North Carolina General Statute 116-15 gives the Board of Governors of the University of North Carolina authority to issue licenses to nonpublic and out-of-state institutions to conduct post-secondary degree activity in North Carolina. The Board is statutorily empowered to establish the rules, regulations, policies, and procedures it considers necessary to carry out its duties.  Licenses and exemptions are issued on a program-by-program basis.  

Through licensing institutions and granting exemptions from licensure, the Board of Governors performs an important consumer protection function. The Board also assures that post-secondary educational institutions operating wholly or in part in North Carolina provide students with an education of good quality.

The University of North Carolina System Office maintains a staff to implement the licensure statute using the Rules and Standards for Licensure established by the Board of Governors.

State Authorization Unit
910 Raleigh Road
Chapel Hill, NC  27515

Licensure and Accreditation

The Board of Governors is the state entity that authorizes institutions to conduct post-secondary degree activity in North Carolina through a licensing process. Licensure is required by law. Accreditation is voluntary and is not a requirement to conduct degree activity in North Carolina.

Licensure Criteria and Application

The Board of Governors has statutory responsibility for issuing licenses and for granting exemptions from licensure. The licensure statute specifies that institutions must meet 15 standards to obtain a license. These 15 standards are described in the Rules and Standards. Institutional representatives, not students, must contact the state concerning application for licensure.   The first step of the licensure process is a Preliminary Conference. This is a clarification and overview conference with the staff responsible for administering the state authorization process.  The timeline for processing an application varies depending on several factors, including whether the applying institution already has licensed programs, the degree level(s) and concentrations to be offered, and the institution’s financial viability.

Field Experience Placements

Except as provided by the Unified State Authorization and Reciprocity Agreement, in order to place students in field experiences in North Carolina, an institution must obtain licensure. A field experience is any setting in North Carolina where a student is placed to complete curriculum requirements of a degree program and will receive academic credit for the field experience. This includes, but is not limited to, student teaching, clinical rotations, practicums, internships, and externships.

The UNC System Office is not a professional licensing board. For questions concerning field placement requirements for professional licensure, students should contact the corresponding state board (e.g. NC Board of Nursing, NC Department of Public Instruction, NC Social Work Certification and Licensure Board, NC Board of Licensed Professional Counselors, etc.).”

Exemption from Licensure

Exemption from licensure may be based on one of four exemptions:

First, an institution conducting post-secondary degree activity in North Carolina pursuant to the Unified State Authorization and Reciprocity Agreement (SARA) shall be exempt from state authorization requirements.  This exemption applies to some, but not all, distance learning programs.  The National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements provides information concerning SARA participating institutions. For more information, contact the SARA State Portal Entity at

Second, if an institution undertakes post-secondary degree activity on military reservations for military personnel stationed on active duty there, or their dependents, or employees of the military, the institution shall be exempt from licensure requirements. (G.S. 116-15(e)). If the institution offers or conducts post-secondary degree activity for other persons, the institution is subject to licensure.

Third, post-secondary degree activity which is planned by the institution to lead to a degree in theology, divinity, or religious education, and postsecondary activity which is designed by the institution primarily for career preparation in a religious vocation is not subject to licensure. (G.S. 116-15(d)). Institutions seeking a religious exemption must complete an application. For more information, see the Board of Governors Policy on Religious Exemption. You may also refer to this list of institutions which operate programs pursuant to this exemption.

Finally, an institution which has been continuously conducting postsecondary degree activity in North Carolina under the same name or series of names since July 1, 1972 shall be exempt from licensure upon presenting to the Board information acceptable to the Board which substantiates that activity.”

Resources for Licensure

Resources for Exemption from Licensure