Best Community Colleges in North Carolina
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Consisting of 58 colleges that offer flexible and accessible educational options, the North Carolina Community College System enrolls approximately 700,000 students each year. Furthermore, the Longleaf Commitment Grant allows qualifying North Carolina high school graduates from low- and middle-income families to become eligible for financial assistance at each of these colleges.
With opportunities for free tuition, financial aid, and quality education, North Carolina houses some of the best online community colleges and trade schools.
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Why Study in North Carolina?
Community colleges in North Carolina offer specialized educational options and customized job training programs, including one-year and two-year certificates and degrees, transfer opportunities, and dual enrollment. North Carolina's community colleges offer more than 275 programs and make up one of the largest community college systems in the country.
The state's community colleges also provide learners with the opportunity to sign up for short-term workforce training programs or earn an associate degree in nursing that qualifies them to work as registered nurses.
Forbes ranked North Carolina as the best state for business from 2017 to 2019. With a package of low taxes for businesses and residents, along with top-tier job development programs, North Carolina's economy is on the rise.
Cost of Living
The cost of living in North Carolina falls well below the national average, including in terms of housing, healthcare, groceries, transportation, and utilities. WalletHub also ranks North Carolina 34th in average tax burden among all states in the country. This means that the average North Carolinian pays less in taxes when compared to the national average.
Cultural and Community Offerings
North Carolina is the ninth-largest state in the United States in terms of population, boasting a diverse population of more than 10 million. Despite the large population, North Carolina is not a crowded state. Instead, the Tar Heel State is known for its beautiful coastal plains, scenic barrier islands, and hiking trails.
North Carolina houses more than 40 state parks, 10 national parks, and four national forests, along with various art and history museums. There are also various community celebrations throughout the year, helping North Carolinians come together and build an inclusive community.
There are rarely extreme winters or summers in North Carolina. The climate is mild throughout the year, characterized by its humid and sub-tropical climate.
As winters are extremely mild, North Carolinians and tourists from all over the world can enjoy outdoor activities throughout the year. Visitors and residents can take a trip to the iconic Great Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountains or plan a beach getaway at Emerald Isle, Bald Head Island, or Cape Hatteras.
Top Degree Programs in North Carolina
Featured Online Programs
Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.
North Carolina Employment Outlook
North Carolina's employment ecosystem is supported by job-providing programs like ApprenticeshipNC and BioNetwork, along with customized training schemes and small business center networks that serve many local workers.
The U.S. Department of Labor projects that North Carolina will experience 6.3% job growth from 2018-2028. This would translate to the creation of more than 300,000 new jobs.
4 North Carolina Jobs in Demand for 2022
Healthcare and social assistance is one of the biggest employment industries in North Carolina. These professionals, who help maintain patient records and administer many types of medication, are consistently in demand. Nurses must hold a license to practice.
Veterinary Technologists and Technicians
These professionals help veterinarians diagnose and treat animals. Daily tasks may include collecting blood and tissue samples and performing lab tests. An associate degree is the most common academic requirement for these positions.
Skilled trades careers, like electrician, generally don't require four-year degrees. This allows individuals to enter the workforce quickly. Students aiming for a career as an electrician can look forward to entering an in-demand industry.
Occupational Therapy Assistants
Students who want to work as occupational therapy assistants often earn an associate degree from a community college or technical school. Occupational therapy assistants support a patient's recovery and progress in developing skills that they need in daily living and working.
Best Accredited Community Colleges in North Carolina
Rankings compiled by the BestColleges Ranking Team
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Best Community Colleges in North Carolina
Pamlico Community CollegeLocation
With a 9-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio and a graduation/transfer rate 26 percentage points higher than the national average, Pamlico Community College ranks as one of the best community colleges in North Carolina. Students at PCC can pursue certificates and degrees in fields like criminal justice technology, early childhood education, and medical office administration. The college also maintains continuing education and skill development programs for working adults.
Numerous programs at the college are available online, including the ECU Partnership Program for future K-12 educators. PCC also supports distance education students with online academic advising, career coaching, tutoring, and writing assistance.
To apply to PCC, you must have a high school diploma or the equivalent. Some students may also need to take a free placement test to determine if they need to enroll in developmental courses.
Wayne Community CollegeLocation
Located on a 175-acre campus in Goldsboro, Wayne Community College offers more than 100 degree, certificate, and professional development programs in subjects like emergency management, mechanical engineering technology, and aviation systems. Students at this community college in North Carolina also have the option to earn fully online degrees and certificates in areas such as accounting, computer programming, and medical office administration.
For students wishing to transfer to an in-state bachelor's program, WCC offers AA, AS, associate of engineering, and associate of general education in nursing degrees that meet the general education requirements of University of North Carolina System institutions.
Students at WCC enjoy access to a wealth of support services. The school's career services office hosts personalized counseling, resume and interview skills workshops, and job fairs.
Applying to WCC generally requires a high school diploma or the equivalent. Prospective students may also need to take a placement exam to assess their readiness to study at the college level.
Mayland Community CollegeLocation
Spruce Pine, NCTuition
Situated in North Carolina's Appalachian Mountains, Mayland Community College serves students across the state through online and hybrid classes in subjects like biology, business law, medical terminology, and network security. In-person programs are also available in areas such as criminal justice, electronics engineering, and practical nursing.
Students at Mayland can also select one of three associate degree tracks that meet the general education requirements of a bachelor's program at a four-year institution. Mayland maintains articulation agreements with several public and private colleges in the state, making it easy to transfer credit.
Applicants must submit official copies of their high school or GED transcripts, though Mayland does not require incoming students to take a placement exam. Certain programs, such as nursing, may have stricter entrance requirements, Students can apply for more than 60 scholarships awarded on the basis of academic achievement, financial need, and career aspirations.
Vance-Granville Community CollegeLocation
With separate campuses in Vance, Granville, Franklin, and Warren counties, Vance-Granville Community College offers more than 40 programs in fields like business administration, computer science, education, and health services. Students who need to balance their studies with professional or personal responsibilities can also take advantage of fully online programs in criminal justice, early childhood care, and supply chain management.
Alongside its degree and certificate programs, VGCC provides a multitude of professional development and personal enrichment opportunities. For example, students can participate in a law enforcement training program, developing the skills needed to earn admission into a police academy or qualify for a departmental promotion.
Prospective students must apply online; submit official copies of their transcripts; and take a placement exam that covers subjects like math, writing, and reading comprehension. Students who do not receive a passing score on this exam may need to take remedial coursework prior to enrolling in a program.
Western Piedmont Community CollegeLocation
Each year, Western Piedmont Community College educates more than 7,000 students through 104 degree, diploma, and certificate programs. Students can choose to learn at the college's 300-acre campus, in fully online programs, or through a hybrid approach that allows participants to combine the convenience of distance education with the structure of the classroom experience.
Programs are available in building construction technology, digital effects and animation, information technology, and paralegal studies. Students who earn an associate of arts or associate of science at the college also receive guaranteed admission to member institutions of the University of North Carolina System.
WPCC operates under an open-door admission policy. Applicants who do not meet English and math competencies may need to take developmental classes. Prospective students can also apply for multiple forms of financial aid, such as a $1,000 scholarship for emergency services personnel and their families.
Rockingham Community CollegeLocation
Committed to access, excellence, and student support, Rockingham Community College ranks as one of the best community colleges in North Carolina. In addition to on-campus programs in areas like finance, industrial systems technology, and respiratory therapy, the college also offers dozens of online and hybrid classes.
While RCC uses an open-door admission policy, its health sciences programs have limited enrollment and set stricter entrance requirements. For example, to enroll in the pharmacy technician program, you must score at least 70% on the program's placement test. Programs in nursing and medical laboratory technology may also require an interview with an admissions counselor.
Through the Spartan Passage program, students who earn an associate degree at RCC receive guaranteed admission to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. They are also eligible for transfer scholarships and have their application fees waived. Students must maintain a GPA of at least 2.0 to remain in this program.
Stanly Community CollegeLocation
With a main campus in Albemarle, Stanly Community College gives students the support they need to succeed in the classroom and after graduation. Students can work with dedicated mentors to complete their financial aid paperwork, choose and enroll in classes, and navigate the college's online resources. Success coaches help students consider their career interests and options, hone their resume writing and interview skills, and network with alumni and employers.
Degree and certificate programs provide instruction in areas like agribusiness technology, heavy equipment operations, radiography, and game development. SCC also offers fully online programs in accounting, business administration, cybersecurity, and human services technology.
Applying to SCC requires either a high school diploma or GED certificate. Students who have not taken the ACT or SAT may need to take a placement test. The placement exam is free, and online students can receive a voucher to take the test at an authorized center in their area.
Montgomery Community CollegeLocation
While Montgomery Community College offers a host of traditional programs in subjects like business administration and medical assisting, students attending this community college in North Carolina can also explore highly specialized topics like gunsmithing, metal engraving, and hunting and shooting sports management. While some courses are available at a distance, MCC does not currently offer any fully online programs.
To apply to MCC, you must hold a high school diploma or the equivalent. Incoming students must also take a placement exam, though the college waives this requirement for those who have previously taken some college-level courses. New students must also meet with an academic advisor to create a plan of study.
MCC offers a variety of institutional scholarships to increase the affordability of its programs. To qualify, students must maintain a minimum 2.5 GPA during their undergraduate studies and demonstrate financial need by completing the FAFSA.
Richmond Community CollegeLocation
Serving approximately 10.000 students, Richmond Community College prides itself on providing high-quality education and flexible learning opportunities. The average class size at the college is just 17 pupils, allowing instructors to provide personalized attention to their students. In addition, day, night, and online classes give students the freedom to continue their education at their convenience.
Fully online associate programs are available in business administration, law enforcement, healthcare management, and cybersecurity. Through its adult education programs, RCC also helps students earn high school equivalency certificates and develop the academic skills needed to study at the college level. The college also holds transfer agreements with all schools in the University of North Carolina System, as well as 20 additional private colleges and universities in the state.
Applicants must submit official copies of their high school transcripts. Prospective students must take a placement test and meet with an academic counselor.
Southwestern Community CollegeLocation
Since its founding in 1964, Southwestern Community College has awarded more than 15,000 degrees, diplomas, and certificates in areas such as entrepreneurship, automotive systems technology, paralegal technology, and the culinary arts. To further expand educational opportunities, the college now offers fully online programs in office administration, software development, and early childhood education administration.
SCC emphasizes work-based learning. Students in more than a dozen of the college's associate programs participate in internships to evaluate potential career options, develop practical experience, and grow their professional network.
Degree-seeking applicants must have a high school diploma or the equivalent. They must also demonstrate college-level reading, writing, and math proficiency based on a placement test, high school GPA, or prior college credit.
Prospective students can also apply for a variety of scholarships. For example, the Brigham Scholars program supports students who excel academically and plan to pursue a criminal justice career after graduation.
Randolph Community CollegeLocation
Through its Career and College Promise program, Randolph Community College offers free tuition to high school juniors and seniors in North Carolina. To participate, you must maintain a GPA of at least 3.0 during high school and demonstrate college readiness by taking an exam like the ACT, SAT, or PSAT. High school students can also receive paid, on-the-job training through the college's apprenticeship program.
Adult learners can major in subjects such as human resource management, interior design, manufacturing technology, and photojournalism. Through online and hybrid courses, students can also continue their education without needing to commute to campus on a daily basis.
Applicants to this community college in North Carolina must hold a high school diploma or the equivalent. Prospective students must also take the North Carolina Diagnostic Assessment and Placement test, though this requirement is waived if certain academic benchmarks -- such as a minimum 3.0 high school GPA -- have been met.
Brunswick Community CollegeLocation
At Brunswick Community College, students can earn a fully online associate of arts degree, allowing them to easily transfer up to 60 credits into a bachelor's program in a field like education, business, or law enforcement. The college also offers an entirely online associate degree in early childhood education, as well as online diplomas and certificates in subjects like aquaculture technology and infant toddler care.
Students taking classes on the Supply, Southport, or Leland campus can explore topics like engineering, health and fitness science, and computer programming and development. BCC also helps learners improve their English language skills, prepare for emergency services exams and training academies, and learn about business topics like social media advertising.
To apply to BCC, you must hold a high school diploma or an equivalent credential. Incoming students that qualify for the Brunswick Guarantee receive free tuition and up to $750 per semester for books and other required course materials.
Johnston Community CollegeLocation
With a 175-acre main campus and three additional learning centers, Johnston Community College is noted for its "Career in a Year" initiative, which provides more than 70 certificate and diploma programs that prepare students for jobs in biotechnology, building and construction, machining and maintenance, and paralegal work. The college also offers a transfer pathway that enables students to earn an associate degree as a first step toward a bachelor's from a four-year state institution.
In addition to substantial discounts for North Carolina residents, JCC offers more than 250 scholarships to improve the affordability and accessibility of its degree and certificate programs.
JCC requires applicants to hold a high school diploma or GED certificate. Learners may also need to take a placement exam, though the college waives this requirement for students who maintained a high school GPA of 2.6 or better.
Carteret Community CollegeLocation
Morehead City, NCTuition
While many students at Carteret Community College get to enjoy the beauty of the school's shoreside campus, about half of the college's enrollees take online classes that allow learners at any location to earn academic credit.
CCC hosts four associate programs that target students who plan to transfer to a four-year college or university. Those who want to start a career directly after graduation can study subjects such as hospitality management, emergency medical science, therapeutic massage, and marine propulsion systems. Community education programs also serve English language learners and adults seeking a high school equivalency credential.
This community college in North Carolina does not require incoming students to have a high school diploma or GED, although applicants typically take a placement exam to determine if they have the reading, writing, and math skills needed to succeed in a college program.
Isothermal Community CollegeLocation
The Global Distinction Program at Isothermal Community College equips students with the skills needed to navigate an increasingly interconnected world. Through a partnership with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, students in this program take globally oriented courses, participate in international activities and dialogues, study abroad, and complete a capstone project.
While this program generally caters to students who hope to continue their education at a four-year school, Isothermal also offers career preparation tracks in subjects like auto collision repair and refinishing technology, cosmetology, and small business entrepreneurship. Online associate degrees are also available in agribusiness, criminal justice, and web administration and design.
Isothermal requires all degree-seeking students to hold a high school diploma or an equivalent credential. Applicants with a high school GPA of 2.5 or lower must also take a placement exam.
With three campuses and fully online programs in information technology, medical office administration, and supply chain management, Gaston College provides flexibility to busy students. The college also allows some working professionals to earn college credit based on their current work experience.
Students also enjoy many options when choosing a program of study. Degrees, certificates, and diplomas are available in fields like advanced manufacturing, business and information technology, and health and human services.
To support the local community, the college maintains the GC Promise program. This covers all tuition and fees for high school graduates in Gaston and Lincoln counties. To qualify, students must maintain a minimum GPA of 3.25 in high school and 3.0 during their community college studies.
All students must apply online, submit official high school transcripts, and complete an online orientation.
Alamance Community CollegeLocation
One of the first community colleges in North Carolina, Alamance Community College strives to make education affordable. For example, the school's Foundation Scholarship pays for all tuition expenses and fees not already covered by state or federal financial aid. Additionally, the ACC Retention Scholarship covers the cost of two courses in an associate program.
Students at ACC receive high-quality instruction in subjects like business marketing, dental assisting, and computer-aided drafting. The college also offers fully online associate degrees in general education and fire science, as well as 10 online certificates in areas like financial accounting, childcare, and web design.
To apply to ACC, students must submit an online application and take a placement exam or submit results from the ACT or SAT. All incoming students must have a high school diploma or the equivalent.
Piedmont Community CollegeLocation
Piedmont Community College aims to create a welcoming and supportive learning environment for students who study online and for those attending classes at one of the college's two campuses. All learners have access to drop-in tutoring, research consultations, 24/7 technical assistance, writing support, and free test proctoring services. Students can also take advantage of mental health and career counseling, online enrollment and academic advising, and a childcare and development center.
Programs of study at the college include small business administration, electrical power production technology, database management, and public safety administration. In addition, the Person Early College for Innovation and Leadership program specifically serves first-generation college students, allowing participants to earn a high school diploma and associate of science degree without needing to pay tuition.
To seek an associate degree at PCC, you must have a high school diploma or the equivalent. Certificate and diploma programs are open to any student 18 years of age or older.
Halifax Community CollegeLocation
As one of the oldest community colleges in North Carolina, Halifax Community College has served the educational needs of Halifax and Northampton counties for more than 50 years. Students at the college can pursue degrees, diplomas, and certificates in subjects such as dental hygiene, nursing, office administration, and welding. Many courses are also available in an online or hybrid format.
HCC operates on an open-door admission policy, admitting all students who are either 18 years of age or have a high school diploma. Incoming students must take a placement exam, though the college waives this requirement for applicants who submit official college transcripts or SAT or ACT results.
To supplement state and federal financial aid, HCC provides a variety of scholarships to its students. For example, the Damian S. Hawkins Memorial Scholarship provides up to $1,000 in aid to students who major in human services technology or plan to work with at-risk or troubled youth after graduation.
Central Carolina Community CollegeLocation
Central Carolina Community College provides accelerated pathways to career entry or continued study at a four-year institution. Full-time students can earn an associate of arts in just one year, meeting all the general education requirements of a bachelor's program at a school in the University of North Carolina System. Taking just two evening classes each week, learners also have the option to earn an associate degree in business in just two years.
Online programs at the college give learners additional scheduling flexibility. The college offers fully online degrees and certificates in majors like accounting, human resources management, early childhood education, and library and information technology.
Most applicants to CCCC need only a high school diploma or GED certificate. However, the college's accelerated programs have stricter entrance requirements. To earn admission into the one-year associate program, applicants must have a high school GPA of 2.6 or higher. Admitted students must maintain a minimum 2.0 college GPA to remain on the accelerated track.
Surry Community CollegeLocation
Founded in 1964, Surry Community College enables students to pursue learning in 48 academic areas. The college offers eight fully online degrees and six online certificates in subjects like computer programming and development, digital media technology, and management information systems. Distance learners at SCC work with the same faculty and follow the same curricula as on-campus students.
Additional in-person programs are available in areas such as medical interpretation for Spanish speakers, horticulture technology, and viticulture and oenology. Students can choose to take classes at the college's main campus in Dobson or at one of four satellite learning centers throughout the region.
Through the Yadkin Guarantee, Yadkin county residents pay no tuition or fees if they maintained at least a 2.3 GPA during high school. Incoming students who do not reside in the county can also apply for a host of other scholarships, including awards that offer support to students in specific fields of study.
Cleveland Community CollegeLocation
Providing education to residents of Cleveland County for over 50 years, Cleveland Community College equips students with the knowledge and skills needed for careers in a variety of fields, including automotive repair, carpentry, plumbing, and manufacturing. Learners can also opt to earn two-year associate degrees to prepare for professional roles in nursing, early childhood education, and information technology. Many students choose to attend CCC as an inexpensive way to begin working toward a bachelor's degree.
To apply to a degree or certificate program at CCC, you must have either a high school diploma or GED certificate. The college also requires most applicants to take a placement exam. All incoming students must meet with an academic advisor prior to enrollment.
Scholarship funds are provided to students based on financial need, academic achievement, and future career plans. North Carolina police officers, firefighters, and emergency rescue personnel pay no tuition or fees for job-related courses.
Sampson Community CollegeLocation
With humble beginnings as a one-room school, Sampson Community College currently offers associate degrees and certificates in 26 programs of study. Students can access many resources, including free, web-based group and individual tutoring. Learners can also upload essays and papers to the college's online writing center, receiving personalized feedback within 48 hours.
During the 2018-19 academic year, SCC awarded more than $85,000 in institutional scholarships. In addition, the Sampson Promise covers all tuition and fees for students who graduated from a Sampson County high school with a GPA of 3.0 or higher.
To apply to SCC, you must hold either a high school diploma or GED certificate. Most applicants also need to take a placement exam, though the college waives this requirement for prospective students who meet GPA benchmarks or demonstrate readiness for college-level study through other standardized exams.
Tri-County Community CollegeLocation
At Tri-County Community College, high school students have the opportunity to earn college-level credit at no cost and earn both a high school diploma and associate degree in as little as two years. Through transfer agreements, graduates can then continue their education at one of several four-year colleges and universities in North Carolina.
Programs of study at the college cover subjects such as marketing and retailing, animal-assisted human services, information technology support, and therapeutic massage. Online and hybrid courses give students the flexibility to earn their degree or professional certificate with minimal to no on-campus requirements.
While students do not need a high school diploma to attend TCCC, all applicants must meet with an academic advisor to determine if they need to enroll in developmental coursework prior to beginning a program.
Craven Community CollegeLocation
New Bern, NCTuition
Roughly 3,200 students pursue associate degrees and certificates at Craven Community College every year. An additional 10,000 learners participate in the college's continuing education programs, strengthening their English language skills, preparing to make the transition into a new profession, and/or pursuing a personal interest.
At Craven, students can receive classroom and work-based instruction in areas such as aviation management and career pilot technology, esthetics technology, and mechatronics engineering technology. Fully online programs also give learners access to continuing education opportunities in operations management, criminal justice, and medical billing and coding. Additionally, both distance and classroom learners can follow an associate degree transfer pathway, easing their transition into a bachelor's program after graduation.
All applicants -- with the exception of high school students in an early college program -- must hold either a high school diploma or the equivalent. Additional requirements, such as placement testing, may be required depending on the program. Craven does not charge an application fee.
Frequently Asked Questions About Community Colleges in North Carolina
Are community colleges worth it?
Community colleges usually offer relatively affordable tuition rates and a flexible path toward in-demand jobs and emerging professional fields. Many community colleges also offer flexibility through affordable online programs.
Another advantage of enrolling at community colleges is that the credits you earn are transferable to most four-year universities in the country, providing an alternative path in your pursuit of a bachelor's degree.
Does North Carolina have free community college?
Some community colleges in North Carolina offer free tuition and financial assistance. In 2021, the Governor's Emergency Education Relief fund granted North Carolina an estimated $138 million in financial aid, which helped the state's community college system to create the Longleaf Commitment Grant.
How many community colleges are in North Carolina?
There are 58 community colleges spread across North Carolina. The North Carolina Community College System offers 275 programs of study and serves about 700,000 students.
Some community colleges in North Carolina offer fully online programs. Students can receive specialized training in skilled labor educational programs, which typically takes 1-2 years. Central Piedmont Community College and Wake Technical Community College are the two largest community colleges in the state in terms of student enrollment.
What is the number one community college in North Carolina?
Located in Grantsboro, Pamlico Community College is considered among the best community colleges in North Carolina. According to its website, PCC boasts an excellent 9-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio, along with a graduation and transfer rate that is well above the national average.
Since starting as a small industrial education provider in 1962, PCC has become a fully accredited two-year community college. In addition to on-campus offerings, the school now offers online programs for working adults.
How much does it cost to go to a community college in North Carolina?
The average tuition at community colleges in North Carolina typically costs about $2,500 per year for in-state students and $8,250 for out-of-state students.
Almost every community college in North Carolina offers some online learning programs, so students can avoid paying transportation and on-campus dormitory fees. Eligible students can also apply to the Longleaf Commitment Grant, which would award them free tuition for up to two years.
Feature Image: Andrea Evangelo-Giamou / EyeEm / Getty Images