply to online schools offering associate, undergraduate and graduate programs.
The goal of the SACSCOS is to assure the educational quality of the institute through continual assessment and improvement. It functions on six core values stated below:
- Continuous Quality Improvement
- Peer Review/Self-regulation
- Student Learning
Ongoing efforts by the North Carolina Institutes of Higher Education continue to improve the delivery of higher education in general, as well as the success of distance education in the state. Data from an independent study conducted by the Economic Modeling Specialists International show how their innovative strategies aim to improve the quality of education increase enrollment and graduation rates while maintaining affordability. This has resulted in helping students achieve their individual potential, increased employment prospects, and impacted the economy generating new dollars and job opportunities.
Online Education Resources
Students can find a wealth of information about the University of North Carolina (UNC) system by exploring its online portal. For example, a search of UNC-Online shows over 300 fully online programs in a wide range of fields, including business, nursing, education, liberal arts, agriculture, criminal justice and more. There are plenty of choices for those who seek an online master's program, or an undergraduate degree.
The Virtual Learning Community of the North Carolina Community College system began in 1999 and it has grown exponentially. Prospective students who want to start at one of the state's community colleges now have a variety of online courses and degree programs from which to choose.
The North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities system opens up even more opportunities with a listing of all online learning programs available. Here students will find familiar names like Barton College, North Carolina Wesleyan College and Salem College, among others. Some offer online courses that serve to enhance the traditional college experience, while others offer fully online programs.
More information on online education in North Carolina can be found at eLearningNC, a clearinghouse for information on online education. The site's college section serves as a guide to the many options students have for pursuing online programs in North Carolina's private and public schools and universities. And eLearningNC's career section includes resources for online continuing education and licensure programs.
In addition, students can visit NC Tower, an online resource for those 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.
What to look for in an Online Degree Programs in North Carolina
Prospective students must keep in mind that 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 course on leadership through an MBA program.
"When I took my first online class... 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."
Students may want to look for online courses that 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 [I work with] 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." These progressive tools can help support the academic success of a student and help them to become career-ready.
Prospective students may want to take a look at the faculty of accredited online schools before enrolling to make sure they are experienced in teaching students online. Student-faculty interaction as well as networking with other online students is extremely important to the success of an online program. Distance learners should expect online coursework to be as rigorous as the on-campus program.
Top Occupations in North Carolina
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has identified several occupation groups set to experience more job openings from growth, rather than replacement, including Computer and Mathematical; Healthcare Support; and Construction and Extraction. Two groups, Healthcare Practitioners and Technical Occupations and Healthcare Support Occupations, are expected to experience the fastest growth during the projected ten year period.
Jobs requiring science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills are likely to be in demand by leading companies like Microsoft and Lenovo and can pay 64 percent more than an average job in North Carolina.
Number of Workers
|Office and Administrative Support Occupations||556,600||$38,450|
|Sales and Related Occupations||479,880||$41,870|
|Food Preparation and Serving Related Occupations||429,910||$23,620|
|Transportation and Material Moving Occupations||400,610||$33,640|
|Educational Instruction and Library Occupations||278,130||$51,100|
|Healthcare Practitioners and Technical Occupations||276,020||$76,330|
|Business and Financial Operations Occupations||232,620||$76,170|
|Installation, Maintenance, and Repair Occupations||189,790||$47,230|
|Construction and Extraction Occupations||180,690||$42,460|
|Healthcare Support Occupations||177,750||$28,370|
|Computer and Mathematical Occupations||143,990||$89,660|
|Fast Food and Counter Workers||136,970||$20,390|
Scholarships and Financial Aid in North Carolina
Wouldn't it be great if you could fund your online bachelor's or master's degree with the help of scholarships and grants? We invite in-state and out-of-state students to explore as many funding options as they can.
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. 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.
While federal aid can be in the form of scholarships, grants and other forms of financial assistance, there are also numerous scholarships and financial aid opportunities on the state, regional and local levels that students might be able to use while pursuing an online program.
State Scholarship Programs
- Carol Ann Beerstecher Nursing Scholarship
- Cheatham-White Scholarship (North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University)
- Diamante Education Scholarship
- Fallen Linemen Foundation Scholarship Program
- Aubrey Lee Brooks Scholarship
- Golden LEAF Scholarship Program for Four-Year Degree
- Crumley Roberts Founder's Scholarship Foundation
The scholarships listed below are specifically for residents of North Carolina and present more opportunities for students to find college funding. Each scholarship has its own qualifying criteria.
Tests You May Need to Take
Each school will have its own admission criteria but generally a student must take one of the common entry-level tests, such as the SAT or ACT. In some institutions, students aged 21 and above are exempt from a minimum high school GPA, test scores and course requirements, but applicants must still meet any campus-specific admission requirements.
To be included in our ranking of the best colleges for online degree programs, all colleges had to meet the following five criteria:
- Be an accredited U.S. institution
- Offer either 2- or 4-year degree programs
- Have at least 1 percent of students taking at least some of their classes via distance education
- Be active in the 2015-16 school year
- Report data for all 15 specific ranking variables included in our methodology
We then ranked the remaining 2,169 colleges and universities and scored each on a 100-point scale on these specific. Our data points include:
- The in-state tuition and fees for full-time undergraduates, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Percent of undergraduate students awarded federal, state, local, institutional or other sources of grant aid, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- The average amount of federal, state, local, institutional or other sources of grant aid awarded to undergraduate students, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Full-time Retention rate, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Percent of students participating fully or partially in distance education to total enrollment, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Graduation rate within six years, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- No. of degree programs offered via distance education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Percent of students working and not enrolled 6 years after entry, College Scorecard, 2013-14
- Open admissions policy for all or most entering first-time undergraduate-level students, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Flexibility and student services, based on whether the school offers the following services, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015-16
- Dual credit
- Credit for life experience
- Advanced Placement credit
- Academic and career counseling
- Job placement services for graduates
- Offers credit for military training
- Source: Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2018-19, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
- Most Recent Cohorts (All Data Elements): 2013-14, College Scorecard, U.S. Department of Education, accessed October, 2017, https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/data/
- Executive Summary, Demonstrating the Collective Economic Value of North Carolina's Higher Education Institutes, February 2015, http://www.northcarolina.edu/sites/default/files/documents/nche_1213_execsum_final_formatted_dated_feb2015.pdf
- Interview with Robin Thompson, MS, President of TT&K Inc.
- May 2016 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, North Carolina, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nc.htm
- Most Recent Cohorts (All Data Elements): 2013-14, College Scorecard, U.S. Department of Education, accessed October, 2017, https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/data/
- North Carolina Employment Projections 2014 to 2024, North Carolina Department of Commerce, Updated April 2017, http://www.nccommerce.com/Portals/47/XML/Summary/2014-2024%20NC%20Employment%20Projections%20Summary.pdf
- North Carolina's Largest Private Employers, North Carolina Department of Commerce, https://www.nccommerce.com/Portals/47/Data/Manufacturing-and-Nonmanufacturing-Employers.pdf, accessed December 2017
- North Carolina’s Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education Strategic Plan, North Carolina State Board of Education, http://www.dpi.state.nc.us/docs/stem/overview/education-strategic-plan.pdf, accessed December 2017
- North Carolina Workforce Needs, Labor and Economic Analysis, North Carolina Department of Commerce, https://www.ncga.state.nc.us/documentsites/committees/BCCI-6578/2015-16%20Session/Meeting%20Documents/March%201,%202016/LEAD%20workforce%20subcommittee%203%201%20final.pdf, accessed December 2017
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, http://www.sacscoc.org/, accessed December 2017