The Tennessee labor force is expanding, according to the state's Department of Workforce Development. Many of the state's top industries — fields such as education, health care and administrative services — feature a wide range of potential careers for graduates of trade and vocational schools in Tennessee.
Individual Tennessee cities may have especially welcoming job markets for candidates with the right education. Health care and automotive technology graduates might do well in Nashville, where the two top employers are Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Nissan North America. Knoxville, on the other hand, has its top employers in the education and energy sectors.
Why is Tennessee good for vocational/career schools?
Career technical education (CTE) has a few strong upsides over traditional college programs for workforce-bound students in Tennessee. Many certificate programs can be completed in a year or less, for starters, while a bachelor's degree typically takes around four years of full-time study. University degrees also cost around twice as much as the yearly average of $4,560 charged at career and technical schools in Tennessee.
What's more, students who earn CTE certification in Tennessee have a habit of making good on their employment search. Nine out of ten CTE students reported finding employment, winning an apprenticeship or joining the military within six months of finishing their program.
If you're thinking about attending campus-based or online trade schools in Tennessee, you'll want to get the lay of the land by checking out our rankings of the state's top institutions. There's also a wealth of general information at the bottom of the page, including a primer on how to apply for financial aid in Tennessee and some info about state initiatives that help vocational students.
The Best Trade and Vocational Schools in Tennessee
Our list of the best trade and vocational schools in Tennessee was compiled using data from the U.S. Department of Education and other trusted sources. Here's our rundown of the institutions that scored best in the state on metrics like affordability, schedule flexibility and graduate success on the career market:
Average net price is a measure of college cost that subtracts the average amount of grant and scholarship aid from the total expected expenses for tuition, fees, books, supplies, housing and other essentials. Southwest Tennessee Community College reported the lowest average net price among all career and technical schools in Tennessee, charging students less than $5,000 per year out of pocket.
What vocational programs STCC offers: The catalog at this Memphis institution contains a range of programs that incorporate evening and weekend courses. Certificates in subjects like computer networking and early childhood education can be completed outside of traditional school hours, and a fast-track degree in business management allows students to complete five courses per semester in just two nights a week.
Student success is one of the more important metrics in our analysis, and Volunteer State Community College showed some solid numbers in student success categories. It earned a place among the top three schools in the country for the average salary reported by graduates, and no other trade school in Tennessee reported a higher percentage of alumni still gainfully employed up to six years after finishing their programs.
What vocational programs Vol State offers: Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degrees offered at Vol State include healthcare fields like radiologic technology and nursing, entertainment and media fields like music business and video production and business fields like logistics and supply chain management. Around a dozen technical certificate programs are available as well.
Founded in downtown Chattanooga in 1965, Chattanooga State Community College is a medium-large institution that serves between 8,000 and 10,000 students each year. The 2018 student-faculty ratio here was 16:1, which is right on par with the national university average, and students who complete CSCC training programs have a 98 percent pass rate on state and national licensure examinations.
What vocational programs CSCC offers: Chattanooga State features one of the more well-rounded technical schools in online trade schools in Tennessee, offering online degrees and certificates in subjects like information systems, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and fire science technology, among others. On-campus students have even more to choose from, including more than a dozen certificates in engineering technologies and a wide selection of business degree concentrations.
This private, for-profit school was founded in New Jersey in 1946 and today maintains campuses in over a dozen states. The Nashville campus of Lincoln College of Technology has favorable student success numbers, posting the third-best graduation and retention rate among schools on our list and the highest average yearly salary earned by graduates.
What vocational programs Lincoln Tech offers: Lincoln Tech maintains a different catalog of programs at each of its nationwide locations. The list of available subjects at the Nashville campus focuses on automotive technology, including diesel technology and collision repair and refinishing. Students can also pursue a diploma in welding and metal fabrication or learn how to work on tractors, bulldozers, backhoes and more in the heavy equipment mechanic program.
Miller-Motte Technical College is a chain of for-profit trade schools with campuses in four southern U.S. states. It's one of the top online trade schools in Tennessee by enrollment, reporting that more than 62 percent of students enrolled in 2018-19 took at least one distance education course as part of their study plan. Evening courses are also available, if you're looking for some extra flexibility but aren't quite ready to make the switch to the virtual classroom.
What vocational programs Miller-Motte offers: Online associate degree programs available at Miller-Motte include criminal justice, information technology support and business administration. Online students can also earn a certificate in medical billing and coding in just over one year. Programs available on campus in Chattanooga include cosmetology and massage therapy.
National College is another nationally distributed network of for-profit schools, featuring four locations across Tennessee and several more in Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia under the name National American University. The Nashville campus is a close-knit institution, enrolling just over 200 students in 2018 and featuring a student-faculty ratio of 12:1.
What vocational programs National College offers: Programs available on campus in Nashville are all designed to lead to healthcare careers. Students can choose among a certificate or an associate degree in medical assisting, a joint phlebotomy and electrocardiogram (ECG) training program and diplomas in medical billing and coding and medical office management. Online programs here include applied IT management, business administration and a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (B.S.N.) program for working nurses.
Originally established in 1976, SAE Institute of Technology operates more than 50 campuses across the U.S. and throughout the world. The Nashville location of this international institution is located on Music Row, the city's fabled music industry headquarters, and works to prioritize hands-on training, individual studio time and immersion in the local creative community for its students.
What vocational programs SAE-Nashville offers: The selection of programs available at SAE-Nashville reflects its location among the bustling halls of the American recording industry. Students hoping to go into the business side of the entertainment industry can earn either a diploma or an associate degree in entertainment business, while aspiring audio engineers and producers can enroll in a diploma, an A.A.S. or a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) program.
Based in Florida, Remington College is a private trade school with a national reach. Students who like a quiet environment in which to study are likely to feel comfortable here -- the student body consists of around 250 students, and the ratio of 13 learners to each one faculty member suggests that professors should have plenty of time to provide extra help for students who need it.
What vocational programs Remington offers: A variety of associate degrees can be found at Remington's Nashville campus, including a three-track business administration degree that offers specializations in bookkeeping, executive assisting and marketing and sales. Diploma programs in dental assisting, medical office administration, facility maintenance and more can help you get trained and ready in less than year in some cases.
Concorde Career College-Memphis posted the highest graduation rate in Tennessee in 2018. This national, for-profit chain of colleges was incorporated in 1988, although many of its campuses have deep roots in their local communities. The Memphis campus is its only outpost in Tennessee and concentrates its efforts on providing training to future professionals in the healthcare and medical fields.
What vocational programs CCC-Memphis offers: A broad range of degree and diploma programs are offered here, including some uncommon but valuable study plans such as the A.A.S. in respiratory therapy and the diploma in polysomnographic technology. Students can also train for some of the fastest-growing jobs in the healthcare field with A.A.S. degrees in occupational therapy assisting and dental hygiene.
Operating more than 40 schools across fifteen U.S. states, the for-profit Fortis Institute offers career-based training and degree-granting programs to students in healthcare, business, technology and the trades. Fortis aims to be one of the best online trade schools in Tennessee, earning accreditation for its range of online programs and making distance education options available to students whenever it can.
What vocational programs Fortis-Cookeville offers: On-campus programs at the Cookeville location include diplomas in advanced tractor trailer driving and Class A CDL prep for aspiring long-haul truckers, an associate degree in radiologic technology for x-ray techs and a pharmacy technician diploma. Online programs include medical assisting, medical billing and coding, business management, Internet marketing and more.
How to Apply for Trade School Financial Aid in Tennessee
If you're one of the many aspiring students who have thought about a trade school education but decided against it because of the cost, there are a few ways to reduce your expected college expenses. Financial aid programs from federal, state, institutional and private sources may all be available to you, depending on your eligibility.
The primary document for establishing financial aid eligibility is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). All federal aid programs require that you complete and submit your FAFSA before you can access their funding, and most Tennessee grants and scholarships at the state and institutional level also include the FAFSA among their application materials. For more info on the FAFSA and other important tips about student aid, take a look at this financial aid guide.
Here's a list of state-based aid programs that may be available to students at career and technical schools in Tennessee:
Tennessee Student Assistance Award - This need-based education grant can provide aid awards of up to $1,300 for students at public institutions and up to $4,000 for students at private trade schools.
Tennessee HOPE Scholarship - Funded by the Tennessee Lottery, this merit-based aid program is only available through public colleges and can award as much as $1,750 per semester to eligible recipients.
Tennessee Reconnect Grant - Any student considered "independent" by FAFSA rules can apply for this last-dollar program, which awards up to 100 percent of remaining tuition and fees costs after other aid is applied.
Initiatives for Vocational School Students in Tennessee
Policymakers and legislators in Tennessee have put in place a range of initiatives designed to help state residents get the training they need and find the job they want. Here are a few such initiatives that students, graduates or employers can take advantage of:
Funding for vocational students in Tennessee
The TN Promise Scholarship, available to students at Tennessee community colleges or Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) locations, covers any tuition and fees expenses not met by other awards.
The Aspire Award is a supplement to the Tennessee HOPE Scholarship that can provide an additional $250 per semester to students at campus-based or online trade schools in Tennessee.
Tennessee policies that benefit vocational students
The FastTrack Job Training Assistance Program works to provide grants to new or expanding companies in Tennessee, giving them some breathing room to hire and train new full-time employees.
On-the-Job Training Grants work to give employers the freedom to hire fresh trade school graduates and other workers with limited job experience by covering a portion of salary for new trainees.
School-specific program initiatives in Tennessee
Students at Tennessee College of Applied Technology campuses seeking a diploma or certificate may qualify for the Wilder-Naifeh Technical Skills Grant, which can confer awards of up to $2,000.
Model learners at Nashville State Community College can apply for the institution's Ambassador Scholarship, which awards a maximum of $1,000 per year in student aid to four individuals chosen to serve as student ambassadors.
Resources for Vocational Students and Vocational Job Seekers in Tennessee
Learn about CTE certification in Tennessee at the high school level and beyond at the Tennessee Department of Education's career and technical education page.
Once your training is done and you're ready to hit the workforce, check out Jobs4TN — the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development's portal for employment opportunities and job market info — to help get your career going.
Accreditation is an important factor when choosing trade school programs. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) accredits degree programs at public institutions in the state. Individual programs are accredited by industry groups like the National Institute for Metal Working Skills (NIMS) and the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Programs (CAAHEP).
You can also find some hard data about career and technical education in Tennessee on Advance CTE. If you want to learn more about CTE and vocational training in general, the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) is a great resource to get you started.
Using the National Center for Education Statistics' Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and the U.S. Department of Education's College Scorecard, we generated a list of schools that met the following criteria:
- Institution type is less than 2 years, greater than 2 & less than 4 years
- Accredited by at least 1 agency (institutional accreditation)
- The school falls under one of the following classifications: (Carnegie Classification 2015: Undergraduate Instructional Program)
- Associate's Colleges: Mixed Transfer/Vocational & Technical
- These institutions awarded associate's degrees but no bachelor's degrees with 30-49% of awards (degrees and certificates) in career & technical programs.
Associate's Colleges: High Vocational & Technical
- These institutions awarded associate's degrees but no bachelor's degrees with more than 50% of awards (degrees and certificates) in career & technical programs.
Special Focus: Two-Year Institution
- These institutions awarded associate's degrees but no bachelor's degrees with typically more than 75% of awards in a single career & technical program
- Associate's Colleges: Mixed Transfer/Vocational & Technical
We ranked the resulting colleges on the following criteria:
- Cost of attendance, based on the average net price for students receiving scholarship and grant aid, and the total cost of tuition, fees, books and supplies, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
- Number of Associate degree and undergraduate Certificate programs offered, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
- Percent of undergraduate students enrolled in any distance education classes, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017
- Full-time student retention rate & part-time retention rate (if full-time retention rate is not available, then use part-time retention rate), National Center for Education Statistics, Fall 2017
- The graduation rate in 150% time, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017-18
- Percent of students working and not enrolled 6 years after entry, College Scorecard, 2014-15
- Flexibility and student services, based on whether the school offers the following services, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017-18
- Academic and career counseling
- Job placement services for graduates
- Mean annual earnings for students working 10 years after entry, College Scorecard, 2014-15
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- Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed August 29, 2019: Dental hygienists, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/Healthcare/Dental-hygienists.htm; Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/occupational-therapy-assistants-and-aides.htm;
- Tennessee Higher Education Commission & Student Assistance Corporation, accessed August 22, 2019: Financial Aid, https://www.tn.gov/collegepays/financial-aid.html; Tennessee Student Assistance Award, https://www.tn.gov/collegepays/money-for-college/grant-programs/tennessee-student-assistance-award.html; Tennessee HOPE Scholarship, https://www.tn.gov/collegepays/money-for-college/tn-education-lottery-programs/tennessee-hope-scholarship.html; Tennessee Reconnect Grant, https://www.tn.gov/content/tn/collegepays/money-for-college/state-of-tennessee-programs/tn-reconnect-grant.html; Tennessee Promise Scholarship, https://www.tn.gov/collegepays/money-for-college/state-of-tennessee-programs/tennessee-promise-scholarship.html; Tennessee Promise Institutions, https://www.tn.gov/content/dam/tn/collegepays/money-for-college/state-programs/TNPromiseListofInstitutions_032217.pdf; Aspire Award, https://www.tn.gov/content/tn/collegepays/money-for-college/tn-education-lottery-programs/aspire-award.html; Wilder-Naifeh Technical Skills Grant, https://www.tn.gov/collegepays/money-for-college/tn-education-lottery-programs/wilder-naifeh-technical-skills-grant.html;
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- Most Recent Cohorts (All Data Elements): 2014-15, College Scorecard, U.S. Department of Education, https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/data/