Best Community Colleges in Tennesse

Especially if you're an adult student returning to school after spending some time away from higher education, furthering your education at a community college can be a great decision. Tennessee is one of the only states with a tuition-free program for older adults, offered through its Tennessee Reconnect initiative.

Community colleges in Tennessee are part of a 40-school system overseen by the Tennessee Board of Regents. The system includes community colleges, which offer academic programs as well as career training, and colleges of applied technology that focus on technical workforce and career development programs. Students looking for additional flexibility in their community college schedule can find hundreds of online courses, certificate programs and degree programs available through the state's TN eCampus division.

From short term certificates to associate degrees, the best community colleges in Tennessee work to meet the needs of traditional students, adult learners and everyone in between. Keep reading to learn more about the best Tennessee community colleges and get some tips on how your credits can transfer to a four-year college or university.



Southwest Tennessee Community College (Memphis)

At Southwest Tennessee Community College, students from all walks of life can find educational programs to meet their needs. The Memphis school offers associate degrees, continuing education, corporate training, career readiness, music programs and more.

The catalog at Southwest contains both on-campus and online degrees. Students looking for online coursework can choose among four Tennessee Transfer Pathway degrees and vocational programs in management, computer software and logistics and transportation. Campus-based programs include a phlebotomy certificate and a degree plan in electrical engineering technology.

Beyond academics, Southwest Tennessee Community College has a vibrant campus life with a number of student organizations and clubs. The school's athletic program fields teams in five sports and includes a top-ranked men's basketball team.


Roane State Community College (Harriman)

Roane State Community College aims to be a place where students can grow, succeed and see results, and the numbers show some encouraging signs. The student-faculty ratio at this Harriman school was tied for the top spot in the state among public community colleges, and nearly 20 of its programs boasts a job placement rate of 100 percent.

The school is one of the top online colleges in Tennessee, reporting the state's second-highest rate of distance education enrollment and offering several fully online programs. The list of distance learning programs here includes options in geographic information systems, computer information technology and health information management. Even if their degree is not offered fully online, students may be able to take online courses to help meet their program's requirements.


Columbia State Community College (Columbia)

Columbia State Community College isn't just one of the best community colleges in Tennessee. It's also been named one of the best two-year schools in the country by The Aspen Institute, a nonprofit leadership organization.

More than 6,200 students are enrolled in credit classes at Columbia State. Traditional academic programs in geography, history, the humanities and more prepare them for future study at the bachelor's level, and technical certificate programs in computer networking, Web design and hospitality and tourism management can train them for the workforce.

On the main Columbia campus of Columbia State, students can join clubs, academic organizations and intramural sports teams. A Peer Leaders program allows second-year students to help new first-year learners make a successful transition to college life.


Jackson State Community College (Jackson)

Students at Jackson State Community College have a range of flexibility options to choose from. Distance education is a popular option here, with more than 42 percent of students enrolled in at least one online class in 2018, and certain campus-based degrees and courses may be available in the evenings or on weekends.

Several programs in the health sciences are available at JSCC, including four certificates in emergency medical technology and an Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree in respiratory care. Business administration and computer information technology degrees offer several study concentrations as well.

This Jackson school may also be a good choice for cost-conscious students. Although all of our best Tennessee community colleges feature relatively affordable costs, JSCC charged the lowest average in-state tuition on our list.


Motlow State Community College (Tullahoma)

Student success was one category of our analysis where Motlow State Community College stood out above the rest. No other school that made our top ten reported a higher percentage of first-year students returning to enroll in the second year of their programs, and its graduation rate was the highest of any public two-year school in the state.

Adult students who have been out of school for a while have an extra benefit at Motlow. Adult College Express (ACE), an initiative geared toward non-traditional students, offers degree completion in 24 months or less, access to peer-based study groups and more.

Nearly 30 Tennessee Transfer Program degrees are available here, in subjects such as civil engineering, mass communications, physics and computer science. Two certificates in early childhood education are available as well.


Volunteer State Community College (Gallatin)

Found in central Tennessee, Volunteer State Community College welcomes roughly 9,100 students through its doors each semester. There are five main academic divisions here: business and technology, mathematics and science, humanities, health sciences and social science and education.

Those five departments combine to offer more than 100 degree and certificate programs for students to choose from. Online A.A.S. degrees are available in computer disciplines like programming, networking and systems administration. Certificates in criminal justice, veterinary assisting, fire science and more are offered on campus.

At the school's flagship Gallatin campus, students can join one of numerous organizations, cheer on one of Vol State's four athletic teams or get academic help at the campus Learning Commons. Outside of Gallatin, Vol State maintains learning centers in Livingston, Springfield and Cookeville.


Pellissippi State Community College (Knoxville)

Students hoping to transfer to a four-year college or university after finishing their associate degree might find themselves among like-minded peers at Pellissippi State Community College. This Knoxville institution posted the state's highest percentage of former students who successfully completed their bachelor's degree after transferring out.

If you're hoping for some help with your tuition bills, also, Pellissippi State can help. Nearly 95 percent of enrolled students in 2018 were awarded some form of financial aid package.

Campus-based students hoping for some schedule flexibility can find several degrees available exclusively through evening or weekend classes, such as A.A.S. plans in medical office technology and paralegal studies. Close to 30 certificates, including subjects like videography and sustainability, can be earned in a year or less.


Nashville State Community College (Nashville)

Nashville State Community College has been educating area students at its main campus in the state's capital since 1970. Initially enrolling fewer than 400 students and offering five associate degrees, the school now features more than 80 degree and certificate programs at six campus locations.

NSCC has six academic divisions that house programs for business, nursing, computer technology and more. Nashville State also offers professional development, online courses and an honors college to meet its students' varying educational needs.

Technical certificates available at NSCC include computer-aided drafting (CAD), logistics, medical coding, surgical technology and law enforcement. A.A.S. programs are offered in high-demand subjects like nursing, occupational therapy assisting and business administration, as well as valuable industrial career fields like architectural design technology and industrial process control technology.


Dyersburg State Community College (Dyersburg)

Founded in 1969, Dyersburg State Community College is proud of its affordability. DSCC estimates that completing your first two years of college coursework on its campus could amount to a 50 percent discount on the tuition you would pay at a public, four-year institution.

Students who plan to transfer to a four-year school after graduating from DSCC have more than 30 Tennessee Transfer Pathway plans available to them. Transfer subjects include early childhood education, plant and soil science, political science, mathematics and world languages.

For those who aren't interested in a bachelor's degree, several career-focused programs are available as well. A fast-track LPN to RN program is available for working licensed practical nurses, and a 50-hour pharmacy technology program can be completed for a flat fee of less than $1,000.


Walters State Community College (Morristown)

Named for former U.S. Senator Herbert S. Walters, Walters State Community College first opened its doors in 1970. The Morristown school educates more than 6,100 students through its Morristown, Sevierville, Greenville and Tazewell campuses.

WSCC offers more than 150 associate degrees and technical certificates through its eight academic divisions. More than 50 Tennessee Transfer Pathway plans are offered here, including social work, music, special education and philosophy. An Associate of Fine Arts (A.F.A.) in musical theatre combines study in dance, voice and acting.

If you're looking to gain some core skills of the economy of the future, WSCC offers four certificate plans in clean energy technology. Students can also participate in more than 40 clubs or attend more than 60 events each year in the college's Expo Center.

CTE in Tennessee

Career technical education (CTE) programs focus on preparing students for skilled jobs in the workforce while also providing academic instruction that can set them up for success. Statistics show that the CTE approach in Tennessee is working — 98 percent of students who concentrate on CTE subjects in high school successfully earn their diplomas.

College students who pursue CTE programs in Tennessee also have an impressive record of success, particularly after graduation. Roughly 90 percent of students who earn a college-level CTE credential landed in steady jobs, apprenticeships or military service within six months of finishing their training program.

For more detailed information about CTE efforts in Tennessee, check out these helpful resources:

  • The career and technical education page posted by the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) features insight into CTE programs in Tennessee, a list of the state's promoted industry certifications and more.
  • Find out more about the career clusters that the state takes into account when authorizing career technical education programs elsewhere on the TDOE site.
  • Learn about dual-enrollment CTE programs, which allow high school students to enroll in college courses before they earn their diplomas, from the career and technical education page at Northeast State Community College.

College-level CTE programs in Tennessee are administered primarily at the state's 40 public two-year schools, of which 13 are community colleges and 27 serve as colleges of applied technology. Different career technical education options may be available at each institution, so be sure to check with an adviser at your intended school to find out whether the program you want will be available.

Transferring Credits in Tennessee

While many students at the top community colleges in Tennessee are interested in career readiness programs, others are looking for a low-cost way to earn credits toward a bachelor's degree. If you fall into the latter category, you need to know how your courses will transfer from your two-year school to the four-year school of your choice.

Fortunately, Tennessee Transfer Pathways make it easy for students to transfer credit from the best Tennessee community colleges to universities and four-year colleges in the state. The Pathways function as a type of statewide transfer agreement that ensures admission and acceptance of qualifying associate degree program credits at participating four-year schools.

Even students who choose degrees outside of the Tennessee Transfer Pathway system may qualify for a smooth transfer, thanks to transfer agreements between institutions. A transfer advisor or registrar at your target university can give you more information about specific transfer agreements that might be in place.

For more general info about transfer agreements and how you can make them work for you, take a look at the college transfer guide on this site.

Resources for Community College Students in Tennessee

  • The community colleges page at the Tennessee Board of Regents (TBR) site can provide additional insight into the top community colleges in Tennessee.
  • Tennessee's colleges of applied technology — which are also overseen by the TBR — can clue you in to a diverse selection of direct-to-workforce programs.
  • Find out about financial aid options for students at Tennessee's two-year schools through the financial aid hub of the Tennessee Higher Education Commission and Student Assistance Corporation.


Using the National Center for Education Statistics' Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), we generated a list of colleges and universities that met the following criteria:

  • Level of institution is either "At least 2 but less than 4 years" or " Less than 2 years (below associate)"
  • Data is reported for all 14 ranking variables listed in the Methodology section

We ranked the resulting community colleges member schools on multiple factors related to educational opportunity, student performance and student services. Each school was scored on a 10-point scale, using the following data points:

  1. The published in-district tuition and fees, National Center for Education Statistics, 2018
  2. The published in-state tuition and fees, National Center for Education Statistics, 2018
  3. The in-district per credit hour charge for part-time undergraduates, National Center for Education Statistics, 2018
  4. The in-state per credit hour charge for part-time undergraduates, National Center for Education Statistics, 2018
  5. Percentage of students receiving financial aid, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016
  6. Percent of students that transferred to a 4-year institution and completed within 8 years, College Scorecard, 2017
  7. The graduation rate in 150% time, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017
  8. Full-time student retention rate, National Center for Education Statistics, Fall 2017
  9. Student-to-faculty ratio, National Center for Education Statistics, Fall 2017
  10. Percentage of students enrolled in distance education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017
  11. Flexibility, based on the following data points from the National Center for Education Statistics, 2018
    • Whether the school offers credit for life experiences
    • Whether the school offers programs of study that can be completed entirely in the evenings and on weekends
    • Whether the school offers on-campus day care for students’ children
    • Whether the school offers any kind of alternative tuition plan. These may include, but aren’t limited to, payment plans or guaranteed rates.
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