U.S. college enrollment continues to climb as more and more students recognize the importance of postsecondary training for career entry and professional advancement. The National Center for Education Statistics projects the undergraduate student population to grow from 16.8 million in 2017 to 17.2 million in 2028. By gaining college credentials, you can usually access more employment opportunities and higher pay, while minimizing your chances of unemployment. Additionally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that associate degree-holders earn about $7,000 more in annual salary than individuals with only high school diplomas.
Due to rising tuition prices, you may not want to complete all of your degree requirements at a traditional four-year institution. Community colleges offer relatively affordable and flexible programming that eases the transition into higher education. These two-year institutions can provide technical associate degrees and certificates that prepare you to enter the workforce upon graduation. Alternatively, you may pursue transfer-oriented credentials in broad fields like business management, computer science, psychology, and nursing. Community colleges also deliver online classes and continuing education opportunities.
Top 10 Community Colleges in Tennessee
- Walters State Community College - Morristown, TN
- Motlow State Community College - Tullahoma, TN
- Northeast State Community College - Blountville, TN
- Roane State Community College - Harriman, TN
- Columbia State Community College - Columbia, TN
- Pellissippi State Community College - Knoxville, TN
- Volunteer State Community College - Gallatin, TN
- Southwest Tennessee Community College - Memphis, TN
- Dyersburg State Community College - Dyersburg, TN
- Cleveland State Community College - Cleveland, TN
This guide details the 10 best community colleges in Tennessee and considers factors like tuition prices, financial aid availability, and student success rates. Each profile in this ranking covers a college's programmatic offerings and general admission criteria. You can also gain insight into study abroad opportunities and career services, if applicable. If a school piques your interest, contact the admissions office directly for additional information. Counselors can assist with enrollment and help you find scholarships.
By attending a community college in Tennessee, you stand to benefit from the state's growing economy, particularly in the manufacturing, information technology, financial, and tourism sectors. Tennessee boasts a low unemployment rate of 3.4% as of October 2019, which falls slightly below the national average. Additionally, Tennessee cities feature a low cost of living. Even in urban centers like Nashville, living expenses are 3% cheaper than the U.S. standard.
2020 Best Accredited Community Colleges in Tennessee
Walters State Community College
|Morristown, TN||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 26%||
Walters State Community College is located in Morristown and enrolls over 10,000 students across its four campuses. The school maintains an accessible admissions process that only requires candidates to complete an online application, furnish academic transcripts, and sit for assessment exams. In addition to low tuition prices, Walters State enables students to cut costs by earning transfer credits based on prior learning, military experience, professional certification/licensure, and standardized test scores. Financial aid is available and includes the Waters State Promise scholarship, which targets high-performing students from surrounding communities.
As one of the best community colleges in Tennessee, Walters State offers more than 150 technical certificates and associate degrees. Certificate options cover areas like culinary arts, clean energy technology, and production horticulture. Students can also pursue public safety certificates, with tracks for emergency medical technicians, paramedics, and law enforcement officers. Walters State's comprehensive associate programming includes degrees in mass communication, biology, social work, teacher education, and pre-allied health fields.
Motlow State Community College
|Tullahoma, TN||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 34%||
Based in Tullahoma, Motlow State Community College opened its doors in 1969 to a class of 551 students. Today, the school serves almost 7,000 students each semester across 11 Middle Tennessee counties. Learners pay affordable tuition prices based on residency status and may be eligible for financial support like state grants, federally funded work-study positions, and institutional awards. Motlow also offers distinct scholarships for honors students and candidates enrolled in music and art programs.
Motlow features associate programs in applied fields like mechatronics technology and cyberdefense. Students can also enroll in transfer-oriented programs in business administration, early childhood education, and health sciences. Additionally, Motlow operates a pre-law program that prepares students for bachelor's degree completion and eventually law school.
Setting itself apart from other community colleges in Tennessee, Motlow facilitates the Adult College Express program. This cohort-based program targets working professionals who want to earn an associate of general studies. Classes meet one night per week, with options for campus-based and online learning.
Northeast State Community College
|Blountville, TN||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 24%||
Northeast State Community College is a comprehensive two-year school that offers university parallel programs, career training, and continuing education opportunities. The school serves over 6,000 students at its Blountville campus and provides hybrid and fully remote classes through the TN eCampus initiative. The college facilitates state-sponsored financial aid programs like Tennessee Promise, Tennessee Reconnect, and the TN Lottery Scholarship. Students can also access numerous scholarships based on their academic achievements and areas of study.
Northeast State partners with the University of Tennessee to deliver associate programs that lead to direct transfer. Degree options include social work, nutrition and food science, and criminal justice. Students can also enroll in a pre-engineering track, which offers concentrations in civil, electrical, and mechanical engineering. Like other community colleges in Tennessee, Northeast State delivers technical associate and certificate programs in areas like dental assisting, combination welding, and HVAC. Candidates can also learn about aviation maintenance technology, with an emphasis on fuselage and electrical systems.
Roane State Community College
|Harriman, TN||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 30%||
Roane State Community College enrolls about 5,700 students at its nine campuses and learning centers. The school provides academic transfer programs, technical certificates, dual-enrollment options, and over 100 online classes powered by the Desire2Learn platform. As one of the best community colleges in Tennessee, Roane State boasts a 90% job placement rate and an 18-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio. The college also offers low tuition and ample scholarships and grants.
Undecided students can earn a general associate degree, which fully transfers to any of the school's partnering four-year institutions. Roane State also operates transferable two-year programs in areas like accounting, information technology, and international affairs. Furthermore, candidates can pursue pre-allied health training, which prepares them for bachelor's completion tracks in physical therapy, occupational therapy, and nursing.
For students interested in career training, Roane State delivers technical certificates for medical coding and advanced pharmacy technology. The school also offers a one-year program in geographic information systems. Candidates take coursework like computer cartography, database technology, and project management. They round out certificate training by completing an independent project.
Columbia State Community College
|Columbia, TN||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 28%||
Columbia State Community College was founded in 1966 as the first two-year school within the Tennessee Board of Regents system. Today, the institution supports more than 6,200 students and offers comprehensive academic transfer and career-entry programs. Columbia State also delivers workforce development and continuing education opportunities. Students benefit from an open-door admission policy and affordable tuition prices based on residency status.
Candidates can earn an associate of applied science, which prepares them to enter the job market after graduation. Degree options include medical informatics, computer information technology, and respiratory care. Students can also enroll in an anesthesia technology program, developing the skills needed to perform routine point of care testing, manage consumables, and place central lines and IVs.
Consistent with other community colleges in Tennessee, Columbia State operates university parallel majors and transfer pathways. Students can pick from associate degrees in graphic design, pre-clinical laboratory science, foreign language, and sport and leisure management. They can also enroll in an agriculture program, with tracks in animal science, agricultural business, and plant and soil science.
Pellissippi State Community College
|Knoxville, TN||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 27%||
Located in Knoxville, Pellissippi State Community College first opened its doors in 1974 to a class of 45 students. Today, the school serves roughly 11,000 learners and operates comprehensive certificate, technical associate, and university transfer programs. High school juniors and seniors can jumpstart their college education by pursuing dual enrollment.
Pellissippi State also facilitates the Tennessee Promise initiative, which provides scholarships and one-on-one mentoring to local students. To maintain their award, participants must earn a minimum 2.0 GPA and complete eight hours of community service each semester.
Pellissippi State operates transfer pathways in fields like elementary education, social work, marketing, and theater arts. Students can also earn a transferable associate of information systems, which prepares them for bachelor's completion tracks in business data analysis and computer programming. The college also delivers two-year career programs, with options like hospitality management and water quality technology. Like other community colleges in Tennessee, Pellissippi State oversees online education, flexible evening classes, and accelerated weekend programs.
Volunteer State Community College
|Gallatin, TN||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 23%||
Volunteer State Community College provides certificate and associate programs that cover roughly 100 areas of study. Students can pursue their credentials at the Gallatin campus or they can engage in online education. Through the school's online platform, Vol State delivers fully remote programming that includes technical certificates in high-demand industries like medical coding, logistics and supply chain management, and sleep diagnostics technology. Distance learners may also earn associate degrees in areas such as computer information technology, political science, and K-6 teaching.
Campus-based programming includes associate credentials in speech communication, general studies, and entertainment media productions. Vol State stands apart from many other community colleges in Tennessee by providing work-based learning options. These programs enable students to hold a relevant job while they study, thereby gaining valuable hands-on experiences crucial to post-graduation employment.
The college also operates an honors program for candidates who possess a minimum 3.5 GPA and an ACT score of at least 26. Additionally, Vol State facilitates study abroad programs for students interested in multicultural immersion.
Southwest Tennessee Community College
|Memphis, TN||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 10%||
Southwest Tennessee Community College is based in Memphis and supports over 9,300 students every semester. The school provides affordable, career-relevant certificates and associate degrees to the diverse communities of the state's mid-south region. Students pay affordable per-credit tuition prices based on residency status and program type.
Southwest provides financial aid, which includes foundational scholarships based on GPA and transfer awards for students who want to continue their studies at four-year institutions. The college further supports learners by offering tutoring services, career guidance, and campus childcare.
The school offers certificate programs that prepare graduates for careers as electrical technicians, industrial machinists, and quality assurance supervisors. Candidates can pursue technical associate degrees in areas like administrative professional technology and transportation management. Southwest also operates a two-year culinary arts program that combines classroom instruction with laboratory practice and industry experience. Like many of the best community colleges in Tennessee, Southwest delivers distance education options, including transfer-oriented associate degrees in business administration, fire science, and early childhood education.
Dyersburg State Community College
|Dyersburg, TN||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 17%||
Established in 1967, Dyersburg State Community College delivers comprehensive academic and career training at its main campus and two learning centers. The school also provides fully online and hybrid courses powered by Desire2Learn. To enroll, prospective students complete an online application and submit official transcripts. The college requires candidates under the age of 21 to submit ACT scores. High school juniors and seniors who want to pursue dual enrollment must possess a minimum 3.0 GPA. All learners may apply for state funding, campus employment, and institutional awards.
DSCC operates one-year certificate programs that allow candidates to work as certified nursing assistants, medical billers and coders, and emergency medical technicians. Students can also prepare for police academy training by earning a certificate in corrections and law enforcement.
At the associate level, technical degree options include advanced EMT-paramedic training and engineering systems technology. The college also operates nursing tracks for working paramedics and LPNs, as well as students without professional experience. As one of the best community colleges in Tennessee, DSCC offers a variety of transfer-oriented associate programs.
Cleveland State Community College
|Cleveland, TN||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 19%||
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.