You can find career success even if you don't have a bachelor's degree. Instead, head to trade schools in North Carolina to get an education that will prepare you for in-demand job in two years or less. Key industries in the state, such as automotive, information technology and energy, require skilled workers who have career diplomas, certificates or technical associate degrees.
For instance, solar panel installers have the fastest growing job in North Carolina, according to an analysis of government data by Yahoo Finance. These workers only need some short-term training and earned median incomes of $42,680 in 2018, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Other fast-growing jobs in the state include veterinary assistants, phlebotomists, massage therapists and respiratory therapists - all of which can be pursued without a bachelor's degree.
However, job prospects vary by region. The North Carolina Department of Commerce says veterinary technologists and HVAC installers will be in particular demand in the Charlotte region. Meanwhile, phlebotomists, medical assistants and respiratory therapists are among the fastest growing jobs in the Raleigh-Durham region.
Why is North Carolina good for vocational schools?
The time is right to pursue skilled training in North Carolina. More than 43 percent of the state's employers expect to increase their hiring in the future, according to the 2018 Employer Needs Survey from the state's NCWorks Commission. However, half of employers say they've had difficulty finding suitable employees, with 49% saying it's because applicants lack the necessary technical skills.
Overall, 55 percent of North Carolina's job market requires some postsecondary training but not a bachelor's degree. However, only 44 percent of state workers are qualified to fill these jobs, says the National Skills Coalition.
Fortunately, there are plenty of vocational schools in North Carolina that teach career technical education -- or CTE -- skills. When it comes to CTE certification, NC Community Colleges operate in 58 locations to prepare students for state licensure and professional credentials. Distance learning, apprenticeships and on-campus classes are all offered by these colleges and other technical schools in North Carolina.
Top Vocational Schools in North Carolina
To find the best schools for technical training, we started with a list of trade schools in North Carolina. Then, we analyzed each institution using data from the National Center for Education Statistics' Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System and the U.S. Department of Education's College Scorecard. Based on factors such as student success measures, program availability and graduate incomes, we found these are the best trade schools in North Carolina.
For more than 40 years, Stanly Community College has been meeting the needs of students from various walks of life. It offers vocational training, transfer degrees, adult education and more. Stanly Community College participates in the American Association of Community Colleges Pathways Project which is intended to ensure its curriculum is designed to maximize student success.
What vocational programs SCC offers: The technical programs at SCC run the gamut from advanced manufacturing to health sciences. If you're looking for HVAC trade schools in North Carolina, you'll find a program for that here too. SCC is also notable for its innovative competency-based education program in information technology-network management. The program allow students to gain credit for previous experience as they move through the curriculum at their own pace.
Forsyth Technical Community College is another of the top career schools in North Carolina. It has evolved since its launch in 1960 to offer not only vocational programs but academic degrees and continuing education classes as well. Known as Forsyth Tech, the school enrolls more than 11,000 students annually at ten campus and learning centers.
What vocational programs Forsyth Tech offers: When it comes to North Carolina CTE certification training, Forsyth Tech has no shortage of options. Its CareersNOW courses prepare students for a new career in six months or less. These courses cover diverse occupations such as basic construction, phlebotomy and culinary arts. Longer diploma, certificate and degree programs are available in a number of other fields. For online learners, there are options in medical coding, medical terminology and substitute teacher training.
Students can find high-quality and affordable education programs at Wayne Community College. The school offers associate degrees, diplomas, certificates and jobs skill training. With a history that spans more than 50 years, Wayne Community College has long worked to meet the needs of students from various backgrounds. Today, you'll find online classes, evening programs, short-term training and dual education options at the school.
What vocational programs WCC offers: With more than 100 options from which to choose, you're bound to find a program at WCC that meets your needs. Dozens of degrees, diplomas and certificates can be earned 100 percent online, including popular options such as the school's IT diploma and IT business support degree. WCC also offers programs in growing health care specialties such as medical assisting and pharmacy technology.
Pamlico Community College is a military-friendly school that is known for its strong graduation rate and low student-faculty ratio. It was recognized by The Aspen Institute, a nonprofit, non-partisan think tank, as being among the top 150 schools for the 2019 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. Founded in 1962, the school offers an intimate learning environment, enrolling fewer than 500 students annually.
What vocational programs PCC offers: PCC breaks down its programs into three categories: academic programs, continuing education and cultural and life enrichment. Within the academic programs are transfer degrees as well as vocational training for fields such as electrical systems technology and cosmetology. PCC awards diplomas, certificates and degrees, depending on the program of study.
Students enrolled at Lenoir Community College can study at one of nine campus locations or choose to take online classes. Through its academic and support programs, the school offers innovative educational solutions. For instance, the Lenoir Community College Manufacturing Academy is committed to preparing workers to fill jobs at local industry partners while the Minority Male Success Initiative seeks to improve retention and graduation rates among eligible students.
What vocational programs LCC offers: You can earn degrees, certificates and diplomas either on-campus or online at LCC. Program options range from aviation management and career pilot technology to welding technology. Accelerated 5-week courses are available in the summer months, and more than 50 programs can be completed entirely online.
Serving more than 13,000 students annually, Johnston Community College seeks to meet the needs of diverse students. It offers transfer degrees as well as vocational education. Plus, dual enrollment options mean high school students can earn college credit prior to their graduation.
What vocational programs JCC offers: As one of the best career and technical schools in North Carolina, JCC has no shortage of vocational learning options. Through its Career in a Year initiative, students can choose from more than 70 certificates and diplomas that will let them enter the workforce immediately or meet North Carolina CTE certification requirements. There are also longer programs available in fields such as HVAC technology and nursing. What's more, JCC hosts the Johnston County Apprenticeship Program for those seeking hands-on learning.
Enrolling more than 23,000 students, Cape Fear Community College is one of the larger trade schools in North Carolina. It has more than 60 technical degree programs which draw both traditional and adult learners. As a testament to its excellent academics, graduates from some of the Cape Fear Community College health sciences programs have 100 percent pass rates on certification exams.
What vocational programs CFCC offers: The technical programs at CFCC fall into six categories: allied health services, business technologies, engineering technology, marine technology, public service and vocational. Among its most popular offerings are truck driver training and basic law enforcement training. Some programs, such as those in interior design and culinary arts, have work-based learning components.
Pitt Community College has unique programs designed to make it easy to finish your education. For instance, there is a special admissions process for adult learners that allows them apply for admission, complete orientation and register for classes all on the same day. Meanwhile, the school's Early Advantage Deadlines means faster decisions for those applying for financial aid in North Carolina.
What vocational programs PCC offers: Students can earn diplomas, certificates and associate degrees at PCC. Many are offered with flexible scheduling options that allow classes to be taken online, in the evenings or over the weekend. Popular programs include medical office administration, early childhood education and business administration. Through the Pitt County Schools Early College High School, students can earn a high school diploma and an associate degree within five years and at no cost.
Affordable tuition, online learning and highly qualified faculty are part of what make Edgecombe Community College one of the best technical schools in North Carolina. Adult learners will be in good company too as the average age of students is 30. Although its main campus is in Tarboro, students can also study at the school's Rocky Mount campus where a high-tech facility allows healthcare students to learn in a simulated hospital environment.
What vocational programs ECC offers: There are more than 200 education options at ECC. These include work-based learning that provides credit for employment and online programs that result in certificates, diplomas or degrees. Health information technology, business administration and early childhood education are a few of the offerings for distance learners.
Known to many simply as A-B Tech, Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College has a vision to strengthen communities and change lives. If you're looking for scholarships in North Carolina, the school has assistance available to students enrolled in any of its programs. A-B Tech has five main campuses as well as an electronic campus for those who would prefer to study online.
What vocational programs A-B Tech offers: As one of the HVAC trade schools in North Carolina, A-B Tech offers a handful of certificates and diplomas in the field as well as an associate degree in air conditioning, heating & refrigeration technology. Other programs cover fields such as allied health, human services and hospitality. There are also emergency services training for police, firefighters and paramedics.
Financial Aid for Vocational Students in North Carolina
Public career and technical schools in North Carolina have some of the lowest tuition rates in the nation, according to the North Carolina Community College System. What's more, many of these schools offer flexible learning options such as night, weekend and online classes which means students can keep their job while in college and minimize the need for loans.
You can lower your education costs even further by applying for financial aid in North Carolina. The state had one of the largest increases in funding for higher education in Fiscal Year 2019, according to the annual Grapevine Survey conducted by Illinois State University. The state increased its funding for public institutions, including community colleges and universities, by 4.8 percent last year and 18.4 percent in the past five years. This money provides general support for public schools as well as funds for a number of North Carolina college scholarships and grants.
The College Foundation of North Carolina maintains a list of scholarships in North Carolina. To apply for these as well as NC grants for college, you need to first complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA is used by the federal government, state government and trade schools in North Carolina to determine whether someone is eligible for aid. To learn more about how to apply for financial aid in North Carolina, read our financial aid guide.
Among the North Carolina scholarships and grants available are the following:
NC Community College Grant Program: These grants are open to North Carolina residents who are enrolled for at least six credit hours per semester in a curriculum program at a state community college. The amount of the award depends on a student's financial situation.
North Carolina Education Lottery Scholarship (ELS): Offered to those attending a North Carolina Community College or University of North Carolina campus, the amount of these scholarships is based on a student's financial need. Only those with expected family contributions of less than $5,000 are eligible.
Golden LEAF Scholarship Program for North Carolina Community Colleges: Awarding $750 per semester, these scholarships are available to residents of rural, economically distressed counties and have demonstrated financial need.
Initiatives for Vocational Students in North Carolina
In North Carolina, CTE certification is promoted through the following funding and policy initiatives. Support for career and technical education starts in high school. Not only do some schools have their own robust CTE programs, but the Career & College Promise allows high school students to earn credit for a diploma, certificate or associate degree at no additional cost.
Meanwhile, the NC Department of Commerce offers a number of Workforce Grants to train workers for in-demand jobs. Much of this money is funneled through employers for on-the-job training and similar programs, but Golden LEAF Scholarships also fall under this umbrella.
North Carolina policies that benefit vocational students
NCcareers is an initiative of the NC Department of Commerce and one of the most comprehensive career resources available to job seekers in the state. It allows visitors to research occupations, find a career cluster than matches their interests and review state licensure requirements.
Another state resource for jobseekers is NCWorks Online. In addition to career resources such as resume creation, the website has information about training and education programs, online learning resources and the option to search for North Carolina scholarships.
School-specific program initiatives in North Carolina
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools offers its students 19 career pathways that can be explored as early as Middle School. Some pathways may allow students to received professional certification even before they graduate from high school. Other public schools in the state may have similar programs.
Many of the best vocational schools in North Carolina as well as the Public Schools of North Carolina have made it possible for students to participate in Work-Based Learning. This allows students to earn credit while gaining real-world experience in the workplace.
Resources for Vocational Students and Vocational Job Seekers in North Carolina
If you want to learn more about North Carolina CTE certification and vocational employment, visit the following websites:
For information on career and technical education at the secondary level, stop by the Public Schools of North Carolina website. There, you can read about available program areas and curriculum requirements.
If you are a high school graduate or adult learner, NC Community Colleges oversees the state's network of 58 community college locations.
Additional information about career and technical education and initiatives in North Carolina can be found through the nonprofit organization Advance CTE.
Using the National Center for Education Statistics' Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard, we generated a list of schools that met the following criteria:
- Institution type is less than 2 years, greater than 2 & less than 4 years
- Accredited by at least 1 agency (institutional accreditation)
- The school falls under one of the following classifications: (Carnegie Classification 2015: Undergraduate Instructional Program)
- Associate's Colleges: Mixed Transfer/Vocational & Technical
- These institutions awarded associate's degrees but no bachelor's degrees with 30-49% of awards (degrees and certificates) in career & technical programs.
- Associate's Colleges: High Vocational & Technical
- These institutions awarded associate's degrees but no bachelor's degrees with more than 50% of awards (degrees and certificates) in career & technical programs.
- Special Focus: Two-Year Institution
- These institutions awarded associate's degrees but no bachelor's degrees with typically more than 75% of awards in a single career & technical program
- Associate's Colleges: Mixed Transfer/Vocational & Technical
We ranked the resulting colleges on the following criteria:
- 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, 2016-17
- Number of Associate degree and undergraduate Certificate programs offered, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
- Percent of undergraduate students enrolled in any distance education classes, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017
- Full-time student retention rate & part-time retention rate (if full-time retention rate is not available, then use part-time retention rate), National Center for Education Statistics, Fall 2017
- The graduation rate in 150% time, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017-18
- Percent of students working and not enrolled 6 years after entry, College Scorecard, 2014-15
- Flexibility and student services, based on whether the school offers the following services, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017-18
- Academic and career counseling
- Job placement services for graduates
- Mean annual earnings for students working 10 years after entry, College Scorecard, 2014-15
- Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2017-18, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
- Most Recent Cohorts (All Data Elements): 2014-15, College Scorecard, U.S. Department of Education, https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/data/
- North Carolina Fact Sheet, Advance CTE, Accessed June 2019, https://cte.careertech.org/sites/default/files/North_Carolina_CTE_Factsheet_2017.pdf
- 2018 Employer Needs Survey, NCWorks Commission, Accessed June 2019, https://files.nc.gov/nccommerce/documents/files/2018-employer-needs-survey.pdf
- Employment Projections, NC Department of Commerce, Accessed June 2019, https://nccareers.org/employmentprojections/occupation_employment_projections.html
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Solar Photovoltaic Installers, Accessed June 2019, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/construction-and-extraction/solar-photovoltaic-installers.htm
- Long Term Occupational Projections, U.S. Department of Labor, Accessed June 2019, https://projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm
- The fastest-growing job in each U.S. state, Adriana Belmonte, February 4, 2019, Yahoo Finance, Accessed June 2019, https://finance.yahoo.com/news/available-jobs-us-143220860.html
- Key Industries in North Carolina, North Carolina Department of Commerce, Accessed June 2019, https://www.nccommerce.com/business/key-industries-north-carolina
- Licensure and Certification Requirements, NC Community Colleges, Accessed June 2019, https://www.nccommunitycolleges.edu/workforce-continuing-education/training-credentials/licensure-and-certification-requirements
- About the College, Wayne Community College, Accessed June 2019, https://www.waynecc.edu/about-wcc/about-the-college/
- Pamlico Community College, Accessed June 2019, https://www.pamlicocc.edu/
- The Minority Male Success Initiative, Lenoir Community College, Accessed June 2019, https://www.lenoircc.edu/adm/m2/
- JCAP - Johnston County Apprenticeship Program, Johnston Community College Accessed June 2019, http://www.johnstoncc.edu/programs/jcap/index.aspx
- About JCC, Johnston Community College, Accessed June 2019, http://www.johnstoncc.edu/about/index.aspx
- Programs with Work-Based Learning, Cape Fear Community College, Accessed June 2019, http://cfcc.edu/wbl/programs/
- College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics, Accessed June 2019, https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator
- About Cape Fear Community College, Cape Fear Community College, Accessed June 2019, https://cfcc.edu/about/
- Adult Learners, Pitt Community College, Accessed June 2019, https://pittcc.edu/admissions/adult-learner-pathway/
- High School Programs, Pitt Community College, Accessed June 2019, https://pittcc.edu/academics/high-school-programs/
- Fast Facts, Edgecombe Community College, Accessed June 2019, https://www.edgecombe.edu/about/fast-facts/
- A-B Tech Mission, Vision, and Values, Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College, Accessed June 2019, https://www.abtech.edu/office-president/a-b-tech-vision-mission-and-values
- College Information, Stanly Community College, Accessed June 2019, https://www.stanly.edu/college-information
- Fast Facts, Forsyth Technical Community College, Accessed June 2019, https://www.forsythtech.edu/about-us/fast-facts/
- About NC, North Carolina, Accessed June 2019, https://www.nc.gov/about#education
- Grapevine, Illinois State University, Accessed June 2019, https://education.illinoisstate.edu/grapevine/tables/
- What are Grants and Scholarships? College Foundation of North Carolina, Accessed June 2019, https://www.cfnc.org/paying/schol/about_scholgrants.jsp