Tennessee Online Colleges & Universities – Top Online Schools for ’15

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In 2013, Tennessee was ranked 13th in the nation for number of colleges and 23rd for student volume, with 185 colleges for prospective students to attend. From two-year institutions to four-year programs, students should have little trouble finding a school that fits their needs; it is no surprise that one of every 63 college students in the U.S. chose to study in the state. Whether the focus is a public university, religious institution or an online school, the diverse establishments in Tennessee give student hopefuls a variety of choices.

Ideal Tennessee Cities for Higher Education

Although found in various locales, many higher-learning institutions in Tennessee thrive in the state’s urban areas. Data for the major collegiate cities in Tennessee and their student populations is found here:

Most Popular Cities for College Students (Total)

  • Memphis (61,100)
  • Nashville (59,400)
  • Knoxville (44,500)
  • Chattanooga (28,900)
  • Murfreesboro (28,700)

Tennessee Communities with the Most Colleges (Total)

  • Nashville (33)
  • Memphis (29)
  • Knoxville (12)
  • Chattanooga (10)
  • Jackson 6)

Nashville Colleges and Universities

Today, the Nashville economic focus includes tourism and music, but the city’s largest employer is Vanderbilt University and Medical Center. Some 300 healthcare companies help make Nashville a hub of biotechnology and medical research. The city boasts of 21 four-year and postgraduate colleges and universities, six community colleges, and 11 career schools. According to the Nashville Chamber of Commerce, some 70,000 residents hold advanced degrees and more than 50 percent of residents aged 25 and older hold a bachelor’s degree.

Vanderbilt University, founded in 1873, is a private school known internationally for its programs in medicine, business and divinity. U.S. News and World Report (2014) ranked Vanderbilt first in the nation for graduate schools of education, 15th in law schools, and 17th among all national universities. Vandy offers 136 programs leading to bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. Distinguished alumni include two American vice presidents, seven Nobel Prize laureates and 25 Rhodes Scholars.

Nashville’s Fisk University has the distinction of evolving from a school for freed slaves in 1866 to an Historically Black University that today offers students 25 majors and certificate programs. Noted alumni include W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington. U.S. News has ranked Fisk fourth in the nation among historically black colleges and universities.

Nashville Online Schools and Courses

Students seeking accredited online degree and certificate programs can find a wealth of digital options in Nashville. For students wishing to complete an unfinished degree, Nashville State Community College offers a comprehensive completion program through the Southern Regional Education Board’s Electronic Campus. Tennessee State University (TSU) offers accredited, fully online programs for undergraduate students leading to bachelor’s degrees in professional studies in health administration, information technology and leadership. TSU offers accelerated degree programs as well as online graduate degrees in holistic nursing, education, traditional nursing, human resource and strategic leadership. Nashville’s Belmont University, a Christian college ranked seventh in Regional Universities by U.S. News, offers an extensive range of online degree programs for undergrads and graduates with a special focus on health sciences though its Gordon E. Inman College of Health Sciences and Nursing. Popular online programs include the RN-BSN nursing degree, doctorate of nursing practice and master’s of occupational therapy.

Tennessee Online Colleges

Many colleges and universities across the country now offer online or distance learning programs to supplement or replace traditional programs, and this trend is no different in Tennessee. In 2013, 28 four-year Tennessee colleges offered some form of online learning, whether an individual course or a full online degree program. The University of Tennessee aims to make higher education more affordable and accessible--as well as meet the unique demands of working professionals, parents, and out-of-state residents who wish to pursue higher education--through UT Online, which offers more than 40 web-based degree and certificate programs. Online students can earn a degree from one of the five campuses in a range of academic fields such as nursing, educational administration, family & consumer science, and dental hygiene.

The Cost of College in Tennessee

When looking for colleges to attend, students need to consider the cost of the degree they want to pursue. Tuition is generally the primary financial obligation for students, and this can vary between different schools and programs. Tennessee ranks 34th in the nation for in-state tuition, with students paying an average of $13,306 in 2012.

The cost of living (COL) is another factor prospective students should consider before making their final decision on a college. The COL index takes into account room and board, utilities, transportation, food and so on. Tennessee’s COL index is almost 10 percent below the national average, which can spell out savings for students choosing the state. For the COL index of major cities in Tennessee compared to the national average, take a look at the following table.

Urban Area Composite Index Housing Groceries Utilities Transportation Health Care Misc.
Cookeville -14.3% -28.6% -13.3% -17.1% -12.5% -12.9% -1.8%
Johnson City -13.3% -25.6% -7.7% -10.9% -8.3% -8.5% -7.4%
Murfreesboro-Smyrna -11.8% -23.8% -5.7% -19.0% -7.3% -4.2% -3.8%
Memphis -11.8% -23.8% -7.3% -13.1% -8.5% -1.4% -4.8%
Dyersburg -11.4% -26.2% -6.6% -4.8% -7.1% -13.7% -3.3%
Nashville-Franklin -11.1% -28.7% -8.3% -17.4% -7.5% -12.7% 4.5%
Knoxville -10.6% -18.0% -8.6% -4.9% -15.8% -11.6% -4.9%
Jackson-Madison County -9.8% -25.8% -8.9% -1.1% 0.0% -8.5% -1.9%
Morristown -9.1% -18.5% -8.4% -19.5% -6.1% -9.9% 1.4%
Chattanooga -8.9% -16.0% -2.6% -17.5% -3.6% -6.7% -4.3%
Clarksville -7.0% -14.0% -12.1% -13.5% -6.1% -1.3% 2.3%
Cleveland -6.6% -12.3% 1.6% 3.4% -8.1% -8.7% -7.1%

In addition to cost of living, students need to be mindful of return on investment (ROI) when evaluating colleges. In other words, will the degree a student earns hold value in the marketplace? The following Tennessee colleges offered the highest ROIs in 2013:

  • Christian Brothers University
  • Vanderbilt University
  • Tennessee Tech
  • University of Tennessee
  • Southern Adventist University

FAFSA, Scholarships, and Other Financial Aid Options

Paying for college can seem like a frightening prospect, but both federal and private financial aid can be a boon for would-be students. To receive federal aid, students must fill out certain FAFSA forms to determine the amount of aid they may be eligible to receive from the government. In 2012, 73 percent of undergraduate students in Tennessee were given federal aid, ranking it 8th in the nation for students receiving federal aid.

Private scholarships are another invaluable resource for students looking for financial aid and can cover the excess costs that federal aid may not cover. The amount of aid awarded and the requirements for application vary between scholarships, and are often based on the accomplishments and abilities of the applicants. Major Tennessee associations and companies that offer scholarships are listed below:

  • AQHF Swayze Woodruff Memorial
  • Herb Society of Nashville
  • James A. Hyter Vocal Scholarship Fund
  • National Association of Junior Auxiliaries
  • Ned McWherter Scholars Program
  • Scarlett Family Foundation
  • Stegall Charitable Educational Foundation
  • Tennessee General Assembly
  • Tennessee Grocers Education Foundation
  • Tennessee Trucking Association
  • William Reid Frazier Memorial

College Accreditation

As potential students in Tennessee begin looking at possible colleges, they should ensure that a school is accredited by an organization such as the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (http://www.sacs.org/), the main regional accrediting agency for Tennessee. In additional to regional accreditation, individual colleges, programs, or departments within an institution can hold programmatic or specialized accreditation. The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, College of Business Administration, for example, has maintained accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) since 1941. In Spring 2012, UT received continued accreditation for five years for its College of Business Administration as well as its accounting program. Accrediting organizations evaluate colleges and universities on criteria such as the quality of instructors, degree programs and school facilities. This process can confirm that schools meet certain standards, and it is also a determining factor for whether the U.S. government awards federal aid for students attending the institution.


College decisions can be a daunting task; whether it is financial obligations, learning style or a final choice of which college to attend, prospective students have many factors to evaluate. This guide contains a wealth of topics to consider, but the Tennessee school profiles below should guide further research and provide more concrete details as students continue in this decision-making process.

We encourage students to find online programs that fit their financial needs, but affordability is not the only factor to consider when choosing a school. Wanting to better understand the landscape of online learning in Tennessee, we spoke with Trevecca Nazarene University about their online offerings. Read on:

Online Departments in Tennessee
  • Trevecca Nazarene University -

    How would you describe your institution's approach to online learning?

    We are committed to taking a learner-centric approach to online learning. We understand that this is not about the technology. It’s all about our learners. We continually evaluate our programs for ways that we might improve the learning experience. We seek to support the unique learning styles and personality preferences of each learner. Our faculty are closely engaged with the courses and our advisors are in frequent contact with each learner. This level of support and commitment is a huge value to learners progressing through our programs.

    What makes your online programs so valuable to students?

    Our students often tell us how pleased they are with the level of support they receive from our faculty and staff. Clearly the learning and the skill development in our courses are the ultimate outcomes. We pride ourselves on those things. However, if a learner cannot get to the support they need or cannot find the resources they need, then they will never achieve their learning goals. Our level of student care sets us above many of the other programs in our market today.

    Where do you see your online programs in the next five years? Beyond?

    Trevecca Nazarene University is committed to becoming a leader in online education in Middle Tennessee over the next five years. Our president and board are firmly behind this goal and we are bringing in the best talent to make this happen. Our faculty are very creative in their classroom innovations. This creates a fantastic experience for our learners. As we move forward, our goal is to maximize the potential of the technology while simultaneously allowing it to recede into the background. We do not want the technology to be the centerpiece. The center belongs always to our valued learners.

Tennessee leads the way in online distance learning opportunities. From degrees to certifications, all can be earned from fully online degree programs in Tennessee. Often these degrees are considered equivalent to those granted to on-campus students. With more flexibility than on-site education, online programs still carry similar benefits, such as comparable tuition assistance and identical curriculum. For potential students seeking four-year Tennessee online colleges, we compiled a comprehensive list. These are the premiere online schools in Tennessee, listed in order from lowest tuition to highest. Search here for the best online program that meets your needs in Tennessee.

Click here to see our methodology.
Tennessee State University
Tuition and fees: $6,426 Enrollment: 8,231 Accredited: YES Website: Tennessee State University

Tennessee State University has eighteen fully online degree programs for its undergraduate and graduate students, respectively. Distance learning options focus on professional studies, with concentrations in leadership, nursing, teaching, and more. A number of professional licensure programs are available, as well, making TSU one of the up-and-coming online colleges in Tennessee.

Austin Peay State University
Tuition and fees: $6,648 Enrollment: 11,564 Accredited: YES Website: Austin Peay State University

Austin Peay State University allows students to earn a degree online through the Austin Peay Online program or the Regents Online Degree Programs. By combining both systems, there are plenty of degree programs that a student can take advantage of through these online colleges in Tennessee. Students can work toward an associate, bachelor’s, or master’s degree at Austin Peay or the RODP.

Tennessee Technological University
Tuition and fees: $6,692 Enrollment: 10,940 Accredited: YES Website: Tennessee Technological University

Not only does Tennessee Tech University offer an impressive list of undergraduate and graduate degrees online, they also have many other online programs designed to further a student’s education. This variety makes Tennessee Tech a clear choice for consideration out of all the online colleges in Tennessee.

East Tennessee State University
Tuition and fees: $6,715 Enrollment: 14,194 Accredited: YES Website: East Tennessee State University

East Tennessee University offers students the opportunity to earn a graduate degree without having to commit their time to come to campus, so it’s an awesome choice when looking into online colleges in Tennessee. The on-site teachers are the same ones who teach class online so that the virtual ETU experience is as close to the real one as possible.

The University of Tennessee-Martin
Tuition and fees: $7,049 Enrollment: 8,581 Accredited: YES Website: The University of Tennessee-Martin

University of Tennessee Martin (UTM) offers online and distance learning education programs designed to fit your needs, at an affordable price. From undergraduate programs in Business Administration, Nursing, and Agriculture, to online graduate studies Banking / Financial Services, Education, and Consumer Science, UTM has online programs for almost every prospective student. Additional programs include Paralegal Studies, Teaching and Educational Leadership.

Middle Tennessee State University
Tuition and fees: $7,210 Enrollment: 26,958 Accredited: YES Website: Middle Tennessee State University

Middle Tennessee State allows you to create a graduate degree schedule that works around your life so that you can be as prepared for success as possible when furthering your education. The school offers a variety of online, hybrid and off-campus options for distance students, making it one of the more flexible online colleges in Tennessee.

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
Tuition and fees: $7,212 Enrollment: 10,941 Accredited: YES Website: The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

With plenty of resources to help out distance students and an already-stellar reputation, it’s no wonder that the University of Tennessee is considered by many to be one of the better online colleges in Tennessee. A multitude of both graduate and undergraduate degrees can be obtained through UT’s online school, so it’s definitely worth a look.

University of Memphis
Tuition and fees: $7,904 Enrollment: 20,650 Accredited: YES Website: University of Memphis

The University of Memphis boasts an impressive list of online degree programs, making it one of the biggest online colleges in Tennessee. Degrees are offered through UM’s schools of nursing, business, engineering, education and more. While many schools typically offer similar degrees through their online programs, UM gives student’s access to more unique programs.

The University of Tennessee
Tuition and fees: $9,092 Enrollment: 22,963 Accredited: YES Website: The University of Tennessee

With plenty of resources to help out distance students and an already-stellar reputation, it’s no wonder that the University of Tennessee is considered by many to be one of the better online colleges in Tennessee. A multitude of both graduate and undergraduate degrees can be obtained through UT’s online school, so it’s definitely worth a look.

American Baptist College
Tuition and fees: $9,372 Enrollment: 110 Accredited: YES Website: American Baptist College

An online college in Tennessee, American Baptist College was founded in 1924 and offers a variety of online degrees and courses including the following; Associate of Arts, General Studies Degree courses, Bachelor of Arts, Human Services Degree courses, Old Testament Prophets, The Epistles of Paul, Contemporary Health Issues, Liberation Ethics, African American Spirituality, Introduction to Theology, Development of Western Culture, Baptist History and Old Testament. The mission statement of the American Baptist College is as follows “Educating, graduating and preparing a predominantly African American student population for Christian leadership, service and social justice in the world.”

Johnson University
Tuition and fees: $10,250 Enrollment: 763 Accredited: YES Website: Johnson University

With over 50 years of offering distant learning, Johnson University provides a quality Christian education. An online college in Tennessee, Johnson University offers the following online courses; Biblical Studies, Intercultural Studies, Ministry Leadership, MA New Testament, MA Intercultural Studies Program, Undergraduate Distant Learning and Ph.D. Leadership Studies. This college offers advising, financial aid, career planning, health services, on-campus church and much more.

Tennessee Temple University
Tuition and fees: $12,120 Enrollment: 851 Accredited: YES Website: Tennessee Temple University

Tennessee Temple University is one of the handful of private, not-for-profit online colleges in Tennessee. There are many programs available at the school which focus on theology, business, and more. Whether a student is looking to continue their education or just get started, TTU is a great place to be.

Lee University
Tuition and fees: $13,370 Enrollment: 5,042 Accredited: YES Website: Lee University

Students looking for Christian online colleges in Tennessee will be interested in the great programs offered by Lee University. Their school of theology offers a variety of degrees based on Christian ministry and leadership, and a single master’s in ministry studies is offered, as well.

Bethel University
Tuition and fees: $14,520 Enrollment: 5,642 Accredited: YES Website: Bethel University

Bethel University in St. Paul offers an online college choice in Minnesota, through their InMinistry Distance Learning Program, for those in the ministry that are seeking online work to attain their degree. Online courses are offered as a part of the curriculum for many master’s and doctoral programs the university offers.

Southern Adventist University
Tuition and fees: $19,124 Enrollment: 3,018 Accredited: YES Website: Southern Adventist University

Southern Adventist University is a private non-for-profit school that offers four different graduate degree programs for students to obtain master’s degrees in global community development, education & psychology, business & management and nursing. Courses are offered all year round, so this is one of the online colleges in Tennessee that prospective students should definitely be interested in.

Bryan College-Dayton
Tuition and fees: $20,150 Enrollment: 2,156 Accredited: YES Website: Bryan College-Dayton

Bryan College has been offering accredited online degree programs since the early nineties and now features five bachelor’s degree options. The classes are held in a 100% online environment so that students can work from home. The school is Christ-focused and provides a great education as one of the many private online colleges in Tennessee.

Cumberland University
Tuition and fees: $20,200 Enrollment: 1,422 Accredited: YES Website: Cumberland University

The 100% virtual campus at Cumberland University allows students to study in one of four fields from the comfort of their own home or at the local coffee shop. These programs are designed to help students further themselves in life and can be a big help for those interested in online colleges in Tennessee.

Freed-Hardeman University
Tuition and fees: $20,468 Enrollment: 1,587 Accredited: YES Website: Freed-Hardeman University

At the Freed-Hardeman University, big investments have been made in the online department, as the faculty and staff understand the necessity and importance of online colleges in Tennessee. These courses can help a dedicated student become successful in the world after college, so FHU is definitely a school worth looking into.

Tennessee Wesleyan College
Tuition and fees: $21,200 Enrollment: 1,231 Accredited: YES Website: Tennessee Wesleyan College

Tennessee Wesleyan College has a number of programs available for students to study from the comfort of their own homes. They understand the importance of working adults that need to continue their education but don’t have the ability to come to campus, which is why they are one of the great online colleges in Tennessee.

Trevecca Nazarene University
Tuition and fees: $21,290 Enrollment: 1,662 Accredited: YES Website: Trevecca Nazarene University

Trevecca Nazarene University offers both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in four different fields, allowing students to further their academic and professional careers at a pace which doesn’t require them to have to come into a physical classroom. The private education that students receive at TNU is top-notch, making it one of the great online colleges in Tennessee.

Carson-Newman College
Tuition and fees: $22,652 Enrollment: 1,805 Accredited: YES Website: Carson-Newman College

Carson-Newman University offers a staggering number of courses to students seeking to enroll in one of the many online colleges in Tennessee. There are also plenty of resources available to prospective students looking to start taking online courses, as the school wants students to make the most out of their online education.

Lipscomb University
Tuition and fees: $24,754 Enrollment: 3,182 Accredited: YES Website: Lipscomb University

Lipscomb University offers an Adult Degree Program that is tailored specifically for students who don’t have the time to show up to a physical classroom every day. There are a multitude of bachelor’s degrees available that students can work toward from home, ranging from psychology to education. Lipscomb is truly one of the more varied online colleges in Tennessee.

King College
Tuition and fees: $24,960 Enrollment: 2,265 Accredited: YES Website: King College

The King University Online program has plenty of degree options for students looking for a bachelor’s, and there are also two master’s programs and one associate degree available. As one of the bigger online colleges in Tennessee, King allows students can take advantage of a number of different career paths.

Union University
Tuition and fees: $25,650 Enrollment: 3,575 Accredited: YES Website: Union University

Union University is a Christian college offering a number of online graduate programs in business, education, ministry and nursing. Union Online is easy to use and is perfect for students looking to further their education through one of the great online colleges in Tennessee.

Belmont University
Tuition and fees: $26,130 Enrollment: 5,212 Accredited: YES Website: Belmont University

The program at Belmont is mostly online, but there are some courses that a student must take at the physical campus. Still, this is one of the great online colleges in Tennessee for students looking to obtain a bachelors in nursing, as the school is primarily focused on nursing and therefore able to dedicate more time and energy to a quality education.

Milligan College
Tuition and fees: $26,760 Enrollment: 1,100 Accredited: YES Website: Milligan College

One great thing about Milligan College is that it provides students with plenty of opportunities for success in the online classroom. There are a staggering number of classes offered that students can take advantage of, and as with the other online colleges in Tennessee, Milligan allows students to take these classes all from home.

Christian Brothers University
Tuition and fees: $27,290 Enrollment: 1,591 Accredited: YES Website: Christian Brothers University

In addition to an impressive number of graduate and undergraduate degrees, Christian Brothers University also offers a number of certificates, all of which can be applied toward career advancements in the future. As one of the many private, not-for-profit online colleges in Tennessee, CBU strives to provide a quality education to each of its individual students.

Rhodes College
Tuition and fees: $38,092 Enrollment: 1,842 Accredited: YES Website: Rhodes College

Rhodes College, a private, co-educational college in Nashville, has a strong commitment to liberal arts and sciences education. Rhodes offers degree programs at multiple academic levels, each one focused on foundational courses, major courses, electives and co-curricular activities.