Online Colleges in North Carolina

With a growing and diversifying state economy, many workers in North Carolina may find that they don't have the academic degree they will need for the in-demand jobs coming to the state. In order to close that gap, many North Carolina colleges and universities, as well as many national colleges enrolling North Carolina residents, offer a wide array of online degree programs that help working people return to school. Use the data we've collected here on online colleges in North Carolina to find a program and a school that meets your needs.

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Many public and private-sector schools in North Carolina now offer online classes and degree programs. Perhaps the state's largest educational institution to do so is the UNC university system. As of February 2013, its cohort of 16 universities offered more than 300 online programs, with nearly 70,000 students enrolled in online courses. One of its more unique online offerings is the Bachelor of Science in Neurodiagnostics and Sleep Science completion program, a joint effort by UNC Charlotte and UNC Chapel Hill. Other available online programs include a Master of Arts in Social Work from Appalachian State University and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from East Carolina University.

With a population of 9.5 million people and six cities with populations exceeding 200,000, it's no surprise that higher education is big business in North Carolina. Among those who are 25 or older, which is about two-thirds of the state's population, 9 percent have a graduate or professional degree, 18 percent have a Bachelor's degree and 30 percent have attended some college or earned an Associate degree. Among those between 18 and 24, 45 percent have attended college or earned an Associate degree.

North Carolina's 3.9 million workers earn an average hourly wage of $20.39, for an tannual average salary of $42,420. Those who are interested in going back to college to finish their degrees can choose from 78 different colleges or universities in the state that offer Bachelor's degrees.

The Most Affordable Online Colleges in North Carolina

The following list ranks the 10 schools in North Carolina that offer online degrees at the lowest tuition costs. This ranking is based on a number of factors that are important to prospective students such as the actual degree programs that are taught online, and information on tuition fees, accreditation and notable alumni. Tuition figures are sourced from the National Center for Education Statistics and reflect in-state tuition (when in-state tuition is available) for all students, including online students. See our Methodology section for more details on the ranking methodology.

#1 - University of North Carolina - Pembroke

  • In-state Tuition: $5,144 (2013-2014)
  • Accredited: Y
  • # of online programs: 10 undergraduate and 2 graduate degrees
  • Notable Alumni: Basketball coach Kelvin Sampson, educator Elmer W. Hunt, historian Chester Dunning

Pembroke's robust online degree program offerings include 10 undergraduate degrees and 2 Master's degrees. The school encourages those pursuing an online degree to transfer as many general education requirements as they can, including two hours of physical education, because some of these non-major courses may not be available to online students. The Bachelor's degree programs offered online include Criminal Justice; Sociology; Interdisciplinary Studies - Applied Professional Studies; Interdisciplinary Studies - Applied Information Technology; Interdisciplinary Studies - Criminal Justice; Interdisciplinary Studies - Public and Non-Profit Administration; Birth - Kindergarten Education (B-K); Business Administration (Economics Track); Business Administration (Finance Track); and Business Administration (Management Track). It's online Master's degrees are offered in Elementary Education and Public Administration.

#2 - North Carolina A&T University

  • In-state Tuition: $5,422 (2013-2014)
  • Accredited: Y
  • # of online programs: 6 undergraduate, 3 graduate, and 1 postgraduate degree.
  • Notable Alumni: Physicist and astronaut Ronald McNair, politician Edolphus Towns, activist and politician Jesse Jackson Jr.

North Carolina A&T's programs are renowned for the training they provide students in agriculture and technology, and that expertise is reflected in its online degree programs. Its Bachelor's degree programs online are offered in Agricultural Education; Business Teacher Education; Information Technology; Electronics Technology; Geomatics; and Environmental Safety & Health. It's Master's degree programs are offered in Agricultural Education; Information Technology; and Instructional Technology. It also offers a Technology Management online doctoral degree.

#3 - Winston-Salem State University

  • In-state Tuition: $5,468 (2013-2014)
  • Accredited: Y
  • # of online programs: 3 undergraduate and 2 graduate degrees
  • Notable Alumni: Activist Madie Hall-Xuma, politician Ted Blunt, educator Louise Smith

Winston-Salem State University focuses its online degree programs on students who have little or no opportunity to experience higher education in a traditional setting. Its undergraduate online degrees are offered in Clinical Laboratory Science; Nursing; and Interdisciplinary Studies. It's two graduate degree programs online are in Rehabilitation Counseling and Advanced Nurse Educator.

#4 - University of North Carolina - Charlotte

  • In-state Tuition: $6,107 (2013-2014)
  • Accredited: Y
  • # of online programs: 5 undergraduate and 14 graduate degrees
  • Notable Alumni: Singer Nicole Atkins, educator Lillian M. Lowery, journalist Heather Childers

The online degree programs at UNC's Charlotte campus are focused on areas of education and healthcare. The six undergraduate programs offered online include Engineering Technology: Electrical; Engineering Technology: Fire Safety; Neurodiagnostics and Sleep Science; Respiratory Therapy; and Nursing. Its 14 online graduate degree programs include Elementary Education; Middle and Secondary Education; Special Education (K-12); Elementary Education; Instructional Systems Technology; Middle and Secondary Education; Reading Education; Special Education: Academically or Intellectually Gifted; School Administration; Engineering Management; Nursing Administration; Nursing Education; Community/Public Health; and Nursing.

#5 - East Carolina University

  • In-state Tuition: $6,143 (2013-2014)
  • Accredited: Y
  • # of online programs: 20 undergraduate, 46 graduate, and 1 doctoral degree
  • Notable Alumni: Basketball coach Kay Yow, actress Sandra Bullock, anchor Maureen O'Boyle

East Carolina's curriculum is fully immersed in the online degree program effort, offering 20 undergraduate degree programs, 46 graduate programs and one doctoral program online. For the most part, the undergraduate programs are degree-completion courses that allow students who have completed their lower-division studies to go online for the specialized courses they need to complete their degree work.

#6 - University of North Carolina - Wilmington

  • In-state Tuition: $6,343 (2013-2014)
  • Accredited: Y
  • # of online programs: 3 undergraduate and 7 graduate degrees
  • Notable Alumni: Actress Claudia Bassols, basketball coach John Calipari, actor Skeet Ulrich

The Wilmington campus of UNC delivers distance education through its Division of Academic Affairs, ensuring that the online degree programs are the same high quality as the face-to-face offerings. Online undergraduate degrees are offered in Elementary Education; Nursing; and Clinical Research. It's seven online graduate degree programs are Chemistry; Clinical Research; Elementary Education; Middle Grades Education; Liberal Studies; Instructional Technology; and Curriculum, Instruction and Supervision.

#7 - University of North Carolina - Greensboro

  • In-state Tuition: $6,382 (2013-2014)
  • Accredited: Y
  • # of online programs: 5 undergraduate, 12 graduate, and 1 doctoral degree
  • Notable Alumni: Poet Kathryn Stripling Byer, author Claudia Emerson, actress Beth Leavel

In Greensboro, undergraduate degree programs offered online focus on giving students a diverse set of skills, including communication, problem solving and critical thinking. Its undergraduate degrees offered online include Liberal Studies; Business Administration; Human Development and Family Studies; Public Health; and Supply Chain Management. It's Master's degree programs online include Peace and Conflict Studies; Dance Education; Liberal Studies; B-K Interdisciplinary Studies in Education and Development; Curriculum and Instruction: Elementary Mathematics Education; Education with a Concentration in Elementary Science; Education in Latin; Library and Information Studies; Consumer, Apparel, and Retail Studies with a concentration in Global Apparel Supply Chain Management; Information Technology and Management; Nursing Administration; and Nursing Education. It also offers a doctoral degree online in Kinesiology.

#8 - Appalachian State University

  • In-state Tuition: $6,462 (2013-2014)
  • Accredited: Y
  • # of online programs: 4 undergraduate and 4 graduate degrees
  • Notable Alumni: Musician Eric Bachmann, writer Stephen J. Dubner, track star Melissa Morrison-Howard

At Appalachian State, online undergraduate degree programs are available to students who have already completed lower division coursework and are ready to move into the specialized instruction that leads to degrees. The lower division work can be completed at a regionally accredited university and the credits transferred to ASU. The school is also poised to launch several new undergraduate degree programs in 2015. Currently it offers online undergraduate degree programs in Health Promotion; Nursing; Social Work; and Business Education. Its online graduate degree programs are in School Administration; Library Science; Educational Media Instructional Technology Special; New Media & Global Education; and Social Work.

#9 - North Carolina State University

  • In-state Tuition: $8,206 (2013-2014)
  • Accredited: Y
  • # of online programs: 3 undergraduate degrees, 43 graduate degrees, and 1 doctoral degree
  • Notable Alumni: Software engineer Annie Anton, nuclear engineer Albert Carnesale, philosopher Tom Reagan

North Carolina State has jumped into the online degree program business in North Carolina in a big way, offering more than 43 graduate degrees online. It also offers a wide array of online certificate and teacher licensure programs. All distance education programs offered have the same accreditation as their on-campus courses and are taught by the same highly qualified faculty. The online undergraduate degree programs are in Leadership in the Public Sector; Mechanical Engineering Systems; and Mechatronics Engineering, which is offered through high-definition video teleconference through the school's Asheville, North Carolina, campus. The online doctoral program is in Adult and Community College Education.

#10 - University of North Carolina

  • In-state Tuition: $8,340 (2013-2014)
  • Accredited: Y
  • # of online programs: 6 graduate and 1 postgraduate degrees
  • Notable Alumni: Author Russell Banks, actor Dan Cortese, journalist Jonathan Yardley

The University of North Carolina's flagship campus in Chapel Hill offers a wide variety of online courses for both graduate students and undergraduates. What's different from most college's is the UNC's Carolina Courses Online program offers courses to anyone, regardless of whether they are enrolled at UNC-Chapel Hill. Although it has not launched any fully online undergraduate degree programs yet, it does offer Master's degree programs in Accounting; Business Administration; Public Health with Global Concentration; Public Administration; Maternal and Child Health; and Technology and Communication (this degree from the journalism school requires two trips to Chapel Hill). UNC also offers an online Doctorate degree in Physical Therapy, a program which is designed for licensed physical therapists who are seeking additional knowledge and skills and a doctoral degree. The program combines distance learning and web-based instruction with ongoing clinical application.

Online Colleges: Expert Interviews

Rebecca Cowles Swanson

Rebecca Cowles Swanson, PhD, Associate Vice Provost, Distance and Distributed Education (DELTA), North Carolina State University

Q. Can you provide an overview of your top degree program(s)?

North Carolina State University's Distance Education program fulfills its land grant mission by offering access to learning opportunities to students wherever located. Our online programs focus on the university's strengths in graduate level education in the STEM disciplines. Online programs include Engineering Online, ranked in the Top 10 Engineering programs by US News & World Report. The program includes 15 master's degrees in disciplines ranging from Aerospace Engineering to Nanoengineering. NC State's Online MBA program, ranked #9 in US News & World Report's Online MBA programs, offers an innovative curriculum for leadership and management with a global, technological focus.

Q. What advice do you have for prospective students about choosing an online program?

Take time to carefully consider whether or not this is the right program for your personal and professional goals. Explore the program website; attend virtual or campus information sessions; and email, call or visit with admissions counselors and program leaders. Also, consider your availability for completion of an online program, factoring your life responsibilities along with work and other time commitments.

Q. What are your thoughts on the future of online learning?

Current trends indicate most people will change careers several times in their lifetime. Online education, with schedule flexibility options, provides opportunity for students to obtain new skills or prepare for a new career with minimal disruption to their work and life circumstances.

William Rivenbark

William Rivenbark, Program Director for the Master of Public Administration program, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

Q. Can you provide an overview your top degree program(s)?

The UNC-Chapel Hill Master of Public Administration program is ranked sixth nationally in the specialty area of city management. Designed to prepare graduates for leadership, the MPA program combines rigorous academic study with practical experience. Launched in 2013, the online format (MPA@UNC) is designed for working professionals and others who require flexibility and want to remain in their current communities or organizations while pursuing a degree.

Q. What advice do you have for prospective students about choosing an online program?

For prospective students considering any graduate program, whether on campus or online, I'd strongly encourage them to select a program that delivers on two levels: it is designed to directly support its mission and it educates you for the career you envision. For those interested in studies offered online, effective time management and self-motivation are critical. But students should also understand that "online" does not always equal "undemanding." MPA@UNC is taught with live, online face-to-face instruction by the same School of Government faculty teaching on-campus courses. While flexibility is a bonus, it's important to keep in mind that the rigor and pace will match that of the program's on-campus format.

Q. What are your thoughts on the future of online learning?

Online programs can be an excellent option for students looking to further their education but are unable to relocate to do so. Our MPA@UNC students live and work in communities across the country. They are a diverse group who work in public service settings in local, state, and federal government; nonprofit organizations; the US military. But they all share a common goal and vision to reach their own leadership potential through furthering their education in public administration. Academic programs that can provide that opportunity and flexibility without compromising learning quality or the true educational experience are essential for higher education institutions that want to succeed in the online space.

Snapshot of North Carolina Cities

Charlotte is the largest city in North Carolina with more than 775,000 residents, followed by Raleigh with 423,179 residents, and Greensboro with 277,080. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the state's three major metropolitan areas include the Charlotte metropolitan area, which includes Gastonia and Salisbury and has a population of 2.4 million; The Triangle, which includes Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill's 2.1 million residents; and The Triad, a region of 1.6 million that includes Greensboro, Winston-Salem and High Point.

The following is a closer economic and demographic look at North Carolina, with economic data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. All demographic data comes from the U.S. Census Bureau and the latest Labor Force Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. All data in the Facts for Online Learners section comes from the region's various tourism websites.

The metropolitan area of Charlotte, often referred to as Metrolina, is synonymous with NASCAR auto racing and is home to eight Fortune 500 companies, such as Bank of America and Duke Energy. The 877,070 workers in this region earn an average of $22.51 per hour, for an annual income of $46,820.

Charlotte and its surrounding cities provide more than 22 percent of the state's total workforce. Among the nearly 500,000 residents of Charlotte who are over 25 years old, 12 percent have a graduate or professional degree, 27 percent have an undergraduate degree, and nearly 30 percent attended some college or earned an Associate degree.

Fun Facts for Online Learners
As a major metropolitan city, there is no shortage of things to do in Charlotte. There is the NASCAR Hall of Fame, the Time Warner Cable Arena for professional sports and the large Carowinds amusement park. Charlotte is also rich in culture and history, and many visitors make it a point to take in the Levine Museum of the New South, the Mint Museum, and the Carolinas Aviation Museum.

The Raleigh-Durham area, called the Research Triangle because of the confluence of higher education institutes, has been the home of high-tech industries for nearly 60 years. Workers here total more than 533,000, earning an average hourly wage of $22.65 for an average annual income of $47,100, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Workers in the Research Triangle represent about 14 percent of the state's entire workforce. In Durham, one in five of the city's 230,000 residents 25 or older hold a graduate or professional degree, and one in four has a Bachelor's degree. Raleigh's 420,000 residents are also well-educated, with one in three holding a Bachelor's degree and 16 percent holding a graduate diploma.

Fun Facts for Online Learners
As the state capital, Raleigh has attractions you don't find anywhere else in North Carolina, such as the state Capitol and the impressive Executive Mansion. There is also a great family of museums, including the Museum of Natural Sciences, the Museum of History, the Marbles Kids Museum and the North Carolina Museum of Art.

This region, often referred to as The Triad, encompasses three major cities and is though of as the manufacturing and transportation hub of North Carolina. The 344,000 workers in the Greensboro-High Point region of the Triad earn an average hourly rate of $19.59m, for an annual average income of $40,750.

Of the 170,000 residents of Greensboro who are older than 25, 11 percent have graduate or professional degrees and 23 percent have Bachelor's degrees.

Fun Facts for Online Learners
The Triad has a reputation as a central point for the Civil Rights Movement, so it's only fitting that Greensboro is the home of the International Civil Rights Center and Museum. It's also home to the Greensboro Science Center, the Blandwood Mansion and Gardens, and the Carolina Theatre.

Helpful Resources

Fortunately, prospective students who want to learn more about online degrees in North Carolina have a wealth of resources at their disposal. The North Carolina eLearning Commission, for instance, is a state-sponsored foundation designed to inform North Carolinians of online learning opportunities at UNC schools, as well as other institutions within the state. Visitors can learn more about the benefits of online learning, and research public and private institutions that offer online degrees or professional credentials.

Another helpful tool for prospective students is the state's Virtual Learning Community (VLC), which is operated by North Carolina's community college system. On the site, visitors can learn more about the different types of online learning programs available from the 58 (as of February 2013) participating community colleges.


  1. 101 Fun Things to do in Charlotte, http://www.charlottesgotalot.com/101-fun-things-to-do-in-charlotte
  2. Appalachian State University, http://distance.appstate.edu/
  3. Appalachian State University notable alumni, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appalachian_State_University
  4. Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oessrcst.htm
  5. East Carolina University, http://www.ecu.edu/cs-acad/options/undergraduate-degrees.cfm
  6. List of East Carolina University alumni, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_East_Carolina_University_alumni
  7. List of North Carolina State University alumni, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_North_Carolina_State_University_people
  8. List of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill alumni, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
  9. List of University of North Carolina Charlotte alumni, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
  10. University of North Carolina Greensboro notable alumni, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_North_Carolina_at_Greensboro
  11. List of University of North Carolina Wilmington, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appalachian State University notable alumni
  12. North Carolina A&T University, http://www.ncat.edu/academics/distance-learning/courses-programs.html
  13. North Carolina State University, http://distance.ncsu.edu/programs/master-programs.php?page=1
  14. North Carolina A&T University notable alumni, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Carolina_Agricultural_and_Technical_State_University#Notable_alumni
  15. Rebecca Cowles Swanson, PhD, Associate Vice Provost, Distance and Distributed Education (DELTA), North Carolina State University, interview with the author May, 2015.
  16. Things to do in Raleigh, http://www.visitraleigh.com/things-to-do/?gclid=CjwKEAjwzqKiBRCAydTZzOLi9CISJACm3irWllS1UQZP1ihicRA4ZTx6xSkVjGTLKNW_qPV0J_hbjxoC3bPw_wcB
  17. U.S. Census Bureau: American Factfinder, http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?src=CF
  18. University of North Carolina, http://unc.edu/academics/distance-education/
  19. University of North Carolina Greensboro, http://online.uncg.edu/undergraduate-programs/
  20. University of North Carolina Pembroke, http://www.uncp.edu/academics/online-distance-education/online-programs
  21. University of North Carolina Pembroke notable alumni, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_North_Carolina_at_Pembroke
  22. University of North Carolina Wilmington, http://uncw.edu/dl/onlinegrad.html
  23. Visit Greensboro, http://www.visitraleigh.com/things-to-do/?gclid=CjwKEAjwzqKiBRCAydTZzOLi9CISJACm3irWllS1UQZP1ihicRA4ZTx6xSkVjGTLKNW_qPV0J_hbjxoC3bPw_wcB
  24. William Rivenbark, Program Director for the Master of Public Administration program, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, interview with the author May, 2015.
  25. Winston-Salem State University, http://www.wssu.edu/academics/distance-learning/default.aspx
  26. Winston-Salem State University notable alumni, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winston-Salem_State_University

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