This is part of an ongoing series: What is Making the Triangle Area so Desirable?
Featured Image: Duke University; Photo courtesy of Bryan Pollard/Shutterstock.com
In the Triangle, it should come as no surprise that education at every level is a top priority for residents. From high tech to chemical engineering and the arts, our higher education offerings are cornerstone to the area with over 100,000 students enrolled at area colleges and universities, conferring over 20,000 degrees annually – a major contributor to our high performance workforce. Within the 144 square mile radius that encompasses the Triangle, you can find more than a dozen colleges and universities serving students looking to further their education, potential and prepare for gainful employment. Raleigh alone boasts seven higher education institutions. And although the term ‘Research Triangle’ did not enter the nomenclature until the 1950s, with the establishment of the Research Triangle Park, the area had long been a hub for higher education. Today, our public school system is among the best in the nation, and our universities are recognized among the top in the nation and the world.
Each of the three corners of the Triangle possess a nationally-recognized institution for education, founded or expanded upon following the Civil War. Duke University, UNC Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University lead the way in the Top Best Value Colleges according to SmartAsset’s annual rankings. Recognition comes as a result of high starting wages for graduating students and access to college scholarships and grants. Factors are weighted and compared against peer institutions to illustrate students’ return on investment.
Founded in 1789, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC Chapel Hill) is honored as being the first public university in the nation. Initially conceived as a village on 1,300 acres of forested land, the campus was transformed as development shifted southward after the Civil War and into the early twentieth century. Consistently ranked among the nation’s elite for Business, Law and the Schools of Medicine, the university has eclipsed more than $800 million in research grants and contracts. In 2013, the Princeton Review ranked UNC Chapel Hill as #2 for Best Value in Public Education and Kiplinger’s Magazine considered it #1 among the Best Public College Values in the same year.
In 1892, ten miles northeast of UNC Chapel Hill, a small school called Trinity College moved to a new campus. With a major endowment by James Duke in 1924, the school status was elevated to a full university, renamed Duke University and expanded, eventually comprising nearly 9,000 acres across three contiguous campuses. Medicine, Law, Engineering, Business and Divinity are some of their most renowned areas of study; the school also allocates over $950 million to research and development. Notably, Duke University has been awarded the #1 Best Southern School according to Forbes (2015) and #8 Best National University by U.S. News & World Report (2016); the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University has also been recognized among Top 25 Best MBA Programs in the World.
Made possible by the Morrill Act of 1862, whereby federal land became available for purposes of establishing higher education facilities for teaching agriculture, mechanical arts and military sciences, a new public university was conceived for Raleigh. Founded in 1887 as the North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, today North Carolina State University (NCSU) is noted for its focus on applied research, impressive new technologies, successful startups and rock-solid employees. NCSU is the largest four-year university in North Carolina, offering 100+ undergraduate programs and 160+ graduate and doctoral programs to over 34,000 students annually. The school is the 3rd largest recipient of industry-sponsored research among public universities nationwide without a medical school and resides in what WalletHub has reported as the #10 Most Educated City and #6 Best College City in the U.S. in recent years.
For more information from WalletHub, visit https://wallethub.com/edu/e/most-and-least-educated-cities/6656.
Other significant schools continued to set down roots in the Triangle Area. Among them, Meredith College, William Peace University, Shaw University – founded as the Raleigh Institute in 1865 and recognized to be the oldest historically African-American university in the Southern United States – and North Carolina Central University, which was the nation’s first public liberal arts college founded for African-Americans.
Colleges & Universities
- North Carolina State University
- Shaw University
- Meredith College
- St. Augustine’s College
- William Peace University
- Wake Tech Community College
- Duke University
- University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
- Campbell University
- North Carolina Central University
- Durham Technical Community College
- Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
- Louisburg College
Residents seeking two-year degrees or industry certifications can also turn to one of the six community colleges in the area. Among them, Wake Tech Community College offers access to education across nine campuses, centers and community locations to over 26,000 students each year. Brenda Berg, President and CEO of BEST NC (Business for Educational Success and Transformation in North Carolina), contends “Our community colleges are exceptional… and with students being able to benefit from the Career and College Promise (CCP) Program and articulation agreements into the NC public universities, we are improving students’ access to higher education and helping prepare them for their futures.” Designed to promote the smooth transfer of students, the North Carolina Comprehensive Articulation Agreement (CAA) is a statewide agreement governing the transfer of credits between NC community colleges and NC public universities. In addition, the CCP is North Carolina’s dual enrollment program for high school students, allowing eligible participants to enroll in college classes at North Carolina community colleges and universities through their high school, often earning college credit in the process while meeting their education requirements. “Attending community college as a path to a well-paid career and/or 4-year institution is becoming common practice in the Triangle area. Our community colleges are very strong and the Articulation Agreement (CAA) between the NC Community College System and our 4-year institutions can guarantee a pathway into a UNC System college. These programs create a stronger focus on aligning education with workforce needs and job opportunities in our community.”
Berg’s personal passion for education stems from her own experience as a first-generation college graduate. With two children who attended North Carolina public schools, she is driven by the belief that every child should have access to a great education, and at BEST NC, Berg and her team work to improve North Carolina’s education system through statewide programs and policies. “Being critical friends with the education system is an important role of the business community.” Teamed up with area business leaders, BEST NC encourages collaboration around a shared vision, championing policies, research, and programs to improve education in North Carolina with the goal of having the best education system in the country.
When the Machinery Act was passed in 1931, North Carolina took over the responsibility to fund elementary and secondary education in response to the depression and moved the operating responsibility for schools to the state. As a result, today 62% of the operating expenses for our public schools comes from state funding. This helps ensure that all North Carolina schools receive adequate funding and an equitable share of what is needed. The districts are still responsible for the facilities expenses of their schools, but this helps keep area property taxes low and subsequently our real estate values are suggested to benefit. According to the National Bureau for Economic Research, there is a correlation between school expenditures and home values. Their report found that for every dollar spent on public schools in an area, home values increase by $20, which suggests that school expenditures have a beneficial impact on all homeowners in a community.
In some respects North Carolina’s K-12 education is shadowed by the reputations of our state’s prestigious universities. While the state’s public school system ranks #27 in the nation overall, the Urban Institute’s National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) rankings reveal that, when adjusted by population, North Carolina scores among the top-11 in the country for proficiency in math and English, including an impressive 3rd place for 8th grade math.
To review all facts and figures on the North Carolina school system, visit the BESTNC website report at NCEDFACTS.org.
U.S. News & World Report annually ranks public high schools in the country and several area schools have been rated among the best in North Carolina. The Triangle finished 12th among the nation’s 933 metro areas in terms of having the highest proportion of its public high schools ranked in the top 25% nationally. And four schools were recognized among the best high schools in the nation and the top 500 in the 2021 Best Schools List (a review of more than 17,800 U.S. public charter, magnet and traditional high schools).
- Raleigh Charter High (No. 2 for the state and No. 100 nationally)
- Wake STEM Early College (No. 6 for the state and No. 231 nationally)
- Woods Charter School (No. 4 in the state and No. 170 nationally)
- East Chapel Hill High (No. 10 in the state and No. 352 nationally)
To see all the U.S. News & World Report rankings, visit: https://www.usnews.com/education/best-high-schools/national-rankings.
These rankings are based on college readiness, reading and math proficiency, reading and math performance, underserved student performance, college curriculum breadth and graduation rates. More than a fifth (21.3%) of the North Carolina High Schools were included among the top 25% nationally.
Public School Systems
● Wake County Public School System (inc. Apex, Cary, Fuquay-Varina, Garner, Holly Springs, Knightdale, Morrisville, Raleigh, Rolesville, Wake Forest; 183 schools)
● Durham Public Schools (53 schools)
● Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools (21 schools)
● Johnston County Schools (inc. Clayton, parts of Garner; 46 schools)
● Chatham County Schools (18 schools)
● Orange County Schools (13 schools)
The local school system operates dozens of public elementary, middle and high school options for area residents, many offering year-round calendars, special teaching themes and academic focuses. There is something for everyone in the Triangle. “When you look at the educational ecosystem here in the Triangle, there are a wide range of alternatives in addition to traditional neighborhood schools,” Berg points out. “We have private institutions, home schools and various public, magnet and charter options as well; people are attracted to our community because we have lots to choose from and consider.”
Originally conceived to help fill under-enrolled schools with students from overcrowded ones, the Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) magnet school program has become a robust network of themed pathways. While many areas of the county use the magnet school idea sparingly and typically refer to them as ‘schools of choice’, WCPSS prominently features its magnet program, and it has become a cornerstone of the area’s educational offerings, a sought after feature for many, even in cases where the schools are outside one’s own neighborhood. There is a magnet theme for almost every learning style or student interest and a school choice given to every parent regardless of assignment zone changes or neighborhood. With over 50 magnet schools across it’s K-12 continuum, designed to target multiple objectives, perhaps the most difficult part is choosing among the many options, including STEM, the arts, gifted and talented, engineering and design, language immersion, Montessori, leading and International Baccalaureate programs, among others. What’s most unique is that each theme is woven throughout the instruction and not merely an addition to the curriculum; all faculty receive training and development to adapt their coursework and lessons to the theme learning objectives. Magnet schools have become a competitive alternative for public school choice and an attractive option for families considering opportunities outside their base school assignment in Wake County.
Since the start of the program in the early 1980s, WCPSS magnet schools have routinely been recognized nationally for excellence and have served as a model for other school systems throughout the country looking to improve public school performance and offer school choice programs. Each year, about two dozen or more area magnet schools are honored as Schools of Excellence or Schools of Distinction by the Magnet Schools of America. Wiley International Studies Magnet Elementary in Raleigh was even named the Best Elementary Magnet School in the nation.
In addition to area public traditional and magnet schools, families can choose from a number of charter schools that are taxpayer-funded but exempt from some of the rules that traditional public schools must follow. These schools are not required to provide school bus service or participate in the federal school lunch program and have more flexibility in how they spend their money, don’t have to follow the school calendar law and all their teachers are not required to be licensed. Magnet and charter schools typically admit based on a lottery system and there is no cost to attend. Currently, there are 43 public charter schools which operate in the Triangle and are held to the same reporting requirements and testing standards as traditional public schools. Finally, you will also find a plethora of private school options throughout the area whether looking for a particular theme or objective.
Private Schools (with greater than 100 students sorted by size)
● North Raleigh Christian Academy
● Cardinal Gibbons High School
● Durham Academy
● Ravenscroft School
● Wake Christian Academy
● Cary Christian School
● Grace Christian School
● Cary Academy
● Thales Academy
● St. David’s School
● Trinity School of Durham & Chapel Hill
● Carolina Friends School
● Trinity Academy of Raleigh
● Montessori School of Raleigh
● Southside Christian School
● Friendship Christian School
● Raleigh Christian Academy
● Neuse Christian Academy
● Saint Mary’s School
● Hilltop Christian School
● Emerson Waldorf School
● Cresset Christian Academy
● Liberty Christian School
● Mount Zion Christian Academy
● Word of God Christian Academy
● The Hill Learning Center
● Fellowship Baptist Academy
● Camelot Academy
● The Fletcher Academy
With top-ranked educational institutions, teaching hospitals and world-class research centers, the area is a great place for those living here or considering a move with education and innovation as a chief concern. And with 91% of homebuyers saying that school district boundaries matter in their home search (Realtor.com), it’s no wonder the area has benefited from growth and continued migration. As #2 Best City to Live Right Now by Money Magazine and #2 Best Area to Live by U.S. News and World Report, the Triangle can tout its research/technology roots, collegiate rivalries and nationally-recognized universities among the highlights for those residing here but it is the intentional focus on education that helps inspire and prepare us for what is to come. With so many options, the hardest decision for Triangle area residents simply becomes what to choose from within this hotbed for education.
By Erica Jevons Sizemore
Broker, Realtor, and Certified Luxury Home Marketing Specialist (CLHMS)
Erica’s background in finance and marketing is matched with a personal passion for an unparalleled experience, love of home design and inability to sit still – always brainstorming how to better position her gregarious clients to support their lifestyle and financial ambitions. Erica returned to residential real estate after 12 years in finance with Morgan Stanley and having worked as the marketing director for Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices York Simpson Underwood Realty in the Triangle. With a love of North Carolina and all things Raleigh, she has been an active volunteer and committee chairperson at many of our local community standouts, among them the North Carolina Symphony, Carolina Ballet, and Raleigh Chamber, and currently serves on the board of directors for the House of Hope NC.