10 community colleges in North Carolina to know about

North Carolina

North Carolina is somewhat of a higher education rock star. According to a 2013 report from 24/7 Wall St., the state features some of the nation's best universities, yet ranks in the top 10 states for college affordability. That's good news, too, because according to Lumina Foundation, the state's 2010 college attainment rate was a bit below the national average, and was even lower among younger adults age 25 and 34. If North Carolina wants to remain competitive, Lumina notes, it needs to produce more college grads.

One way to tackle the issue is to help the 1.2 million adults in the state that have attended, but not completed, college to return. This is where community colleges come in. North Carolina community colleges served approximately one in nine North Carolinians age 18 and over across 58 campuses in 2011, and most residents live within a 30-minute drive of one of thoe institutions. Here are just a few of those schools, ordered alphabetically.

  1. Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College (Asheville): If you are looking for a lifestyle as much as a community college, Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College, or A-B Tech, might make your short list. The school offers a diversity of associate degrees, diplomas and certificates, not to mention a fair share of student clubs and organizations. What really separates A-B Tech apart, however, is its location. The New York Times once called the year-round resort town of Asheville an "Appalachian Shangri-La" nestled between the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains, and featuring lazy cafes, buzzing bistros and Paris-like art deco buildings. Students can also hit the lake to kayak, stand-up paddle board, or indulge in other water sports.

  2. Cape Fear Community College (Wilmington): Like A-B Tech, Cape Fear Community College is located in a popular coast tourist destination, though one with as many historical attractions as cultural ones. Surroundings aside, CFCC itself is still an impressive institution: Its student success achievements earned it high marks nationally from CNN Money in 2012, and CollegeMeasures.org data placed it among the top five community colleges in the state for its combined graduation and transfer rate the same year. In addition to its broad spread of degree, diploma and certificate programs, CFCC also offers Career Pathways Academies with three tracks of courses designed to teach employable skills, and a Cooperative Innovative High School program that lets students earn a high school diploma plus two years of college credit in five years of study.

  3. Central Piedmont Community College (Charlotte): Central Piedmont Community College is the largest community college in North Carolina. It is located in Charlotte -- a buzzing city with enough art, nightlife and outdoor recreation to satisfy even the most active students, and a diverse job market for future graduates. The college itself has a reputation for helping non-traditional students succeed. According to CPCC's official website, President Barack Obama even invoked the college in his 2012 State of the Union address, noting how it helped one dislocated worker -- a laid-off single mother named Jackie Bray -- turn her career (and life) around.

  4. Cleveland Community College (Shelby): The first thing one might note about Cleveland Community College is its impressive track record: In 2012, CNN Money ranked it among the top five North Carolina community colleges, and it remains one of the only schools in the state to ever be considered for an Aspen Institute Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. Students can earn associate degrees, diplomas or professional certificates, including a lateral teaching certificate designed to help students with degrees in other fields meet state teaching requirements. It also offers special programs -- like pre-engineering -- specifically for students who intend to transfer to a four-year institution.

  5. Coastal Carolina Community College (Jacksonville): As its name suggests, Coastal Carolina Community College is located near the North Carolina coast. It has also been ranked highly nationally in a number of publications, and its CNN Money-reported student success rating was the highest in the state. Perhaps one of CCCC's defining features, however, is its military legacy. According to its official website, 40 to 50 percent of all CCCC students are military-affiliated, and the school offers special eight-week semester courses designed specifically for area Marines attending school despite unpredictable schedules. The school awards associate degrees in the arts, fine arts and sciences, not to mention a handful of professional certificates and diplomas.

  6. Halifax Community College (Weldon): CollegeMeasures.org classifies Halifax Community College as a small institution, but it has made a big impression. In 2013, Washington Monthly ranked HCC 12th among all U.S. community colleges. It awards associate degrees, diplomas and certificates across six schools, which include the arts and sciences, business, nursing and vocational training. Students can find additional support in its wellness, child care, health and student services centers, or via its partnership with The Benefit Bank of North Carolina, which helps low-income students find food, health care and other financial assistance. HCC offers online courses and maintains articulation agreements with a plethora of four-year institutions across the state.

  7. Isothermal Community College (Spindale): Like HCC, Isothermal Community College is a small institution that managed to rank in Washington Monthly's top 20 community colleges in the nation in 2013. It was named after its location in the thermal belt, and according to its official website, its mission is to "improve life through learning." Students can earn certificates, diplomas and associate degrees, or enroll in personal enrichment, remedial and professional development courses. Courses can be taken online, on-campus or through a combination of the two. ICC students can participate in campus-wide recreational activities, student clubs and organizations, and sports.

  8. Mayland Community College (Spruce Pine): Mayland Community College is located in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. As with many of the other North Carolina community colleges featured on this list, MCC has earned a national reputation for excellence: The institution was ranked ninth in the nation by Bankrate in 2013, and earned the No. 32 spot on Washington Monthly's national community college rankings that same year. Bonus: Its CollegeMeasures.org-reported first year retention rate of 95 percent placed it in the 96th percentile nationally in 2012. MCC says it offers more than 35 programs in areas like business, engineering, health care and applied technology, and a number of online programs.

  9. Pamlico Community College (Grantsboro): Located in a coastal county, Pamlico Community College is the smallest institution on our list: CollegeMeasures.org reports that it served fewer than 400 full-time students in 2012. This results in an excellent student-to-teacher ratio and a more personal educational experience. In addition to offering several associate degrees, diplomas and certificates, PCC also hosts basic skills programs that help community members learn English, improve their reading skills or complete their high school educations, often at no charge. All first-year students are enrolled in the First Year Experience (FYEX) program, which matches them with an adviser.

  10. Robeson Community College (Lumberton): Robeson Community College is a small institution serving fewer than 2,000 full-time students a year, but its robust online programs extend its footprint. It was ranked 39th in the nation by Washington Monthly in 2013, and offers credentials in areas like business, health care, education, the culinary arts and skilled trades. It maintains a number of programs designed to help students in need, including a scholarship for those pursuing high-demand science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. Its RCC 4 R.E.A.L program also offers single parents and low-income, disabled or first-generation students counseling, tutoring, financial aid advising, and special workshops in areas like college survival and resume-building.

Attending North Carolina community colleges: First steps

The above list features community colleges of all different sizes, and from all across North Carolina. Programs and services do change, however, so if one of them strikes your interest, we recommend contacting the school directly to learn more.

All information provided through this 10 Community Colleges in North Carolina list was compiled as of November 2013. Certificate, degree and program offerings can and do change. Contact the school site or sites for more current details.

Sources:

"The States with the Most (and Least) Affordable Colleges," 24/7wallst.com, 28 October 2013, Michael B. Sauter, Alexander E.M. Hess and Thomas C. Frohlich. http://247wallst.com/special-report/2013/10/28/the-states-with-the-most-and-least-affordable-schools/3/

"A Stronger Nation Through Higher Education," luminafoundation.org, March 2012. http://www.luminafoundation.org/publications/state_data/2012/North_Carolina-2012.pdf

"Creating Success NC Community Colleges," nccommunitycolleges.edu, October 25, 2012. http://www.nccommunitycolleges.edu/pr/Get_The_Facts/

"36 Hours in Asheville, N.C.," nytimes.com, Chris Dixon, September 30, 2007. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/30/travel/30hours.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

"How does your community college stack up?," money.cnn.com, 2012. http://money.cnn.com/pf/college/community-colleges/

"North Carolina Public Colleges," collegemeasures.org, 2013. http://collegemeasures.org/2-year_colleges/state/NC/scorecard/

"2011 Aspen Prize Finalists," aspeninstitute.org, 2011. http://www.aspeninstitute.org/policy-work/aspen-prize/2011finalists

"Top 10 community colleges in the US," bankrate.com, Christina Couch. 2013. http://www.bankrate.com/finance/college-finance/top-community-colleges-us-3.aspx

"Best Community Colleges: Washington Monthly 2013 Ranking," huffingtonpost.com, August 27, 2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/26/best-community-colleges-2013_n_3816944.html