Best Community Colleges in North Carolina

Published on: December 05, 2019 | by Aimee Hosler

Whether you're getting ready to go to college for the first time or want to continue your education after spending some time away, the best community colleges in North Carolina can help you achieve your goals. Community college programs can train students for new careers, certify them in valuable skills and help them work through the first few terms of a four-year degree plan before transferring to one of the several major universities in North Carolina.

Notably, North Carolina in particular pays close attention to the needs of its community college student population. In 2018, the state launched a program that aims to provide $7 million to help community college students with unexpected financial emergencies that might arise. Additionally, the Finish Line Grants program can help students with materials for courses, medical and dependent care needs, housing, or other issues, with up to $1,000 per student available.

Nearly 300,000 North Carolina residents were enrolled in community college programs in 2018, according to data gathered by the North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS). The state is home to nearly 60 public two-year schools that offer associate degrees, certificates, career training and other instruction.

We gathered data on the top North Carolina community colleges and analyzed it to determine which ones came out on top. Check out this list of the best campus-based and online colleges in the Tar Heel State.



Craven Community College (New Bern)

Founded in 1965, Craven Community College serves roughly 3,000 credit-seeking students each year. It's one of the top two-year schools for online students in North Carolina, reporting that more than 72 percent of those enrolled in 2018 took advantage of distance education courses.

What's more, students who know they'll want to go on to earn a bachelor's degree may be able to do so without ever leaving Craven County. Partnerships with regional universities allow CCC to provide students with nearly 20 four-year degree options.

CCC programs designed for university transfer include associate degrees in engineering, visual arts, music, science and general education. A wide range of career-focused programs are available as well, such as the Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree in manufacturing technology.


Cape Fear Community College (Wilmington)

If you're planning to transfer to a university program after finishing your associate degree, it may pay to give Cape Fear Community College some extra consideration. This institution in southeastern North Carolina graduated the highest percentage of transfer students in the state in 2018.

More than 160 different study plans are available at CFCC, including some less common programs like an A.A.S. degree in marine technology and both a diploma and certificate in wooden boat building. Students hoping to work in the media industry can earn a certificate, diploma or associate degree in film and video production technology.

CFCC also provides students with a way to get a head start on their career and technical education. Courses in nearly 50 programs can be taken tuition-free by high school students.


Brunswick Community College (Bolivia)

Brunswick Community College was founded in 1979 and earned its first regional accreditation in 1983. One of the most intimate learning environments among all the top community colleges in North Carolina can be found here — the student body of around 1,500 learners is one of the smallest in the state, and the student-faculty ratio of 9:1 suggests that professors should have plenty of time outside of class hours to provide extra help to students who need it.

A transfer pathway for computer science students is available at this small-town school, providing a mix of general education and technical courses designed to satisfy university degree requirements. Several programs are available fully online here, as well, including an associate degree in early childhood education and a diploma in aquaculture technology.


Surry Community College (Dobson)

This institution near the northern edge of the state posted one of the highest graduation rates in the state in 2018, and its affordability might be a factor. Surry Community College reported one of the lowest average total costs for tuition and mandatory fees among the best North Carolina community colleges, charging an average of around $2,500 per student per year.

Flexibility was another bright spot at this Dobson school. Approximately 47 percent of students enrolled in at least some distance education courses in 2018, and a wide range of course meeting times are available to help students coordinate their education with their existing schedule.

More than a dozen fully online degrees are available at Surry. Potential subjects of study include accounting and finance, digital media, project management technology and others.


Wake Technical Community College (Raleigh)

Wake Technical Community College is the largest institution by enrollment among all two-year schools in North Carolina, welcoming nearly 22,000 students through its doors each semester. The Raleigh-based institution operates 10 locations in Wake County, including six campuses and learning centers in Raleigh and extension facilities in Morrisville, Cary, Wake Forest and Zebulon.

Wake Tech is one of the best online community colleges in North Carolina in terms of the size and scope of its distance education catalog, offering more than 100 degrees, diplomas and certificates that can be completed entirely online. Online students can earn associate degrees in advertising and graphic design, human resources administration, criminal justice technology and more, as well as certificates in subjects like hospitality management, cake decoration and international logistics.


Central Piedmont Community College (Charlotte)

This Charlotte school has a considerable list of notable alumni, especially for a two-year school. Graduates of Central Piedmont Community College have gone on to win a Pulitzer Prize, star at the Metropolitan Opera, play professional football, win an Olympic gold medal and be awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor.

CPCC is also one of the best North Carolina community colleges for online students, reporting distance education enrollment of nearly 56 percent and offering a range of online degrees and certificates for university transfer and vocational training alike. Fully online programs here include an A.A.S. in simulation and game development and certificates in office administration and computer technology integration.

Accelerated career training is available here as well. Students can learn commercial truck driving, phlebotomy and construction basics in 7-16 weeks of study.


Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College (Asheville)

Colleges that offer college credit for relevant life experience can allow nontraditional students to use their workforce knowhow or military training as a ticket to a shorter, less costly degree program. The College Level Examination Program (CLEP) at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College can help you get credit for what you already know — check with your advisor for details.

Programs available at A-B Tech include an A.A.S. in dental hygiene — one of the highest-paying health care careers at the entry level — a certificate in basic law enforcement, four separate credentials in brewing, distillation and fermentation and a civil engineering technology degree.

Certain short-term and non-credit programs at A-B Tech may be available to students at a reduced cost. Eligible fields include health services, advanced manufacturing and hospitality and tourism.


Southeastern Community College (Whiteville)

Only one other school on our list reported a higher percentage of online enrollment than Southeastern Community College. This southern North Carolina school reports that more than 64 percent of its students enroll in at least one distance education course — a figure that placed in the 93rd percentile of all 844 schools we surveyed nationwide.

The learning environment here is comfortably close-knit, particularly in terms of the 9:1 student-faculty ratio. The student body is also fairly small, numbering roughly 1,500 in 2018, meaning there should be plenty of elbow room on SCC's nearly 250-acre campus.

The academic catalog here is fairly small, but it includes several valuable vocational programs. Students can study welding technology, air conditioning, heating and refrigeration technology, electrical engineering technology, criminal studies and more.


Wayne Community College (Goldsboro)

Students who enroll at Wayne Community College tend to stick around past the first year of their programs, according to the numbers. This Goldsboro institution recorded the highest rate of first-year student retention among our ten best community colleges in North Carolina and took a spot in the national top 15 in that category.

WCC also goes out of its way to accommodate the needs of adult students. More than 57 percent of students take at least some credits online, and the on-campus child care center offers students, faculty and staff priority placement into state-licensed day care services for children aged six weeks to five years old.

Nearly 140 programs of study are available here, including a degree in agribusiness technology, a certificate in applied animal science and several study plans in emergency management.


Durham Technical Community College (Durham)

Cost-conscious students may want to take a look at Durham Technical Community College. This mid-sized school reported one of the lowest basic attendance costs in all of North Carolina, charging in-state students less than $2,000 for a full year of tuition and fees.

A wide range of academic and vocational programs are on offer at Durham Tech, including a 65-credit associate degree in architectural technology that includes training in drafting and environmental systems. Aspiring members of the paralegal profession can earn an associate degree in 20-24 months.

Durham Tech also boasts some impressive statistics in terms of graduate success on the job market, including nearly 90 percent of graduates who pass licensure examinations on their first try and the state's highest wages among alumni.

CTE in North Carolina

Career technical education (CTE) is an approach to learning that blends career-ready skills training with academic instruction to provide a well-rounded education suitable for either continued study or direct entry into the workforce. CTE programs in North Carolina are offered through the state's community colleges, as well as at the high school level through STEM education schools, early/middle college schools and other types of institution.

If you think CTE might be for you, here's a list of resources that can help you make an informed decision:

  • The career and technical education page at the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) has information about the state's career pathways and the general CTE curriculum in North Carolina.
  • North Carolina governor Roy Cooper introduced NC Job Ready in 2018, a resource designed to foster workforce development among students, workers and employers.
  • Appalachian State University offers CTE bachelor's degrees in several concentrations, for students just starting out in CTE fields as well as those who studied them in high school.

CTE in North Carolina is handled at the college level by the North Carolina Community College System. All ten of our best community colleges in North Carolina are counted among the System's nearly 60 members, so contact the individual institutions for more information on their CTE offerings.

Transferring Credits in North Carolina

Although completing an associate degree doesn't directly guarantee you a successful transfer to universities in North Carolina, there are a range of transfer agreements and other initiatives in place to help students continue their education in a four-year degree program. Here's a short list of examples:

  • The Uniform Articulation Agreement (UAA) is a program within the University of North Carolina System that works to facilitate transfer agreements for students in engineering, nursing, fine arts and early childhood education programs.

The University of North Carolina system also has other considerations in place for community college transfer students. Programs called CAA Baccalaureate Degree Plans (BDPs) exist on individual UNC campuses help you stay on track to a smooth transfer while you're still in community college.

Potential transfer students can read more about the top colleges in North Carolina elsewhere on this site, as well as browse our credit transfer guide for more detailed information on the finer points of the transfer process.

Resources for Community College Students in North Carolina

  • The North Carolina Community College System has loads of information on nearly 60 schools in the state, as well as some helpful tips on distance learning and professional licensure and certification requirements.
  • The College Foundation of North Carolina's financial aid page is a great resource for students hoping to secure some financial aid to help pay for college.
  • The U.S. Department of Education's Federal Student Aid office has even more information on financial aid for community college students, including details of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).


Using the National Center for Education Statistics' Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), we generated a list of colleges and universities that met the following criteria:

  • Level of institution is either "At least 2 but less than 4 years" or " Less than 2 years (below associate)"
  • Data is reported for all 14 ranking variables listed in the Methodology section

We ranked the resulting community colleges member schools on multiple factors related to educational opportunity, student performance and student services. Each school was scored on a 10-point scale, using the following data points:

  1. The published in-district tuition and fees, National Center for Education Statistics, 2018
  2. The published in-state tuition and fees, National Center for Education Statistics, 2018
  3. The in-district per credit hour charge for part-time undergraduates, National Center for Education Statistics, 2018
  4. The in-state per credit hour charge for part-time undergraduates, National Center for Education Statistics, 2018
  5. Percentage of students receiving financial aid, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016
  6. Percent of students that transferred to a 4-year institution and completed within 8 years, College Scorecard, 2017
  7. The graduation rate in 150% time, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017
  8. Full-time student retention rate, National Center for Education Statistics, Fall 2017
  9. Student-to-faculty ratio, National Center for Education Statistics, Fall 2017
  10. Percentage of students enrolled in distance education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017
  11. Flexibility, based on the following data points from the National Center for Education Statistics, 2018
    • Whether the school offers credit for life experiences
    • Whether the school offers programs of study that can be completed entirely in the evenings and on weekends
    • Whether the school offers on-campus day care for students’ children
    • Whether the school offers any kind of alternative tuition plan. These may include, but aren’t limited to, payment plans or guaranteed rates.
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