The 2008 edition of US News and World Report's "America's Best Colleges" ranks UNCW among the top 10 public master's universities in the South. Master's programs address national and regional needs and issues, and a Ph.D. in marine biology is one of only three such degrees offered on the East Coast. UNCW seeks "to create people who are educated for the 21st century and who have a sense of civic responsibility and leadership," by providing "a unique academic focus that connects student learning in and out of the classroom across four broad themes:
- Regional engagement
- Natural environment
- Information technology
NURC is located within UNCW's Center for Marine Science (CMS), located on the Intracoastal Waterway just north of Cape Fear, 10 miles from main campus. The mission of CMS is to promote basic and applied research in the fields of oceanography, coastal and wetland studies, marine biomedical and environmental physiology, and marine biotechnology and aquaculture. Faculty members conducting marine science in the departments of biological sciences, chemistry and earth sciences participate in this program. CMS research programs enhance the educational experience provided for both undergraduate and graduate students in marine science. CMS also provides a valuable resource and boost for public outreach and secondary school education activities. CMS facilities and equipment include:
- Dock facility on the Intracoastal Waterway across from the Masonboro Island National Estuarine Research Reserve that is capable of supporting all center research vessels
- Fleet of research vessels from small outboards to the 70 foot R/V Cape Fear , which is equipped with an on-board mixed gas diving system, A-frame, DGPS and other capabilities that serve NURC projects well
- Over two dozen fully equipped wet and dry labs with running seawater, fume hoods, gas/distilled water, and T3 Internet connections
- In addition to NURC staff, CMS supports 25 permanent lab staff, over 60 faculty members, and 40 research staff in various programs, including: NERRS, Sea Grant extension service, Coastal Ocean Research and Monitoring Program, and Lower Cape Fear Monitoring Program.
The center leases shore facilities in Key Largo, Florida, to support Florida Keys operations, which include: dockage for at least six support vessels, office space to support administrative activities, two labs and work space to support operations and science-related activities, and housing for visiting scientists (up to 16 at one time) and NURC support staff. The base is close (13 km) to Conch Reef, the deployment site of the Aquarius Reef Baseoratory.