Best Community Colleges in Tennessee

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by Staff Writers

Updated January 19, 2022

Edited by Rebecca Long
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The Tennessee Board of Regents operates 13 community colleges across the state, with each institution providing high-quality and affordable education to a different service area. Community colleges in Tennessee provide a pathway for students to earn an associate degree within two years. Most of the institutions maintain a 100% acceptance rate.

Tennessee's community college system enrolls more than 88,100 students every year, which is more than half of the state's entire annual public higher education population of 140,000. Community colleges in Tennessee usually only require a high school or GED diploma for admission.

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Why Study in Tennessee?

Educational Opportunities

Community colleges in Tennessee offer associate degrees and certificate programs in high-demand industries like business, computer information technology, engineering systems technology, fine arts, hospitality and tourism management, nursing, teaching, and web design.

Tennessee community colleges also offer transfer degrees that can prepare students to transfer to a four-year university or college and earn a bachelor's degree.

Economy

Tennessee ranks high in the United States in terms of its economic outlook, placing 12th out of all 50 states. Tennessee's economic activities mostly include community, business, and personal services, with farmland also covering approximately 40% of the state.

Cost of Living

Along with its promising economic outlook, Tennessee is also one of the most affordable places to live in the United States. The 2021 Cost of Living Index places Tennessee in sixth place for the lowest cost of living in the country, with Chattanooga, Johnson City, Clarksville, and Oak Ridge ranking as the most affordable places to live in the state.

With a score of 87.6 in the aggregated benchmark system, Tennessee's cost of living is almost 12 points below the national average of 100. Tennessee's costs for housing, transportation, and food are all well below the national average.

Notably, Tennessee does not charge state income tax.

Cultural and Community Offerings

Tennessee has a rich cultural background, especially in terms of education, religion, and music. There are tons of cultural activities to enjoy in Tennessee, including visits to historic museums like the National Civil Rights Museum, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Titanic Museum Attraction, Johnny Cash Museum and Cafe, and Sun Studio. The state also offers plenty of outdoor adventures, including hiking, camping, cycling, and ziplining.

Climate

Tennessee benefits from a friendly climate that features moderately cold winters and warm summers. Tennessee receives less snow than most other states. State residents and visitors can enjoy a variety of activities throughout its four distinct seasons, although Tennessee does receive more rainfall than most U.S. states.

Top Degree Programs in Tennessee

Tennessee Employment Outlook

U.S. News & World Report also ranked Tennessee as the 13th-best state in the country in terms of job opportunities. Moreover, the state's unemployment rate continues to decrease. In April 2021, Tennessee had an unemployment rate of 5%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Tennessee saw that number drop to 4.4% in September 2021. Physical therapy, healthcare, and marketing are three of the most in-demand fields in Tennessee.

5 Tennessee Jobs in Demand

Educational, Instruction, and Library Occupations

Annual Average Salary in Tennessee (May 2020): $51,090

Job Outlook in the U.S. (2020-2030): 10%

Earning an associate degree at a community college can enable graduates to apply for entry-level jobs as archivists and museum workers, technical education teachers, library technicians and assistants, preschool teachers, and teacher assistants. These jobs are all in-demand throughout Tennessee.


Transportation and Material Moving Occupations

Annual Average Salary in Tennessee (May 2020): $36,300

Job Outlook in the U.S. (2020-2030): 9%

The transportation and material moving field is the second largest industry in the state of Tennessee, making up around 331,750 jobs. Professionals working in transportation and material moving can pursue careers as flight attendants and airfield operations specialists, locomotive and rail yard engineers, and aircraft cargo handling supervisors.


Sales and Related Occupations

Annual Average Salary in Tennessee (May 2020): $39,840

Job Outlook in the U.S. (2020-2030): 4%

Tennessee employs about 262,460 professionals in sales and related occupations, making it the third-most in-demand industry in the state. Entry-level jobs in sales include real estate brokers and sales agents, advertising sales agents, financial services agents, travel agents, and first-line supervisors.


Business and Financial Operations Occupations

Annual Average Salary in Tennessee (May 2020): $66,170

Job Outlook in the U.S. (2020-2030): 8%

The economy of Tennessee continues to grow as does the state's business sector. Completing a relevant associate degree can qualify students for support roles in auditing, budget analysis, financial analysis, human resources, labor relations, market research, event planning, personal finance, purchasing, and training and development.


Healthcare Practitioners and Technical Occupations

Annual Average Salary in Tennessee (May 2020): $71,730

Job Outlook in the U.S. (2020-2030): 16%

There are about 196,770 healthcare jobs in Tennessee. Students in the Volunteer State can pursue two-year associate degrees in healthcare that can lead to entry-level jobs in physical therapy, occupational therapy, dentistry, and family medicine.


Popular Career Paths in Tennessee

Best Accredited Community Colleges in Tennessee

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Our rankings are grounded in a few guiding principles and use the latest statistical data available from trusted sources. Read our ranking methodology. We hope our approach helps you find the school that is best for you.

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Best Community Colleges in Tennessee

  1. Walters State Community College
    Location

    Morristown, TN

    Tuition

    $4165

    Walters State Community College is located in Morristown and enrolls over 10,000 students across its four campuses. The school maintains an accessible admissions process that only requires candidates to complete an online application, furnish academic transcripts, and sit for assessment exams. In addition to low tuition prices, Walters State enables students to cut costs by earning transfer credits based on prior learning, military experience, professional certification/licensure, and standardized test scores. Financial aid is available and includes the Waters State Promise scholarship, which targets high-performing students from surrounding communities.

    As one of the best community colleges in Tennessee, Walters State offers more than 150 technical certificates and associate degrees. Certificate options cover areas like culinary arts, clean energy technology, and production horticulture. Students can also pursue public safety certificates, with tracks for emergency medical technicians, paramedics, and law enforcement officers. Walters State's comprehensive associate programming includes degrees in mass communication, biology, social work, teacher education, and pre-allied health fields.

  2. Motlow State Community College
    Location

    Tullahoma, TN

    Tuition

    $8635

    Based in Tullahoma, Motlow State Community College opened its doors in 1969 to a class of 551 students. Today, the school serves almost 7,000 students each semester across 11 Middle Tennessee counties. Learners pay affordable tuition prices based on residency status and may be eligible for financial support like state grants, federally funded work-study positions, and institutional awards. Motlow also offers distinct scholarships for honors students and candidates enrolled in music and art programs.

    Motlow features associate programs in applied fields like mechatronics technology and cyberdefense. Students can also enroll in transfer-oriented programs in business administration, early childhood education, and health sciences. Additionally, Motlow operates a pre-law program that prepares students for bachelor's degree completion and eventually law school.

    Setting itself apart from other community colleges in Tennessee, Motlow facilitates the Adult College Express program. This cohort-based program targets working professionals who want to earn an associate of general studies. Classes meet one night per week, with options for campus-based and online learning.

  3. Northeast State Community College
    Location

    Blountville, TN

    Tuition

    $6233

    Northeast State Community College is a comprehensive two-year school that offers university parallel programs, career training, and continuing education opportunities. The school serves over 6,000 students at its Blountville campus and provides hybrid and fully remote classes through the TN eCampus initiative. The college facilitates state-sponsored financial aid programs like Tennessee Promise, Tennessee Reconnect, and the TN Lottery Scholarship. Students can also access numerous scholarships based on their academic achievements and areas of study.

    Northeast State partners with the University of Tennessee to deliver associate programs that lead to direct transfer. Degree options include social work, nutrition and food science, and criminal justice. Students can also enroll in a pre-engineering track, which offers concentrations in civil, electrical, and mechanical engineering. Like other community colleges in Tennessee, Northeast State delivers technical associate and certificate programs in areas like dental assisting, combination welding, and HVAC. Candidates can also learn about aviation maintenance technology, with an emphasis on fuselage and electrical systems.

  4. Roane State Community College
    Location

    Harriman, TN

    Tuition

    $8458

    Roane State Community College enrolls about 5,700 students at its nine campuses and learning centers. The school provides academic transfer programs, technical certificates, dual-enrollment options, and over 100 online classes powered by the Desire2Learn platform. As one of the best community colleges in Tennessee, Roane State boasts a 90% job placement rate and an 18-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio. The college also offers low tuition and ample scholarships and grants.

    Undecided students can earn a general associate degree, which fully transfers to any of the school's partnering four-year institutions. Roane State also operates transferable two-year programs in areas like accounting, information technology, and international affairs. Furthermore, candidates can pursue pre-allied health training, which prepares them for bachelor's completion tracks in physical therapy, occupational therapy, and nursing.

    For students interested in career training, Roane State delivers technical certificates for medical coding and advanced pharmacy technology. The school also offers a one-year program in geographic information systems. Candidates take coursework like computer cartography, database technology, and project management. They round out certificate training by completing an independent project.

  5. Columbia State Community College
    Location

    Columbia, TN

    Tuition

    $6669

    Columbia State Community College was founded in 1966 as the first two-year school within the Tennessee Board of Regents system. Today, the institution supports more than 6,200 students and offers comprehensive academic transfer and career-entry programs. Columbia State also delivers workforce development and continuing education opportunities. Students benefit from an open-door admission policy and affordable tuition prices based on residency status.

    Candidates can earn an associate of applied science, which prepares them to enter the job market after graduation. Degree options include medical informatics, computer information technology, and respiratory care. Students can also enroll in an anesthesia technology program, developing the skills needed to perform routine point of care testing, manage consumables, and place central lines and IVs.

    Consistent with other community colleges in Tennessee, Columbia State operates university parallel majors and transfer pathways. Students can pick from associate degrees in graphic design, pre-clinical laboratory science, foreign language, and sport and leisure management. They can also enroll in an agriculture program, with tracks in animal science, agricultural business, and plant and soil science.

  6. Pellissippi State Community College
    Location

    Knoxville, TN

    Tuition

    $6627

    Located in Knoxville, Pellissippi State Community College first opened its doors in 1974 to a class of 45 students. Today, the school serves roughly 11,000 learners and operates comprehensive certificate, technical associate, and university transfer programs. High school juniors and seniors can jumpstart their college education by pursuing dual enrollment.

    Pellissippi State also facilitates the Tennessee Promise initiative, which provides scholarships and one-on-one mentoring to local students. To maintain their award, participants must earn a minimum 2.0 GPA and complete eight hours of community service each semester.

    Pellissippi State operates transfer pathways in fields like elementary education, social work, marketing, and theater arts. Students can also earn a transferable associate of information systems, which prepares them for bachelor's completion tracks in business data analysis and computer programming. The college also delivers two-year career programs, with options like hospitality management and water quality technology. Like other community colleges in Tennessee, Pellissippi State oversees online education, flexible evening classes, and accelerated weekend programs.

  7. Volunteer State Community College
    Location

    Gallatin, TN

    Tuition

    $6133

    Volunteer State Community College provides certificate and associate programs that cover roughly 100 areas of study. Students can pursue their credentials at the Gallatin campus or they can engage in online education. Through the school's online platform, Vol State delivers fully remote programming that includes technical certificates in high-demand industries like medical coding, logistics and supply chain management, and sleep diagnostics technology. Distance learners may also earn associate degrees in areas such as computer information technology, political science, and K-6 teaching.

    Campus-based programming includes associate credentials in speech communication, general studies, and entertainment media productions. Vol State stands apart from many other community colleges in Tennessee by providing work-based learning options. These programs enable students to hold a relevant job while they study, thereby gaining valuable hands-on experiences crucial to post-graduation employment.

    The college also operates an honors program for candidates who possess a minimum 3.5 GPA and an ACT score of at least 26. Additionally, Vol State facilitates study abroad programs for students interested in multicultural immersion.

  8. Southwest Tennessee Community College
    Location

    Memphis, TN

    Tuition

    $4964

    Southwest Tennessee Community College is based in Memphis and supports over 9,300 students every semester. The school provides affordable, career-relevant certificates and associate degrees to the diverse communities of the state's mid-south region. Students pay affordable per-credit tuition prices based on residency status and program type.

    Southwest provides financial aid, which includes foundational scholarships based on GPA and transfer awards for students who want to continue their studies at four-year institutions. The college further supports learners by offering tutoring services, career guidance, and campus childcare.

    The school offers certificate programs that prepare graduates for careers as electrical technicians, industrial machinists, and quality assurance supervisors. Candidates can pursue technical associate degrees in areas like administrative professional technology and transportation management. Southwest also operates a two-year culinary arts program that combines classroom instruction with laboratory practice and industry experience. Like many of the best community colleges in Tennessee, Southwest delivers distance education options, including transfer-oriented associate degrees in business administration, fire science, and early childhood education.

  9. Dyersburg State Community College
    Location

    Dyersburg, TN

    Tuition

    $5739

    Established in 1967, Dyersburg State Community College delivers comprehensive academic and career training at its main campus and two learning centers. The school also provides fully online and hybrid courses powered by Desire2Learn. To enroll, prospective students complete an online application and submit official transcripts. The college requires candidates under the age of 21 to submit ACT scores. High school juniors and seniors who want to pursue dual enrollment must possess a minimum 3.0 GPA. All learners may apply for state funding, campus employment, and institutional awards.

    DSCC operates one-year certificate programs that allow candidates to work as certified nursing assistants, medical billers and coders, and emergency medical technicians. Students can also prepare for police academy training by earning a certificate in corrections and law enforcement.

    At the associate level, technical degree options include advanced EMT-paramedic training and engineering systems technology. The college also operates nursing tracks for working paramedics and LPNs, as well as students without professional experience. As one of the best community colleges in Tennessee, DSCC offers a variety of transfer-oriented associate programs.

  10. Cleveland State Community College
    Location

    Cleveland, TN

    Tuition

    $5432

    Cleveland State Community College dedicates its institutional mission to providing quality and open-access academics. The school serves over 3,200 students and offers low tuition prices and generous financial aid. CSCC facilitates dual enrollment for local high school students. These courses are free of charge and candidates may apply credits toward the completion of an associate of applied science.

    The school's catalog contains certificate and associate programs in six broad areas of study, including business, STEM, and advanced technologies. Students may pursue healthcare training, earning associate credentials in exercise science, pre-dental hygiene, and medical informatics. CSCC also operates social sciences programs, with options like criminal justice, sociology, and psychology.

    High-achieving students can enroll in the honors program and take advantage of distinct scholarships and leadership training. CSCC's Mechatronics Honors Institute helps it stand out from other community colleges in Tennessee. In collaboration with industry partners, this institute offers students the opportunity to hold a part-time job while they pursue their degree, often resulting in a debt-free education and job placement upon graduation.

Frequently Asked Questions About Community Colleges in Tennessee

Are community colleges worth it?

Yes. Thanks to two-year associate programs that lead to entry-level professional jobs, enrolling in an affordable community college is a good investment. If you're an adult looking for a new start in another field or a working student in need of flexible education, then studying at a community college is a good next step. The best community colleges in Tennessee offer programs in high-demand industries like agriculture and natural resources, architecture, arts and communications, business management, education, finance, health science, hospitality and tourism, information technology, and transportation and logistics.

Who is eligible for a free community college in Tennessee?

Through the Tennessee Promise initiative, Tennessee now offers a free college education to any graduating high school senior in the state. The program provides two years of free tuition for in-state students who apply to community colleges or colleges of applied technology in Tennessee.

How many community colleges are there in Tennessee?

There are 13 community colleges in the Tennessee Board of Regents system, with each institution offering associate degrees, nondegree certificates, and short-term educational pathways that students can finish within 1-2 years.

What is the cheapest college in Tennessee?

Out of the 13 community colleges in Tennessee, the Northeast State Community College is considered the most affordable option in the state. Located in Blountville, Tennessee, Northeast State is a comprehensive two-year community college that started as a vocational-technical school in 1966. Northeast State's in-state students pay approximately $184 per credit and can choose from a wide variety of programs in fields like accounting technology, aviation maintenance technology, construction electricity, customer service and sales, early childhood education, entrepreneurship, and office technology.

How can I get free tuition in Tennessee?

The Tennessee Promise Scholarship grants free tuition and payments for other mandatory fees to in-state students. To apply for the scholarship, prospective recipients must have graduated from a Tennessee high school and lived in the state for at least one year. The program also requires applicants to attend mandatory meetings, actively participate in a mentoring program, and perform a total of eight hours of community service.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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