The 10 Cheapest Colleges in Tennessee
Tennessee is home to some of the country’s most unique and vibrant cities, such as Memphis, Nashville, and Chattanooga. Helping fuel these cities’ growth and maintain their character are college graduates coming from well-known Volunteer State schools like Vanderbilt and Sewanee: The University of the South. And helping to ensure everyone in the state has an opportunity for higher education—by keeping costs down—are the ten cheapest colleges in Tennessee.
Tips for Saving Money on College
Graduate on Time
The more time you spend at college, the greater the cost. While most people think of college as a four-year experience, the fact is that most students will not graduate in four years. In 2021, NBC reported that just 45% of college students graduate in four years and fewer than two-thirds graduate in six years—the numbers are even worse for certain groups of students, like those who are Black and Hispanic. Choosing a major on time and only taking classes that contribute to your degree are great ways to ensure you finish school on time.
Get a Headstart on Your Degree
There’s no need to wait until you’re on campus to start working toward your degree. AP classes are a proven method for students to start earning college credit before they’ve even graduated high school, with many colleges awarding credit to students who earn an AP exam score of 3 or higher. Dual enrollment is another tried-and-true strategy for getting a headstart on college coursework. Dual enrollment allows students to take college-level work and earn college credit while in high school.
Understand the Real Cost of College
The sticker price of a school only hints at its actual cost. Net price—the cost of attendance minus grants, scholarships, tuition waivers, and other gift aid—is a better indicator of what you’ll actually pay for college. It’s common that, after merit aid, an expensive private school will cost less than a public school with a reputation for affordability. Private schools are typically more generous in awarding aid than their public counterparts, which ultimately can make them less expensive. For example, all 50 schools on our list of the colleges that give out the most merit aid are private.
The 10 Cheapest Colleges in Tennessee
Total Cost In-state/Out-of-state: $16,146/$22,186
Location: Martin, TN
Acceptance Rate: 65%
Undergrad Enrollment: 6,600
The University of Tennessee-Martin (UTM) is the definition of a state school—79% of its graduates live in Tennessee and alumni are represented in 94 out of the state’s 95 counties. UTM is known for its award-winning radio station, WUTM 90.3 FM “The Hawk.” The university is one of approximately 200 schools across the globe to earn an All-Steinway designation, demonstrating its commitment to music students and faculty members by providing them with the best possible equipment. The website Niche ranks UTM as the 33rd (out of 1,607) most conservative college in the country.
Learn more about The University of Tennessee-Martin and what it takes to get accepted.
Total Cost In-state/Out-of-state: $16,624/$29,344
Location: Nashville, TN
Acceptance Rate: N/A
Undergrad Enrollment: 6,100
Tennessee State University (TSU) is one of seven historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in the state. TSU has a rich Olympic history: its former track coach, Ed Temple, was the head coach of two Olympic Teams and was inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame, while Olympic champion sprinter and athletic icon, Wilma Rudolph, is a TSU graduate. The website Niche ranks TSU as the 51st most liberal college (out of 1,607) in the nation.
Learn more about Tennessee State University and what it takes to get accepted.
Total Cost In-state/Out-of-state: $18,176/$18,176
Location: Memphis, TN
Acceptance Rate: 64%
Undergrad Enrollment: 800
Le Moyne-Owen College is another of the seven HBCUs that call Tennessee home and the fifth-oldest HBCU in the country—it was founded in 1862. The college rightly boasts of its survival through numerous turbulent periods of American history, including race riots, yellow fever epidemics, Jim Crow laws, and segregation. Today the college is proud to call itself a “home away from home” for its students, thanks to its small student body, involved staff, and tight-knit campus.
Learn more about Le Moyne-Owen College and what it takes to get accepted.
Total Cost In-state/Out-of-state: $18,197/$36,344
Location: Johnson City, TN
Acceptance Rate: 78%
Undergrad Enrollment: 11,200
One of the ways East Tennessee State University stands out from other institutions is through its unique course offerings. The university offers a minor in Appalachian Studies, which examines the region’s culture, environment, economy, energy, politics, and health and wellness, along with other historic and current issues. ETSU is also the first school in the nation to offer a major in Bluegrass, Old-Time, and Roots Music. ETSU has worked hard to earn its place among the cheapest colleges in Tennessee; 269 of its courses use open and affordable course materials, 200 laptops and hotspots are available on loan from the library, and nearly half of its graduates leave college debt free.
Learn more about East Tennessee State University and what it takes to get accepted.
Total Cost In-state/Out-of-state: $18,356/$37,028
Location: Murfreesboro, TN
Acceptance Rate: 92%
Undergrad Enrollment: 19,200
Middle Tennessee State University lives up to its name—it’s located in Murfreesboro, the geographic center of the state. MTSU offers more than 300 undergraduate and graduate programs in fields ranging from accounting to video and film production. The university is proud to offer one of the lowest tuitions in Tennessee, however, it also recognizes cost is only a part of the equation when calculating a school’s returns on investment. Consequently, MTSU touts its work-ready graduates—one in five college graduates in greater Nashville holds a degree from MTSU.
Learn more about Middle Tennessee State University and what it takes to get accepted.
Total Cost In-state/Out-of-state: $18,486/$28,518
Location: Cookeville, TN
Acceptance Rate: 80%
Undergrad Enrollment: 9,000
Tennessee Tech has a reputation for graduating students prepared to succeed in a technology-driven world. The website Payscale ranks Tennessee Tech 295th for in-state students and 463rd for out-of-state students on its list of colleges with the best return on investment—higher than any other public university in Tennessee. Tennessee Tech’s mascot, Awesome Eagle is a two-time consecutive UCA National Championship title winner. The university shows its love for Awesome Eagle by celebrating the bird’s birthday every year on February 14 with music, giveaways, cupcakes, and lots of fun.
Learn more about Tennessee Tech and what it takes to get accepted.
Total Cost In-state/Out-of-state: $19,156/$35,274
Location: Chattanooga, TN
Acceptance Rate: 83%
Undergrad Enrollment: 10,200
There’s a lot to like about The University of Tennessee-Chattanooga. The school offers 88
undergraduate degree programs through its five colleges:
- College of Arts and Sciences
- Gary W. Rollins College of Business
- College of Engineering and Computer Science
- College of Health, Education and Professional Studies
- Honors College
Graduates will find a multitude of professional opportunities surrounding the university, with major brands such as Moon Pie, Little Debbie, Amazon, Coca-Cola, and Volkswagen calling Chattanooga home. There are also plentiful recreational activities available to students, as Chattanooga is a hub for tourism—the city offers numerous opportunities to camp, hike, paddle, and climb.
Learn more about The University of Tennessee-Chattanooga and what it takes to get accepted.
8. Lane College
Total Cost In-state/Out-of-state: $19,400/$19,400
Location: Jackson, TN
Acceptance Rate: N/A
Undergrad Enrollment: 1,200
Lane College is another of the Volunteer State’s seven HBCUs—it was founded in 1882 by one of the nation’s early Black church denominations. Today, the school remains committed to its religious heritage. Lane College believes that spiritual growth plays a valuable role in the development of the individual—it’s affiliated with the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church—and students are required to attend a minimum of ten College Assembly/Chapel services per semester.
Learn more about Lane College and what it takes to get accepted.
Total Cost In-state/Out-of-state: $20,087/$23,927
Location: Memphis, TN
Acceptance Rate: 85%
Undergrad Enrollment: 17,200
The University of Memphis (UofM) is committed to providing an affordable education—more than 50% of full-time freshmen are Pell Grant eligible and more than 90% of full-time freshmen receive financial aid. The university also awards 700+ scholarships annually. UofM offers a Guaranteed Tuition Rate Plan, which provides qualifying students with a constant tuition rate for four continuous academic years. UofM is notable for its excellent athletics program and some of its most well-known alumni played for their Tigers, including NFL Hall of Famer Issac Bruce, NBA MVP Derrick Rose, and former NBA All-Star Penny Hardaway.
Learn more about the University of Memphis and what it takes to get accepted.
Total Cost In-state/Out-of-state: $20,423/$25,967
Location: Clarksville, TN
Acceptance Rate: 91%
Undergrad Enrollment: 9,800
Austin Peay State University (APSU) takes its name from the former governor of Tennessee, Austin Peay, a Clarksville native—the school’s nickname is “the Governors.” APSU is the state’s largest provider of higher education to military-affiliated students—in 2021, it enrolled 2,422 military-related students. ASPU is known for its top-ranked ROTC program which has earned the General Douglas MacArthur Award (an award the U.S. Army bestows on the top eight ROTC programs in the country) eight times in the past 32 years.
Learn more about Austin Peay State University and what it takes to get accepted.
How Much Will You Pay for College?
Net price, a calculation that considers factors like financial aid and scholarships in addition to the sticker price, is the best metric for gauging what college will actually cost. While the overwhelming majority of colleges have their own net price calculator, our free Financial Aid Calculator lets you estimate the cost of college in Tennessee along with hundreds of other schools across the country in one place and in just minutes.