Best Community Colleges in North Carolina
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 venerable 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.
More than 100,000 North Carolina residents are enrolled in community college programs, 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 vital programs.
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.
Roanoke-Chowan Community College (Ahoskie)
With fewer than 1,000 students on its rolls in 2017, Roanoke-Chowan Community College is one of the smallest institutions among the top North Carolina community colleges. Approximately 62 percent of the student body attends full time, with the remainder using part-time study to work toward a degree while still managing responsibilities to work and family.
The town of Ahoskie is small as well, reporting a population of roughly 5,500 and a total area of less than five square miles. The Hertford County town maintains several parks, country clubs and wild waterways for recreations like swimming, tennis, golf, hunting, fishing and dancing.
R-CCC tuition for North Carolina residents costs $76 per credit hour, up to a maximum of $1,216 per semester, with fees each semester averaging less than $100. All told, a 24-credit year at R-CCC may cost you just over $2,000 -- around $1,500 less than the national community college average.
Cleveland Community College (Shelby)
Founded in 1965 and dedicated to providing diverse and accessible learning opportunities to its students and community, Cleveland Community College had fewer than 40 students in its initial student body. Today, this Cleveland County institution educates more than 2,500 students annually and awards around $8.5 million each year in student financial assistance.
Despite having doubled in size six times since first opening its doors, CCC maintains the type of close-knit and flexible learning environment that tends to foster student success. The student-faculty ratio here is just 10:1, nearly 40 percent better than the average for national universities, and online or evening courses are available for students with busy schedules.
CCC features a total of more than 180 programs of study, ranging from associate degree plans to certificates and diploma programs. Associate degree majors include accounting, visual arts, biotechnology, nursing and medical assisting.
James Sprunt Community College (Kenansville)
This relatively small institution in eastern North Carolina aims to provide quality educational programs with a competency-based approach. James Sprunt Community College maintains an "open door" admissions policy, which sets aside restrictive enrollment requirements and admits any qualified applicant over the age of 18 whose high school class has graduated.
The town of Kenansville, where JSCC makes its home, is located about 70 miles southeast of Raleigh and serves as the county seat of Duplin County. Kenansville is a small town -- the population is under 1,000 people, smaller than the reported student population at JSCC -- so you're likely to be able to avoid distractions when it's time to study.
Academic offerings at JSCC consist primarily of career and technical training programs in fields like office administration, welding technology, law enforcement, cosmetology and viticulture. Students can also choose Associate in Arts (A.A.) and Associate in Science (A.S.) programs designed for university transfer.
Western Piedmont Community College (Morganton)
Western Piedmont Community College is situated on 300 acres of rolling hills in Morganton, where more than 7,000 students seek degrees, skills training and career preparation from its diverse catalog. Close to 40 Associate in Applied Science (A.A.S.) degrees can be earned here, along with numerous certificates, transfer programs and Associate in Fine Arts (A.F.A.) degrees in art and drama.
A few of the A.A.S. plans at WPCC are somewhat uncommon, at least among public schools in the state. Students here can study sustainable agriculture, simulation and game development, mechanical engineering, geomatics technology and professional arts and crafts.
On top of that, we aren't the only ones who have named WPCC among the best North Carolina community colleges. The Morganton school has been recognized as exhibiting "exceptional institutional performance" by the North Carolina General Assembly after exceeding all statewide performance measures for students and graduates.
Isothermal Community College (Spindale)
Isothermal Community College is named for the isothermal belt, a strip of land where an regional climate phenomenon causes milder temperatures and longer growing seasons. Originally founded in 1964, this western North Carolina institution's stated core purpose is to improve life through learning.
In order to help new students succeed, ICC runs an initiative called the Peer-2-Peer Mentorship Program in which first-year students are matched to second-year mentors. Mentors have to have at least a 2.5 GPA and two recommendation letters, so you can be confident that you'll learn from someone who's on the right track.
The town of Spindale isn't the smallest municipality to host one of the top community colleges in North Carolina -- roughly 4,300 people live within the city limits -- but it prides itself on its small-town charm. Music, the arts and education are important ingredients of life here.
Martin Community College (Williamston)
Fewer than 900 students attend classes at Martin Community College, so you might feel right at home here if you're hoping to stay away from the hustle and bustle of a large campus. Vocational and technical programs make up the bulk of the catalog here, including a range of study plans in heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration (HVAC/R) and automotive systems technology.
MCC is another highly affordable option for North Carolina students. Average in-state tuition and fees for a 24-credit year in 2017 came to less than $2,000 per student, while the same year's national average for two-year institutions landed above $3,500.
On top of that, aspiring entrepreneurs in the area can turn to MCC for guidance and other resources when building their businesses. The Williamston school's Small Business Center puts on seminars throughout the year to help small local companies grow and thrive.
Wilkes Community College (Wilkesboro)
The original campus of Wilkes Community College consisted of just three buildings on 75 acres of land. In the more than five decades since its founding, however, the campus acreage doubled in size, 14 more buildings were constructed and the student body grew from fewer than 100 students to more than 2,600.
Four academic divisions offer programs at WCC: health sciences, business and public service technology, applied career technologies and arts and sciences. If you're hoping to transfer to a four-year program after your time in community college, remember to check in with WCC's College Transfer Advising Center.
The main campus of WCC is located in Wilkesboro, a town of around 3,400 in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, but prospective students from all over can access its degree and certificate programs. Satellite centers in West Jefferson and Sparta and a range of online courses help extend its reach.
Forsyth Technical Community College (Winston-Salem)
Forsyth Technical Community College is one of the largest institutions among the best community colleges in North Carolina. Nearly 11,500 students were enrolled in for-credit programs here in 2017, with the largest portion of graduates that year earning associate degrees.
The selection of A.A.S. degrees at Forsyth Tech is vast, featuring more than 70 degree programs in total, and students seeking diplomas or certificates have close to 110 non-degree options to choose from. Five college transfer degrees are available as well -- engineering, science, a general A.A. and two fine arts programs -- and around two dozen degree and certificate plans can be completed entirely through online courses.
Winston-Salem is the largest city by far in Forsyth County, boasting a population of nearly 250,000 residents, and there's plenty to do to pass the time between semesters. The city hosts a film festival every April, as well as multiple food and wine tours and other attractions.
Randolph Community College (Asheboro)
Randolph Community College has gone through three name changes and considerable expansion of facilities since it first opened its doors in 1962, but its mission to deliver premier educational options to the citizens of Randolph County has stayed steady throughout. The degree-seeking population at this Asheboro school is around 2,700, with thousands more students enrolled in non-credit courses.
Approximately 35 degree, certificate and diploma programs are available at RCC, including study plans in early childhood education, information technology, photojournalism and interior design. Transfer-bound students can choose either an A.A. or an A.S. track, of which both are subject to articulation agreements with University of North Carolina System schools.
What's more, if you're not entirely sure you're ready to dive into college courses, RCC can help you with your confidence. Through the Developmental Studies initiative, students can take non-credit refresher courses to get back up to speed in science, math and English.
McDowell Technical Community College (Marion)
A close student-faculty ratio can be a great thing for students, and McDowell Technical Community College had one of the most encouraging numbers statewide in that category. According to data provided by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), MTCC has just seven students per faculty member -- nearly 60 percent better than the 16:1 national university average.
Courses are affordable at this McDowell County school, as well. Raw tuition for a 24-credit year at MTCC comes to just over $1,800, and no student here should be charged more than $2,432 in tuition expenses per year. Course fees may apply, depending on your circumstances, but they shouldn't add much to the total.
Marion is a rural city in western North Carolina with a population of around 7,800 people. The city features free public wi-fi on Main Street downtown and a regional farmer's market every Tuesday during the growing season.
Initiatives for Transfer Students
Although completing an associate degree doesn't directly guarantee you a successful transfer to universities in North Carolina, there are a range of initiatives in place to help students continue their education in a four-year degree program. Here's a short list of examples:
- The North Carolina Comprehensive Articulation Agreement (CAA) aims to smooth the transition between community colleges and public universities by identifying specific general education, pre-major and elective courses as transfer-appropriate
- The Independent Comprehensive Articulation Agreement (ICAA) has similar goals and methods to the CAA but focuses on signatory institutions of the North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities (NCICU) system
- The Uniform Articulation Agreement (UAA) is a program within the University of North Carolina System that works to make transfer easy 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.
To learn more about education in the state, read on about the top colleges in North Carolina, where you can find information about financial aid, top industries and careers in the state and more.
We ranked community colleges in North Carolina on multiple factors related to educational opportunity, student performance and student services.
Each school was scored on a 10-point scale, using the following six data points:
- The percentage of students enrolled in distance education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016
- Cost of attendance, based on the average net price for students receiving scholarship and grant aid, and the total cost of tuition, fees, books and supplies, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016
- Student-to-faculty ratio, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016
- The graduation rate in 150% time, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016
- The transfer-out rate in 150% time, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016
- Flexibility, based on the following data points from the National Center for Education Statistics, 2016
a. Whether the school offers credit for life experiences
b. Whether the school offers programs of study that can be completed entirely in the evenings and on weekends
c. Whether the school offers on-campus day care for students’ children
d. 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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- College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics, accessed June 15-17, 2018, https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/?s=NC&ct=1&ic=2
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