Jul 25, 2024  
Graduate Catalog | 2021-2022 
Graduate Catalog | 2021-2022 Previous Edition

The University of North Carolina System

In North Carolina, all of the public educational institutions that grant baccalaureate degrees are part of The University of North Carolina System.  The oldest public university system in the nation, UNC traces its roots to the state’s 1776 constitution, which held that “All useful Learning shall be duly encouraged and promoted in one or more Universities.”  Today, nearly 225,000 students are enrolled on 16 university campuses across the state and at the NC School of Science and Mathematics, the country’s first public, residential high school for gifted students.


Chartered by the North Carolina General Assembly in 1789, the University of North Carolina was the first public university in the United States to open its doors and the only one to graduate students in the eighteenth century.  The first class was admitted in Chapel Hill in 1795.  For the next 136 years, the only campus of the University of North Carolina was at Chapel Hill.

Additional institutions of higher education, diverse in origin and purpose, began to win sponsorship from the General Assembly beginning as early as 1877.  Five were historically black institutions, and another was founded to educate Native Americans.  Some began as high schools.  Several were created to prepare teachers for the public schools.  Others had a technological emphasis.  One is a training school for performing artists.

The 1931 session of the General Assembly redefined the University of North Carolina to include three state-supported institutions:  (1) the campus at Chapel Hill (now the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), (2) North Carolina State College (now North Carolina State University at Raleigh), and (3) Woman’s College (now the University of North Carolina at Greensboro).  The new multi-campus University operated with one board of trustees and one president.  By 1969, three additional campuses had joined the University through legislative action: (4) the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, (5) the University of North Carolina at Asheville, and (6) the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

In 1971, legislation was passed bringing into the University of North Carolina the state’s ten remaining public senior institutions, each of which had until then been legally separate: (7) Appalachian State University, (8) East Carolina University, (9) Elizabeth City State University, (10) Fayetteville State University, (11) North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, (12) North Carolina Central University, (13) the North Carolina School of the Arts (now the University of North Carolina School of the Arts), (14) Pembroke State University (now the University of North Carolina at Pembroke), (15) Western Carolina University, and (16) Winston-Salem State University.  In 1985, the NC School of Science and Mathematics was declared an affiliated school of the University; in July 2007, NCSSM by legislative action became a constituent institution of the University of North Carolina.

Board of Governors

The UNC Board of Governors is the policy-making body charged with “the general determination, control, supervision, management, and governance” of the University of North Carolina.  Its 28 voting members are elected by the NC General Assembly for four-year terms.  Former board chairs may continue to serve for limited periods as non-voting members emeriti.  The president of the UNC Association of Student Governments or that student’s designee is also a non-voting member.

President and UNC System Office

The chief executive officer of the University of North Carolina System is the President.  The President is elected by and reports to the Board of Governors.  The President’s office is the operations level between the constituent institutions and the Board of Governors.  The President has complete authority to manage the affairs and execute the policies of the University of North Carolina and its constituent institutions, subject to the direction and control of the Board of Governors.


Each of the UNC campuses is headed by a Chancellor who is chosen by the Board of Governors on the President’s nomination and is responsible to the President. 

Board of Trustees

Each UNC campus has a local Board of Trustees that holds extensive powers over academic and other operations of its campus on delegation from the Board of Governors. 

Shared Governance

The UNC System operates under an arrangement of shared governance that leverages the collective strengths of its campus chancellors and administrators, local boards of trustees, and the UNC President and Board of Governors.  The UNC System also honors the important traditional role of the faculty in the governance of the academy.