2018 Guide to Accredited Online Colleges and Universities in Tennessee

Tennessee offers a diverse collection of more than 190 colleges and universities, in many of which students can earn their degree from a fully-online program.

From specialty vocational schools and community colleges, to public research institutions and private universities, the distance education programs available in Tennessee are not hard to come by. Home to some of the nation’s most prestigious colleges, including Vanderbilt University and Belmont University, the state provides students with the chance to receive an exceptional educational experience in a convenient, flexible format.

Tennessee’s Online Education Profile

When it comes to the popularity of online colleges in TN, 22.9% of students are enrolled in distance courses. Though that number has been steadily rising, it is still lower than the national average from 2016, which was 25.8%.

The Regents Online Campus Collaborative (ROCC) provides a central networking system for browsing online colleges in TN. As the largest online consortium in the state, the ROCC provides resources from more than 40 colleges, universities, and training facilities that offer online degrees in TN.

Featured Online Schools

Check out TN eCampus for a comprehensive list of some of the best Tennessee online colleges —or simply to browse available online classes in TN.

Overview of Tennessee’s Higher Education Profile

Number/Percentage Tennessee National Average
Number of Title IV 4-year colleges 76 56
Number of Title IV 2-year colleges 33 33
Percentage of students enrolled in distance education 22.9% 25.8%
Postsecondary education spending per full-time student $7,001 $6,954
Percentage of adults over 25 with associate degree 6.6% 8.1%
Percentage of adults over 25 with bachelor’s degree 15.9% 18.5%
Percentage of adults over 25 with graduate degree or higher 9.0% 11.2%

Sources: NCES, SHEEO, U.S. Census Bureau – American Community Survey

Average Cost of College Tuition & Fees in Tennessee

Number/Percentage Tennessee National Average
Average in-state tuition & fees – public 4-year $8,932 $8,778
Average in-state tuition & fees – private 4-year $25,053 $27,951
Average in-state tuition & fees – public 2-year $3,940 $3,038
Average in-state tuition & fees – private 2-year $13,086 $14,138

Source: NCES, College Tuition Compare

Best Online Colleges in Tennessee

The University of Tennessee is the state’s largest university system, however there are an additional six public and 47 private nonprofit universities. The community college system is the largest education system in the state, containing 13 two-year schools.

Tennessee also has 70 online schools, the largest of which is UT Online, which brings its courses to students with the same academic rigor and standards as its on-campus classes.

In addition to offering online courses in a variety of subjects, Vanderbilt University in Nashville also offers online courses for free through Coursera. Non-university students may also enroll in Coursera classes, which can count towards university credits.

This ranking of the best Tennessee online schools will provide insight to help you find the right fit for your educational needs.

Below are our rankings for the best online colleges in TN:


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Tennessee’s Higher Education Outlook

Recent reports from the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC), including the annual Tennessee Higher Education Fact Book and the interactive 2017 Profiles and Trends in Higher Education, reveal that more Tennesseans are going to college than ever before, and fewer need remediation. These trends are expected to continue in future years as objectives under the Drive to 55 mission of Governor Haslam to get 55% of Tennesseans equipped with a college degree or certificate by the year 2025.

Higher Education Initiatives in Tennessee

Tennessee’s Drive to 55 was launched in 2013. The goal to have 55% of Tennesseans equipped with a college degree or certificate by the year 2025 is not just considered a mission for higher education, but also a mission for Tennessee’s workforce and economic development.

In the face of rising tuition costs and student debt, Tennessee has also been able meet demand for scholarships and grants, and has a lower student debt compared to other states.
The Tennessee Higher Education Commission also reported on 2017 highlights and successes, including:

  • The number of college-going high school graduates increased by 16.4% between 2012 and 2016, from approximately 33,233 students to 38,698 students.
  • The number of first-time freshmen requiring learning support in math went from 71.1%in 2011 to 53.7% in 2016; overall remediation dropped from 76.8%of first-time freshmen in 2011 to 62.4% in 2016.
  • Tennessee ranks fourth among the 16 Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) states in the amount of state grant aid per full-time equivalent (FTE) student. Tennessee provides $1,513 in grant aid per FTE student, 24.0% of which is need-based aid. By comparison, the SREB average is $893 in grant aid per FTE student, 40.7% of which is need-based aid.

Resources for Tennessee

Within the state of Tennessee, legislature, higher education agencies, and governing boards as well as nonprofits are aligned in their fight to keep higher education tuition fees affordable and stable.

Across the state, there is a focus on making higher education accessible to everyone. Efforts to help fund low-income families in the pursuit of a college education are a priority for many organizations.

The state is unified in its efforts to provide a high-quality higher education to prepare its residents for strong job prospects and a thriving career.

Within Tennessee, several resources exist to support prospective students in their pursuit of higher education at brick and mortar or online schools in TN; these resources are designed to inform and support students across all relevant areas – from funding to development.

  • Southern Regional Education Board: SREB Is the interstate commission of which Tennessee is a member. The board works with member states to improve public education at every level, and help policymakers make informed decisions by providing independent, accurate data and recommendations.
  • Humanities Tennessee: This council serves Tennesseans by supporting individuals and participants in community life in their examination and reflection of narratives, traditions, beliefs, and ideas, expressed through art and letters. Many literary, historical, and cultural programs are facilitated through the council.
  • Tennessee Adult Education Division: The adult education division delivers educational services to adults who are over the age of 17 and who are lacking a high school diploma and no longer under compulsory attendance to public high school. Through Adult Basic Education classes across the state, adults are assessed to determine their level of education and provided coursework to improve their skills in math, science, social studies, reading, writing, and employability. These classes are designed to equip the student with the knowledge necessary to earn a High School Equivalency Diploma and enter employment and/or postsecondary education.
  • The College System of Tennessee – Community Colleges: The Office of Community Colleges provides strategic direction, coordination, and support to the 13 Tennessee public community colleges to help ensure that the colleges meet the needs of the region and community, support the economic and educational success of students and employees, and promote innovative policies that allow for continual improvement of programs and services.
  • Tennessee State Library & Archives Agency: The Tennessee State Library and Archives collects and preserves books and records of historical, documentary, and reference value, and promotes library and archival development throughout the state.
  • Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation – College Pays: TSAC administers over 20 different state-student financial aid programs, including the HOPE scholarship, Tennessee Promise, Tennessee Reconnect, Tennessee Student Assistance Award, and the Dual Enrollment grant. To increase awareness and participation in its financial aid programs, the agency conducts financial aid outreach and training to students and staff at every high school and postsecondary institution in the state.

College Savings Plans

A 529 plan is a tax-advantaged savings plan designed to encourage saving for future college costs. All fifty states have at least one of the two types of 529 plans available.

Tennessee has the TNStars College Savings 529 Program, which is run by the Tennessee State Treasury Department and operates in a direct-sold model, meaning individuals do not require a financial advisor to facilitate enrollment. It’s a prepaid unit plan with no state residency requirements or enrollment fees, and a minimum opening contribution of only $25. In-state participants are also incentivized to rollover other college savings plans with the promise of $100 added to their plan.

Like most 529 programs, the earnings are not subject to federal income taxes as long as the money is used for qualifying college expenses.

Educational Nonprofit Organizations in Tennessee

In Tennessee, several nonprofit organizations exist to improve higher education within the state, with the intent to build and improve communities, improve educational standards, and help families move towards their higher education goals. These organizations are designed to improve the experiences of students attending colleges on campus or online in TN, through support, community-enhancing initiatives, and funding, based either on need or on merit.

Here are a few of Tennessee’s nonprofit organizations:

  • Tennessee Promise: This is both a scholarship and mentoring program focused on increasing the number of students that attend college in our state. It provides students a last-dollar scholarship, meaning the scholarship will cover tuition and fees not covered by the Pell grant, the HOPE scholarship, or state student assistance funds. Students may use the scholarship at any of the state’s 13 community colleges, 27 colleges of applied technology, or other eligible institution offering an associate degree program.
  • Higher Education Recruitment Consortium: The Greater Tennessee HERC is a non-profit chapter of a national consortium of over 700 colleges, universities, research labs, government agencies, and related non- and for-profit organizations. Consortium members share a commitment to hiring the most diverse and talented faculty, staff, and executives, working towards providing students in the state of Tennessee the best education possible.
  • Tennessee Higher Education Sustainability Association: THESA is a non-profit organization dedicated to adding value to and promoting sustainability initiatives taking place within higher education institutions in Tennessee. It seeks to ensure the societal movement toward sustainability is reflected in and promoted by Tennessee campuses across the state.

Accrediting Bodies in Tennessee

It’s important to attend an accredited college or university in order to ensure an institution meets or exceeds the minimum standards of quality. Accrediting bodies exist both nationally and regionally, and help to determine criteria important for universities to meet, as well as ensure all those deemed as accredited are meeting such criteria.

For students, seeking an accredited institution will help to ensure that you enroll at a school that will provide a high-quality education and prepare you properly for your career field. It’s particularly valuable to research accredited programs when you’re looking at online schools in TN, as both lesser-known programs and renowned institutions alike can offer online courses.
There are several recognized accrediting bodies within brick and mortar and online schools in TN – some that accredit nationally, and some that accredited regionally.

Regionally accredited institutions can be academics- or career-oriented, non-profit or for-profit state-owned or private institutions.

Nationally accredited schools can also be academics- or career-oriented for-profit or non -profit institutions of higher learning with programs in business, health science, nursing, computer science, or liberal arts. Both regional and national accreditations are recognized by the United States Department of Education (USDoE) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).

  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools – Commission on Colleges: SACSCOC is a regional body for the accreditation of higher education institutions in the southern states. Accreditation by the Commission on Colleges signifies that an institution has a purpose appropriate to higher education and has resources, programs, and services sufficient to accomplish and sustain that purpose.
  • Distance Education & Training Council: DETC has a mission to promote sound educational standards and ethical business practices within the correspondence field. Both the U. S. Department of Education and CHEA recognize this accrediting commission, and it has emerged as a leader in global distance learning. If you are looking at online colleges in TN, you’ll want to look for this accreditation.
  • Council of Occupational Education: COE is a regional accrediting association that serves institutions in an 11-state region, including Tennessee. The mission of the Council is assuring quality and integrity in career and technical education. The Tennessee Board of Regents system consists of 46 educational institutions, 27 of which are colleges of applied technology. Spread across both urban and rural regions of Tennessee, these institutions are singularly focused on workforce development.

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Job Outlook for Tennessee

According to the Department of Labor & Workforce Development of Tennessee’s government, May 2017 unemployment rates have decreased in 94 of the state’s counties and remained steady in one, and this is on the heels of the lowest state unemployment rate in nearly 20 years.

Davidson County holds the lowest major metropolitan rate of unemployment at 2.1%, a decline from 2.7% during the prior month, while Knox County’s rate is 2.5%, decreasing from April’s 3.1%.

Additionally, publication 24/7 Wallstreet reported that Tennessee housed five of the top 25 cities in the U.S. with the most job growth between October of 2015 and October of 2016, including the Nashville metropolitan area, which includes Murfreesboro and Franklin, as well as Knoxville, Clarksville, Cleveland, and Morristown.

Below, we’ve outlined Tennessee’s top-ranking industries and largest employers in the state.

Top Industries in Tennessee

Industry Description
Trade, Transportation, & Utilities Includes wholesale trade, retail trade, transportation and warehousing, and utilities.
Education & Health Services Includes those in education services, healthcare, and social assistance roles.
Government Includes any jobs within the formal government and public services sector.

Source: BLS

Top Employers in Tennessee

Top Employers Number of Employees
Vanderbilt University and Hospitals 60,000
Eastman Chemical Co. 14,000
Nissan North America Inc. 6,500

Tennessee by the Numbers

Per capita income:

  • State: $43,380
  • US average: $29,979

Median household income:

  • State: $47,275
  • US average: $55,775

Gross Domestic Product:

  • State: $328.8 billion
  • US: $18.57 trillion