Tennessee’s Best Colleges and Universities by Academic Stewardship

Tennessee’s Best Colleges and Universities by Academic Stewardship

What are the best colleges and universities in Tennessee if you reward schools for making the best use of their limited resources? Academic Stewardship asks how effectively schools manage their financial and human resources to gain the influence that makes them academically excellent. Schools that are exemplary in Academic Stewardship are doing everything in their power to help students and faculty achieve their full potential.

Colleges and universities in Tennessee deserve to be recognized when they do more with less. It’s impressive when a large wealthy school can spend money lavishly on expensive buildings and programs. But it’s even more impressive when a small school with limited means is able to train and inspire students that the larger wealthier schools tend to ignore.

The American Association of Colleges and Universities reported in late 2021 that almost 75 percent of higher-education professionals at US colleges and universities felt financial constraints prevented their schools from effectively attracting students. Distracted by the size and amenities of larger schools, prospective students tended especially to be overawed by the big research universities.

Tennessee’s smaller colleges, especially its liberal arts colleges, need effective ways of communicating their value to a world that celebrates “bigger is better” and “you need the best.” Unfortunately, most college ranking companies, such as U.S. News & World Report, define “best” in a way that devalues schools with smaller budgets and fewer students even when these schools do remarkable work in advancing their students’ education. By and large, college rankings penalize schools that serve underserved populations.

Inspired by Malcolm Gladwell, who for years now has criticized conventional college rankings for misrepresenting what’s good and valuable in education, we decided to construct a new ranking metric that highlights those schools that do more with less. That metric—called the Academic Stewardship metric—takes away both the size and the wealth advantage of schools, and focuses instead on how well schools use the resources available to them to advance the education of their students.

How We Measure the Academic Stewardship of Tennessee’s Colleges and Universities

Tennessee's Best Colleges and Universities by Academic Stewardship
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As a metric, Academic Stewardship is defined by a precise mathematical formula, which can be found in our Academic Stewardship white paper. Measuring the Academic Stewardship of Tennessee’s colleges requires measuring two forms of stewardship: 1) Stewardship of financial resources (using the money they have responsibility without waste) and 2) Stewardship of human resources (doing their best to help students, faculty, and administration to flourish). Together, these two types of stewardship form what we call  Academic Stewardship. If you want to learn more about the factors involved in Academic Stewardship, click the more button below.

  1. Stewardship of financial resources: To determine a school’s stewardship of financial resources, we factored in its undergraduate size, budget, endowments and reserves, as well as tuition and fees. All these data are available from the National Center for Educational Statistics Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. In addition, we factored in a school’s financial responsibility as gauged by the Federal Student Aid Office at the US Department of Education through its financial responsibility composite scores.
  2. Stewardship of human resources: To determine a school’s stewardship of human resources, we used our InfluenceRanking engine to track the influence of the school’s faculty and alumni but also to control for size of the undergraduate student body. We’ve found that measuring a school’s influence based on the contributions of faculty and alumni make in their fields of study but then also controlling for size of the undergraduate population is the single best indicator of academic excellence. We call this Concentrated Influence. Schools that rank highly in Concentrated Influence are schools that, given their available human resources, invest heavily in their students and faculty, and the results are demonstrable.
    • We measure the influence of colleges and universities based on the publications and citations of the schools’ faculty and alumni who are teaching in and working in areas related to their degrees. To do this, we take publicly available databases, such as Semantic Scholar, Crossref, and Wikipedia and use these to measure the influence of academics in their disciplines. Having measured the influence of persons, we then identify the schools that they’re affiliated with, adding up the influence scores of the faculty and alumni to measure the influence of the schools and their disciplinary programs. Finally, we control these influence scores by size of undergraduate student body so that schools do not score high in influence simply because of a size advantage. We lay out these methodological considerations on our methodology page.
  3. Academic Stewardship: Having measured a school’s stewardship of financial and human resources in the two previous points, we now divide the second measure by the first to define the Academic Stewardship metric. This metric spotlights smaller schools, with fewer financial resources and people, that invest wisely and do proportionately better in building influence than large wealthy schools. Many of these smaller, less wealthy schools are incentivized to make better use of their resources but would never get recognized in conventional school rankings, which directly or indirectly put a premium on the wealth of schools.

Academic Stewardship as so defined is connected to keeping tuition and other costs down, but it should not be confused with affordability or frugality. The schools that this metric ranks as exemplary academic stewards tend to be all over the map when it comes to tuition and other costs. At issue is the influence of schools given the financial and human resources they have on hand. If a school is going to charge more for tuition, then that needs to be reflected in the school having proportionately greater influence.

Why Academic Stewardship Matters to Students and Their Families

The benefits of attending a school with strong academic stewardship include:

  • A clear reason for why students are at the school in the first place. Without the distraction of amenities and luxuries, these schools are at once unpretentious but also passionately committed to their educational mission. The schools in this ranking are financially efficient and academically rigorous. By avoiding frills, these schools take the most direct path to accomplishing their mission of educating students.
  • Valuing character over prestige and self-indulgence. A school that’s a good steward of its resources doesn’t instill shame in its students over what they are missing (such as elite cuisine) but rather pride in what they have and making the most of it. These schools exhibit a culture of good stewardship, which tends to build good character in the students that attend these schools.
  • Avoiding the spoiled-student syndrome. It’s easy to think that offering students endless options and opportunities will enrich their time at school in every way. But spoiling people—whether in business, sports, or academics—has the opposite effect, causing people to take their advantages for granted and in the end achieving less than they might otherwise, a point well-documented in Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code. Schools exhibiting academic stewardship avoid this pitfall.
  • The best schools vs. the schools that help students to be their best. Students at schools demonstrating outstanding academic stewardship aren’t so much concerned about being at the “best” school, whatever that may mean, as about being at a school that helps them to be their best. These schools pay attention to their students, hoping that any glory goes to them rather than to the school. Small schools, and especially liberal arts colleges, help themselves by communicating this advantage to prospective students.
  • Emphasizing development over talent and achievement. Schools like Harvard and Stanford have their pick of academic talent, and their students have a long record of achievement even before they apply to such elite schools. But if a school doesn’t have the resources of a Harvard or Stanford, how does it build a great team of students? In that case, it must focus on student development. Colleges exemplifying academic stewardship emphasize student growth and development, ensuring that the schools are doing everything in their power to help students reach their full potential and thereby become their best selves.
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Tennessee’s Best Colleges and Universities by Academic Stewardship

  1. #1

    Fisk University

    Nashville , TN
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $23K

    Acceptance

    66%

    Graduation

    51%

    Student body

    <1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1040/21

    What is Fisk University known for?

    Fisk University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Sociology
    • Political Science
    • Literature
    • Education
    • History
    • Chemistry
    • Mathematics
    • Physics
    • Business
    • Psychology

    Most Influential Alumni

  2. Tuition + fees

    $27K

    Acceptance

    61%

    Graduation

    48%

    Student body

    1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1045/22

    What is Tennessee Wesleyan University known for?

    Tennessee Wesleyan University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Social Work
    • Criminal Justice
    • Sociology
    • Nursing
    • Chemistry
    • Psychology
    • Mathematics
    • Biology
    • Education
    • History

    Most Influential Alumni

  3. #3

    Cumberland University

    Lebanon , TN

    Tuition + fees

    $25K

    Acceptance

    54%

    Graduation

    54%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1005/20

    What is Cumberland University known for?

    Cumberland University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Mathematics
    • Education
    • History
    • Political Science
    • Criminal Justice
    • Computer Science
    • Business
    • Biology
    • Literature
    • Medical

    Most Influential Alumni

  4. #4

    Rhodes College

    Memphis , TN
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $51K

    Acceptance

    51%

    Graduation

    82%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1325/29

    What is Rhodes College known for?

    Rhodes College’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Literature
    • Computer Science
    • Religious Studies
    • Physics
    • Political Science
    • Biology
    • History
    • Psychology
    • Economics
    • Philosophy

    Most Influential Alumni

  5. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $49K

    Acceptance

    56%

    Graduation

    80%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1245/27

    What is Sewanee: The University of the South known for?

    Sewanee: The University of the South’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Religious Studies
    • History
    • Philosophy
    • Literature
    • Business
    • Physics
    • Political Science
    • Biology
    • Mathematics
    • Chemistry

    Most Influential Alumni

  6. #6

    Union University

    Jackson , TN

    Tuition + fees

    $36K

    Acceptance

    58%

    Graduation

    66%

    Student body

    3K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1170/26

    What is Union University known for?

    Union University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Nursing
    • Religious Studies
    • Philosophy
    • Political Science
    • Education
    • Economics
    • Physics
    • History
    • Business
    • Medical

    Most Influential Alumni

  7. #7

    Tennessee State University

    Nashville , TN
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $9K

    Graduation

    26%

    Student body

    7K

    What is Tennessee State University known for?

    Tennessee State University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Nursing
    • Education
    • Engineering
    • Medical
    • Political Science
    • History
    • Computer Science
    • Mathematics
    • Business
    • Communications

    Most Influential Alumni

  8. #8

    Lincoln Memorial University

    Harrogate , TN

    Tuition + fees

    $24K

    Acceptance

    69%

    Graduation

    53%

    Student body

    3K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1100/22

    What is Lincoln Memorial University known for?

    Lincoln Memorial University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Medical
    • Law
    • Earth Sciences
    • History
    • Literature
    • Business
    • Biology
    • Education
    • Sociology
    • Psychology

    Most Influential Alumni

  9. #9

    Lee University

    Cleveland , TN

    Tuition + fees

    $21K

    Acceptance

    83%

    Graduation

    63%

    Student body

    4K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1070/24

    What is Lee University known for?

    Lee University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Nursing
    • Religious Studies
    • Anthropology
    • Psychology
    • Sociology
    • History
    • Communications
    • Biology
    • Social Work
    • Education

    Most Influential Alumni

  10. Tuition + fees

    $10K

    Acceptance

    65%

    Graduation

    54%

    Student body

    6K

    What is University of Tennessee at Martin known for?

    University of Tennessee at Martin’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Earth Sciences
    • Political Science
    • Mathematics
    • Communications
    • Nursing
    • Social Work
    • Biology
    • Criminal Justice
    • History
    • Education

    Most Influential Alumni

  11. #11

    Lipscomb University

    Nashville , TN
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $36K

    Acceptance

    62%

    Graduation

    69%

    Student body

    4K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1185/26

    What is Lipscomb University known for?

    Lipscomb University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Psychology
    • Social Work
    • Religious Studies
    • Nursing
    • Law
    • Medical
    • Engineering
    • History
    • Political Science
    • Business

    Most Influential Alumni

  12. Tuition + fees

    $10K

    Acceptance

    80%

    Graduation

    57%

    Student body

    9K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1125/24

    What is Tennessee Technological University known for?

    Tennessee Technological University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Engineering
    • Biology
    • Chemistry
    • Earth Sciences
    • Physics
    • Psychology
    • Sociology
    • Computer Science
    • Mathematics
    • Business

    Most Influential Alumni

  13. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $10K

    Acceptance

    83%

    Graduation

    50%

    Student body

    10K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1130/23

    What is University of Tennessee at Chattanooga known for?

    University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Social Work
    • Criminal Justice
    • Psychology
    • Nursing
    • Medical
    • Chemistry
    • History
    • Mathematics
    • Economics
    • Earth Sciences

    Most Influential Alumni

  14. #15

    University of Memphis

    Memphis , TN
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $10K

    Acceptance

    85%

    Graduation

    52%

    Student body

    17K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1120/22

    What is University of Memphis known for?

    University of Memphis’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Mathematics
    • Criminal Justice
    • History
    • Computer Science
    • Literature
    • Philosophy
    • Law
    • Medical
    • Earth Sciences
    • Nursing

    Most Influential Alumni

  15. #16

    Austin Peay State University

    Clarksville , TN

    Tuition + fees

    $8K

    Acceptance

    91%

    Graduation

    48%

    Student body

    9K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1065/21

    What is Austin Peay State University known for?

    Austin Peay State University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Criminal Justice
    • Mathematics
    • Physics
    • Nursing
    • Business
    • Medical
    • Education
    • Computer Science
    • History
    • Psychology

    Most Influential Alumni

  16. #17

    Belmont University

    Nashville , TN

    Tuition + fees

    $38K

    Acceptance

    83%

    Graduation

    71%

    Student body

    8K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1225/26

    What is Belmont University known for?

    Belmont University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Business
    • Nursing
    • History
    • Literature
    • Communications
    • Engineering
    • Mathematics
    • Law
    • Economics
    • Education

    Most Influential Alumni

  17. #18

    East Tennessee State University

    Johnson City , TN
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $9K

    Acceptance

    78%

    Graduation

    50%

    Student body

    12K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1075/23

    What is East Tennessee State University known for?

    East Tennessee State University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Mathematics
    • Medical
    • Nursing
    • Biology
    • Communications
    • Criminal Justice
    • Political Science
    • Chemistry
    • Earth Sciences
    • Economics

    Most Influential Alumni

  18. #20

    Middle Tennessee State University

    Murfreesboro , TN
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees

    $9K

    Acceptance

    94%

    Graduation

    51%

    Student body

    18K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1135/23

    What is Middle Tennessee State University known for?

    Middle Tennessee State University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Economics
    • Social Work
    • Anthropology
    • Chemistry
    • Business
    • Earth Sciences
    • Political Science
    • Communications
    • History
    • Philosophy

    Most Influential Alumni

  19. #21

    Carson–Newman University

    Jefferson City , TN

    Tuition + fees

    $31K

    Acceptance

    79%

    Graduation

    52%

    Student body

    3K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1050/24

    What is Carson–Newman University known for?

    Carson–Newman University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Biology
    • Psychology
    • Mathematics
    • Religious Studies
    • Philosophy
    • History
    • Physics
    • Chemistry
    • Nursing
    • Sociology

    Most Influential Alumni

  20. Tuition + fees

    $35K

    Acceptance

    50%

    Graduation

    57%

    Student body

    2K

    What is Christian Brothers University known for?

    Christian Brothers University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Engineering
    • Chemistry
    • Physics
    • Biology
    • Medical
    • Psychology
    • Computer Science
    • Religious Studies
    • Nursing
    • History

    Most Influential Alumni

  21. #23

    King University

    Bristol , TN

    Tuition + fees

    $33K

    Acceptance

    60%

    Graduation

    50%

    Student body

    2K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1097/22

    What is King University known for?

    King University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Criminal Justice
    • Nursing
    • Religious Studies
    • Literature
    • Political Science
    • Education
    • Business
    • History
    • Communications
    • Engineering

    Most Influential Alumni

  22. Tuition + fees

    $10K

    Acceptance

    98%

    Graduation

    32%

    Student body

    <1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    1050/19

    What is University of Tennessee Southern known for?

    University of Tennessee Southern’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Criminal Justice
    • Biology
    • Nursing
    • Education
    • Medical
    • History
    • Philosophy
    • Mathematics
    • Literature

    Most Influential Alumni

  23. #25

    LeMoyne–Owen College

    Memphis , TN

    Tuition + fees

    $12K

    Acceptance

    64%

    Graduation

    15%

    Student body

    <1K

    Median SAT/ACT

    825/16

    What is LeMoyne–Owen College known for?

    LeMoyne–Owen College’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    • Mathematics
    • Chemistry
    • Social Work
    • Literature
    • Criminal Justice
    • Political Science
    • Communications
    • Biology
    • Sociology
    • History

    Most Influential Alumni

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Tennessee’s Best Colleges in Your Area of Interest

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Colleges and Universities in Tennessee

About one third of the higher learning institutes in Tennessee are public schools. Students who attend these schools can expect to pay anywhere between $4,000 to $13,000 in tuition and have the option to pursue degrees in fields such as economics, history, nursing, literature, education, and criminal justice. Tennessee’s largest public school, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, boasts some impressive alumni, including Oprah Winfrey, Kurt Vonnegut, and Cormac McCarthy. The private school alumni are equally as notable. For example, author James Patterson and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Muhammad Yunus both attended Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

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Tennessee also offers nearly 30 religiously affiliated schools, the largest being Belmont University in Nashville, located just blocks from the famous Music Row. Here, students can study a wide range of fields including Christian leadership, audio engineering technology, and biophysics. Additionally, Tennessee offers students several loan forgiveness programs. Math and science teachers, minority teachers, and registered nurses interested in becoming teachers or administrators who meet certain requirements may be eligible.

Tennessee is home to mouthwatering barbecues, electrified blues, and the sweeping majesty of the Smoky Mountains National Park. And with access to countless historic sites, unique museums, and lush green spaces, students attending one of the more than 60 colleges and universities in The Volunteer State will have plenty to do and see in their downtime.

Discover more about the top programs and higher education learning opportunities available in Tennessee.


What are Tennessee’s Colleges & Universities?

Tennessee’s Best Overall