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North Carolina’s First School of Optometry Inches Closer to Reality

UNC Pembroke still needs final approval and national accreditation to become the nation’s 25th such program.




North Carolina is the ninth most populous state in the country.

North Carolina is one of the fastest growing states in the country.

North Carolina is home to some of the most prestigious universities in the country.

And yet.

North Carolina’s First School of Optometry Inches Closer to RealityNorth Carolina has zero of the country’s 24 optometry schools. Officials at the University of North Carolina Pembroke are looking to address that discrepancy. They recently were allowed to move forward with a plan to create the state’s first school of optometry.

The proposal still requires final approval by the UNC System Board of Governors. If it gets the green light, the new program would be an anchor for UNC Pembroke’s new health sciences building. The state already has apportioned $91 million for construction of the building, which will take three to four years to complete.


“It’s an exciting possibility for UNC Pembroke,” said UNCP Chancellor Robin Gary Cummings in an article in the Greater Fayetteville Business Journal. “I think the need is there. And I think there’s a lot of excitement around the potential of just what a special school UNC Pembroke could eventually have in place.”

The university, which is about 45 miles south of Fayetteville, NC, near the border with South Carolina, has contemplated opening a school of optometry since at least the 1990s. According to a UNCP press release, “there are 12 counties in North Carolina without practicing optometrists and the number across the state continues to decline.”

A recent study released by the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research at UNC outlined the region’s workforce needs in healthcare. The study also suggested which areas of need UNC Pembroke was best situated to address. Among the recommendations were adding a Doctor of Nursing Practice, a Master of Science in Occupational Therapy, and a School of Optometry. The first two will begin enrolling students in 2024.

If the UNC System Board of Governors approves the new optometry program, UNC Pembroke could conceivably enroll its first optometry students in two or three years.

More Fun Bits on North Carolina

–North Carolina (10.7 million residents) only eclipsed Michigan (10.1 million residents) this past decade on the list of most populous states in the country.

–From 2021 to 2022, North Carolina gained 133K new residents. The state trailed only Texas and Florida for population growth.


–From 2010 to 2020, North Carolina’s population grew 9.5%. At the same time, the nation’s population growth was 7.4%.

–The latest Best Colleges list from U.S. News features five institutions from North Carolina ranked in the top 100 nationally:

  • 10 – Duke
  • 29 (tie) – University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • 29 (tie) – Wake Forest University
  • 72 (tie) – North Carolina State University
  • 89 (tie) — Elon


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