Best Colleges & Universities in Tennessee

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Known as the home of country music, Tennessee offers music lovers a plethora of degree programs to help those seeking a future in the music business. However, the delicious southern cooking, the Great Smoky Mountains, and the stunning beauty of the state draw students looking for all kinds of degrees.

Though most people know about Vanderbilt University in Nashville, the state’s most prestigious school, its acceptance rate, according to Vanderbilt’s website, stands at 9.6% as of Fall 2018. If you are seeking a school in Tennessee to attend, you may be lucky enough to be admitted to Vanderbilt. However, there are so many other colleges and universities in the state to choose from, such as the large University of Tennessee in Knoxville, the modest Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, or the small Lipscomb University in Nashville.

Tennessee encourages college attendance for students from several states with its participation in the Academic Common Market. The goal of this program is to allow residents of 14 other states to pay in-state tuition in Tennessee’s institutions of higher learning. See http://home.sreb.org/acm/participating/institutionstates.aspx to learn if you qualify to take part in the benefits of this program.

Large or small, Christian or secular, private or public, Tennessee offers it all. The natural beauty of Tennessee surrounds every college and university in the state. Colleges and universities in Tennessee should be strong candidates in your search for postsecondary education.

College & University Fast Facts

  • Colleges and Universities in Tennessee Fast Facts
  • Fall enrollment (2017) = 323,157,
  • Degrees awarded in Tennessee (2016) = 85,984
  • Median in-state public tuition (2016) = $6,900
  • Median out-of-state tuition (2016) = $22,891
  • Largest schools by number of degrees awarded = 1.The University of Tennessee-Knoxville, 2. Middle Tennessee State University, 3. University of Memphis

Sources NCES and DataUSA

Best Colleges in Tennessee

1. Christian Brothers University

Score: 100

Average Net Price: $9,468
Retention Rate: 79%
Graduation Rate: 47%
Salary After Attending: $44,200

Christian Brothers University was established in 1871 as the first college in the city of Memphis. This private Roman Catholic-affiliated school enrolls about 1,500 students in its undergraduate programs. Students can select between 114 majors within the Schools of Arts, Engineering, Business and Sciences. The university also offers nine graduate degrees across four departments. Specialized degrees are available for health professionals, including Physician Assistants and Registered Nurse via the Bachelor of Science Nurse programs. Christian Brothers University is proud of its small class sizes, which foster collaborative relationships among peers and with faculty members. Christian Brothers University consistently ranks highly for its great value. The faith-based education also encourages students to view their learning through the lens of God and to work toward using their academic achievements in service to their local and global communities.

2. Baptist Memorial College of Health Sciences

Score: 99.2

Average Net Price: $10,731
Retention Rate: 74%
Graduation Rate: 72%
Salary After Attending: $57,000

The Baptist College of Health Sciences provides degree programs for undergraduate students who desire to enter careers in medical practice, research, and administration. The college provides a foundation of faith within all instruction, weaving Christian principles into each of its health sciences degree programs. All students receive a strong core education, particularly in mathematics and science, before narrowing their focus within the General Education and Health Studies, Allied Health, or Nursing divisions. Throughout their time at Baptist College of Health and Sciences, students receive hands-on practice in nearby medical facilities to learn from experienced health personnel and receive important and relevant experience before entering the workforce.

3. Tennessee Wesleyan University

Score: 98.6

Average Net Price: $5,815
Retention Rate: 67%
Graduation Rate: 43%
Salary After Attending: $38,500

Tennessee Wesleyan University offers graduate and undergraduate degrees and degree completion programs. Undergraduate students can choose from over 30 majors and minors within 12 different departments. Students interested in an advanced degree can enroll in the programs for Master of Business Administration or Master of Occupational Therapy, with a Master of Arts in Teaching available soon. Adult learners can pursue degrees in business management, nursing, and criminal justice with a flexible schedule that accommodates fixed responsibilities such as work and family. All students, regardless of degree level and program, enjoy small class sizes and the opportunity to develop close relationships with faculty in the classroom and through advisement.

4. John A Gupton College

Score: 98.0

Average Net Price: $12,630
Retention Rate: 82%
Graduation Rate: 45%
Salary After Attending: $38,800

Founded in 1946, the John A Gupton College is a unique school, offering three programs in the mortuary sciences. Students can choose to pursue either an associate of arts degree or an associate of applied science degree in funeral service. Both degrees provide a similar foundation in anatomy, counseling, and embalming, but the former meets in a physical classroom setting and the latter is completed online. A Funeral Director Certificate is also available. This program requires half the number of credit hours of the other degrees but does not cover as many of the subjects. The college is accredited through the American Board of Funeral Service Education and Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. It also has memberships with four different professional organizations. The small size of the college lends to close working relationships and collaboration with the handful of professors who teach at the school.

5. The University of Tennessee-Martin

Score: 97.8

Average Net Price: $10,358
Retention Rate: 76%
Graduation Rate: 50%
Salary After Attending: $36,200

Students can pursue undergraduate, graduate, or pre-professional degrees at the University of Tennessee-Martin. The school offers 36 degree programs with several areas of concentration within each, allowing students to tailor their degree to their specific career goals. At the graduate level, students can choose from seven advanced degrees with additional concentrations available in some of the departments. The 16 pre-professional programs offered at the University of Tennessee-Martin, including dentistry, law, and physician assistant, prepare students for their specifically chosen fields and the examinations and practicum experiences to follow. The university enrolls more than 6,300 students each year. However, the majority of class sizes remain small and personal for an optimal learning experience.

6. Tennessee Technological University

Score: 97.8

Average Net Price: $14,813
Retention Rate: 79%
Graduation Rate: 50%
Salary After Attending: $40,500

Tennessee Technological University offers undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral degrees to students through its colleges of Agriculture & Human Ecology and Arts & Sciences. The school offers more than 100 undergraduate majors and dozens of advanced degrees within an impressive 51 departments. For students looking for an additional challenge, the university has an ROTC program to train future Army leaders and an Honors program that supports motivated and capable students with honing and cultivating their strengths. Additionally, Tennessee Technological University offers a variety of resources to support students with their academics and post-graduate success. The Volpe Library provides students with access to tutoring, resources for research and classwork, and spaces for studying. The Center for Career Development supports students in writing resumes, coordinating work opportunities, and imparting strategies for securing a job in their chosen field.

7. Middle Tennessee State University

Score: 97.2

Average Net Price: $12,416
Retention Rate: 76%
Graduation Rate: 43%
Salary After Attending: $38,700

Middle Tennessee State University, home to nearly 20,000 undergraduate students and about 2,500 graduate students, sprawls over 550 acres in Murfreesboro. The university offers over 300 academic programs for students seeking bachelor’s and master’s degrees. The seven colleges on campus provide students with exceptional faculty to guide them through general knowledge and more in-depth studies in their chosen major. The university prides itself on the financial support it provides students, keeping the price tag of their annual in-state tuition reasonable and giving away $20 million in scholarships annually. The school even created a new guaranteed scholarship for students with excellent GPAs and ACT scores. Additionally, the university demonstrates its commitment to supporting each student through its degree programs with the Quest for Student Success Initiative. This program uses data and feedback to help the university provide or adjust the programs and resources that actually work to help students complete their degrees and form lifelong learning habits.

8. University of Memphis

Score: 97.0

Average Net Price: $13,921
Retention Rate: 77%
Graduation Rate: 77%
Salary After Attending: $37,400

The University of Memphis is one of only three universities in the state that commits to offering education through the doctoral level to the degree required by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The research university conducts groundbreaking studies to advance society and offers participation opportunities to students at all levels. The faculty is exceptionally knowledgeable in more than 250 undergraduate subject areas, giving students a wide array of majors from which to choose. The university offers more than 120 degree options, as well as two dual-degree options through the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law. The University of Memphis also has a solid online program, offering students the opportunity to take some or all of their classes through distance learning.

9. The University of Tennessee-Chattanooga

Score: 94.4

Average Net Price: $14,892
Retention Rate: 73%
Graduation Rate: 45%
Salary After Attending: $38,100

At the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, students can pursue a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate. The school offers more than 100 undergraduate majors and 50 minors within its four primary schools. Students pursuing advanced degrees can choose from 16 post-baccalaureate certificates, 8 post-graduate certificates, and 78 graduate programs. Financial aid is readily available for students in need at this university, with three-quarters of students receiving some form of assistance from the school. The university also promotes experiential learning, providing students with opportunities to earn points by engaging in learning-by-doing through both weekly seminars and full courses. Not only do students gain a deeper understanding of a subject area or a crucial organization, but, in some cases, they gain networking contacts, internships, and even employment.

10. East Tennessee State University

Score: 93.8

Average Net Price: $14,218
Retention Rate: 74%
Graduation Rate: 40%
Salary After Attending: $35,100

East Tennessee State University offers a wide variety of degrees from which students may choose. With well over 100 undergraduate majors, several dozen graduate degrees, and 30 doctoral degrees, students can pursue nearly any field that interests them. Unlike most other universities in the state, East Tennessee State also provides a variety of pre-professional, post-doctoral, and medical programs for students to pursue. Postgraduate students can work toward a pharmacy or medical degree with several concentration options or complete a degree or certificate, resulting in a particular career pathway, such as a physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner. For students who prefer distance learning, the university offers ten full and six partial undergraduate degree programs online, 26 full and 10 partial master’s and doctoral degrees, and 21 advanced certificates.

11. Austin Peay State University

Score: 93.6

Average Net Price: $12,619
Retention Rate: 67%
Graduation Rate: 38%
Salary After Attending: $34,900

The Austin Peay State University enrolls just under 11,000 students between its undergraduate and graduate programs each year. The university is big enough to allow students access to 53 bachelor’s, 22 master’s programs, and a doctorate in Education, but small enough to ensure that students still receive a personalized and intimate educational experience. The faculty to student ratio and the number of students in each class is lower than at a typical university, allowing students more opportunities to create relationships and collaborate with peers and professors. Austin Peay State University also offers several educational specialist degrees, as well as over a dozen certificate programs. It offers some programs and courses online to support students who need a more flexible higher learning situation.

12. Columbia State Community College

Score: 93.0

Average Net Price: $6,017
Retention Rate: 55%
Graduation Rate: 26%
Salary After Attending: $31,500

The programs offered at Columbia State Community College give affordable options for students who want to gain immediate entry into the workforce or parlay their associate’s degree into a more advanced degree by transferring credits to a four-year college or university. Offering associate’s degrees and technical certificates within three major divisions, students can establish a foundation in nearly any field of interest. For those intending to transfer credits and continue pursuing a bachelor’s degree, Columbia State Community College offers 6 University Parallel Majors that seamlessly allow a student to enter a degree program at a four-year school and finish on time. Additionally, 47 majors align with the Tennessee Transfer Pathway to efficiently move students on to select universities and programs.

13. Tennessee State University

Score: 93.0

Average Net Price: $11,083
Retention Rate: 57%
Graduation Rate: 32%
Salary After Attending: $35,300

In addition to the traditional undergraduate and graduate degrees offered at Tennessee State University, the school also offers several transfer opportunities and partnerships with community colleges to help students complete a four-year degree. The university even has a dual admissions program that accepts Nashville State Community College students under certain conditions and provides them advantages in housing, registration, and advising upon enrollment. Situated in Nashville, students have access to a city filled with culture and community and many opportunities for applying learning through paid internships.

14. Motlow State Community College

Score: 92.4

Average Net Price: $7,229
Retention Rate: 60%
Graduation Rate: 31%
Salary After Attending: $28,700

Motlow State Community College operates from 5 campuses in cities surrounding and south of Nashville. The school offers more than 100 associate’s degrees in the Arts, Fine Arts, Sciences, Applied Sciences, and Science in Teaching. Many of the Associate of Arts and Associate of Science degrees are part of the Tennessee Transfer Pathways that smoothly transfer credits from Motlow State Community College to four-year universities around the state. The college also offers dual enrollment for high school students that allows them to earn college credits at a reduced rate that will transfer to many community colleges and universities around the state.

15. Bethel University

Score: 92.4

Average Net Price: $14,825
Retention Rate: 59%
Graduation Rate: 31%
Salary After Attending: $38,600

Bethel University offers undergraduate and graduate degrees rooted in Christian principles and teachings. With 37 undergraduate majors, students have multiple options for beginning their higher learning education. The university also offers master’s degrees in Business, Education, and Criminal Justice, as well as a pre-professional degree of Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies for those wanting to advance their learning and career opportunities. Students have the option of choosing a program with all on-campus classes or one that is fully delivered online. The school also offers a unique Adult Undergraduate program, which helps non-traditional students work toward an associate’s or bachelor’s degree or certificate with more flexibility and additional support.

16. Walters State Community College

Score: 92.0

Average Net Price: $3,549
Retention Rate: 54%
Graduation Rate: 26%
Salary After Attending: $27,500

At Walters State Community College, students can find an associate’s degree program in nearly any area they can imagine. Offering associate’s degrees in Arts, Fine Arts, Sciences, Applied Sciences, and Science in Teaching, students can work toward a two-year degree in the field of their choice. Additionally, Walters State Community College offers 56 degrees that are part of the Tennessee Transfer Pathways, which make it easier for students to continue their education without interruption or repeating classes at a four-year institution. In addition to degrees, students can also pursue 15 different technical certificates that allow them to enter the workforce right away in their chosen field and specialization.

17. Pellissippi State Community College

Score: 91.8

Average Net Price: $5,602
Retention Rate: 53%
Graduation Rate: 23%
Salary After Attending: $29,500

Pellissippi State Community College offers a variety of different educational opportunities on five campuses between Knoxville and Friendsville in Tennessee. In addition to traditional associate’s degrees, the community college offers 29 certificate programs that provide students with a specific skill set to apply to their current career or take steps toward a new one. The school offers 41 hours worth of classes across 6 subject areas that can be used to satisfy general education requirements toward a bachelor’s degree, according to the Tennessee Board of Regents. Furthermore, Pellissippi State offers 63 majors that participate in the Tennessee Transfer Pathways that allow students to transfer into any Tennessee State University as a junior under certain conditions.

18. Volunteer State Community College

Score: 91.8

Average Net Price: $7,014
Retention Rate: 52%
Graduation Rate: 24%
Salary After Attending: $32,000

Volunteer State Community College, also known as Vol State, offers a unique and enticing offer of free tuition to graduating high school seniors and adults who do not already have a college degree. The Tennessee Promise program allows recent secondary school or GED graduates to attend college tuition-free with the support of a mentor under the conditions of engaging in community service before each new semester and maintaining a reasonable GPA. Vol State also offers the TN Connect grant, which allows learners over 24 who have not achieved a degree to pursue an associate’s tuition-free and with additional support to ensure success. All students on campus can access the College Support Zone to help them track down tutoring, help with writing assignments, research assistance, and many other needs that arise throughout each semester.

19. Roane State Community College

Score: 91.8

Average Net Price: $7,647
Retention Rate: 56%
Graduation Rate: 27%
Salary After Attending: $29,500

Roane State Community College offers academic programs in 12 different departments. In addition to programs that culminate in an associate’s degree, nearly all of the programs offer transferable credits to a four-year university, especially state schools within Tennessee. Many programs also result in workplace training and a certificate that can be used to prove a skill level which opens up a student’s career options or advancements in their current workplace. In addition to the traditional classwork, Roane State offers service-learning courses for credit that provide an opportunity to give back to the community and obtain on-the-job experience. The college also participates in the Tennessee Reconnect program, providing free tuition to adults who meet the qualifications.

20. Northeast State Community College

Score: 90.8

Average Net Price: $6,196
Retention Rate: 59%
Graduation Rate: 23%
Salary After Attending: $26,500

Northeast State Community College supports students with successfully obtaining a degree or certificate through several different programs. The Learning Support program offers first-time degree seekers resources to overcome deficits in math or English proficiency so that they can complete their degrees. The school also offers an Honors Program for students who demonstrate they are ready and able to be challenged through more rigorous and in-depth coursework. Students hoping to achieve some college credits while they are still in high school may want to consider the University Parallel Dual Enrollment program. High school students who qualify can engage in challenging instruction while earning credits that are transferable to a community college or four-year university to save money.

21. Cleveland State Community College

Score: 90.2

Average Net Price: $5,431
Retention Rate: 50%
Graduation Rate: 21%
Salary After Attending: $29,300

Cleveland State Community College boasts seven ways to attend the school to obtain one of the more than 50 associate’s degrees or 20 technical certificate programs offered through the school. For a subset of programs, students can physically attend classes on the campus two days a week, only in the evenings, or solely on the weekends. For those who are dedicated, organized, and able to handle a faster pace, accelerated programs are available for two associates degree programs and one certificate pathway to allow students to complete their degree in a shorter time frame. Students who cannot attend classes on the main Cleveland campus can still pursue some degrees through the community college by taking them online or at one of the two off-campus centers. Many of the associate’s degree programs are also part of the Tennessee Pathway Program, meaning that students can parlay their two-year degree into a four-year degree at a University of Tennessee or Tennessee Board of Regents school.

22. Martin Methodist College

Score: 88.8

Average Net Price: $14,967
Retention Rate: 51%
Graduation Rate: 38%
Salary After Attending: $32,700

Students looking for a faith-based education rooted in Methodist teachings and traditions can find it at Martin Methodist College. The school offers more than 30 associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees in five different academic departments. Additionally, the school offers academic, technical, and vocational certificates to promote and advance career opportunities for its students. Service-learning is a critical component of the educational experience at Martin Methodist. Students can choose from a variety of opportunities to exercise their responsibility for civic engagement and gain real-world application of skills in addition to credits.

23. Dyersburg State Community College

Score: 88.4

Average Net Price: $5,503
Retention Rate: 50%
Graduation Rate: 17%
Salary After Attending: $27,300

Students can pursue more than 50 associate’s degree programs at Dyersburg State Community College. Students can pursue degrees in Business, Education, STEM, and many other areas. In addition to degree programs, the community college offers various opportunities to gain training and knowledge in a specific skill or area. Workforce Development courses, Healthcare and Medical Training, Personal Enrichment, and Advanced Manufacturing all offer students certificates upon successful completion of the program that can be used to gain entry into a job, obtain a promotion, or continue their education. Online classes are also available for some degree and certificate programs for those requiring a more flexible learning experience.

24. Nashville State Community College

Score: 88.2

Average Net Price: $7,176
Retention Rate: 45%
Graduation Rate: 17%
Salary After Attending: $30,500

Nashville State Community College offers students a variety of programs leading to an associate’s degree, certificate, or transfer degree into a four-year university. The school offers 18 Associate of Applied Science degrees, which allow students to move directly into the workforce following completion of the program. The A.A.S. degrees are offered in a wide variety of subjects for students to find something that best works for them. Nashville State also offers more than 21 technical certificate programs that allow students to get a job or advance within their current job or field upon completion. The nearly 50 transfer degrees available through the college let students quickly and seamlessly transition into a four-year degree program at participating colleges.

25. Chattanooga State Community College

Score: 87.6

Average Net Price: $7,111
Retention Rate: 49%
Graduation Rate: 15%
Salary After Attending: $29,400

Students studying at Chattanooga State Community College can pursue several degrees and certificate paths. For those interested in earning a two-year degree, students can choose from more than 100 programs to obtain an associate’s degree in Arts, Fine Arts, Science, Science in Teaching, or Applied Science. Additionally, students have the option to pursue 37 professional certifications to enhance their skills and eligibility for specific jobs and career advancements. Chattanooga State Community College also offers a variety of supports for student needs that arise in the course of working toward a degree or certificate. The Learning Support program provides tutoring and academic assistance to students who need support with classwork and projects, while the Global Scholars program challenges eligible students through its academic honors programs. The school also offers some online courses and degrees to students who require more flexible scheduling.

26. Southwest Tennessee Community College

Score: 87.0

Average Net Price: $4,918
Retention Rate: 49%
Graduation Rate: 10%
Salary After Attending: $25,700

Southwest Tennessee Community College provides programs in a wide variety of academic areas and concentrations. Students can choose from 45 different academic areas of interest to narrow their education into the degree or certificate pathway they desire. Many of the courses and programs align with the Tennessee Transfer Pathway program, which allows students to seamlessly continue their progress toward a bachelor’s degree at participating four-year colleges and universities. The community college offers a dual enrollment program for high school students looking to earn college credits before they fully enroll and enter a college program. Additionally, the college offers several courses and programs online to accommodate adult and non-traditional learners.

27. Jackson State Community College

Score: 87.0

Average Net Price: $7,688
Retention Rate: 52%
Graduation Rate: 13%
Salary After Attending: $28,400

Students at Jackson State Community College can work toward an associate’s degree or obtain the credits needed to enter a four-year college and achieve a bachelor’s degree. Students working toward an associate’s degree can obtain an Associate’s of Arts, Associate’s of Science, or Associate’s of Applied Science in 6 different divisions. The college also offers 28 programs through the Tennessee Transfer Pathways that easily reciprocate with state universities throughout Tennessee. Those who need extra help in their classes can access the Learning Support Program, Academic Assistance Center, or Writing Center for tutoring and guidance with assignments. Students can also take classes at the college in their senior year through the Dual Enrollment or SAILS programs offered by the school.

28. Le Moyne-Owen College

Score: 86.8

Average Net Price: $9,670
Retention Rate: 52%
Graduation Rate: 14%
Salary After Attending: $28,400

Located in Memphis, Le Moyne-Owen College offers students a rich cultural and urban educational experience at a four-year university. Students can work toward 23 majors within six main divisions of study. The college also has a robust division for students seeking a license to teach, including 14 different majors that result in obtaining teacher certification. The Accelerated Studies for Adult Professionals Program allows adult learners who have begun but not completed their degrees to attend class one night per week or on a Saturday morning to complete either a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice or Business Management. For both degrees, students are also eligible to obtain up to 15 credits through work experience or military training.

29. Lane College

Score: 86.4

Average Net Price: $12,560
Retention Rate: 56%
Graduation Rate: 20%
Salary After Attending: $25,400

Lane College opened its doors in 1882 as a church-affiliated school founded by a former slave that aimed to educate emancipated and illiterate black citizens following the Civil War. Today, it continues to offer students a liberal arts education that is rooted in faith and spirituality. The college provides 12 majors and 19 minors to students interested in obtaining a bachelor’s degree in the Arts or Sciences. Lane College offers a First-Year Experience program for first-year students that helps them acclimate to college life by building a sense of community, developing and increasing spiritual awareness and growth, and supporting academic success. The school also offers tutoring and assistance to students in need through the Writing Laboratory and Academic Success Center.

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