From Elvis’s Graceland to Beale Street’s blues bars to Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry, Tennessee is known for being the center of music history. Blue jeans, banjos, and shotgun shacks might be what comes to mind. But some of the richest schools in Tennessee paint a whole different picture of the state.
Richest, of course, isn’t in reference to the demographics of the student body, although — these things tend to go hand in hand. What we’re really talking about when we say “richest schools” is their endowments.
What’s an Endowment?
An endowment fund is basically an investment fund, with a few key differences. Like other investment funds, such as a 401(k) retirement plan, an endowment fund is comprised of cash, equities, bonds, and other types of securities. When invested, these assets generate profit.
How does it work?
Usually, you are the beneficiary of any income generated by your own investments. But when it comes to a university endowment, the donors do not receive monetary returns on their investment. Instead, the university receives those returns. Donors do get some perks, like a tax deduction and the ability to dictate how their endowment should be carried out. Plus, sometimes endowments carry the names of the donor, which helps further their reputation and legacy.
It may come as no surprise that some of the most prestigious universities have the largest endowments. Their successful alumni want to see their schools continue to flourish. Tennessee has a university that falls in the top 20 richest universities. Let’s take a look at that one and some more of the richest schools in Tennessee.
Note: We gathered the endowment information for the universities on this list from a 2023 report from the National Association of College and University Business Officers and TIAA (Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America).
2201 West End Ave, Nashville, TN 37235
Year Founded: 1873
Acceptance Rate: 7%
Cost of Attendance: $89,590
Number of Students: 7,151 undergraduates
Top-ranked in nearly every college list and guide, Vanderbilt is probably the school you first think of when thinking of the richest schools in Tennessee. In addition to the caliber of their academics, Vanderbilt also has several NCAA sports teams that have many championship titles under their belts. That's one exciting feature of student life, but another is how many student organizations Vanderbilt boasts on campus to make sure every person feels supported.
The University of Tennessee
The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee 37996
Year Founded: 1794
Acceptance Rate: 59.4% (In-State) and 33.3% (Out-of-State)
Cost of Attendance: $13,244(In-State) and $31,664(Out-of-State)
Number of Students: 27,039
The University of Tennessee (UT) is the oldest university on this list and is located in Knoxville, TN, right near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. UT has had a cooperative relationship with the national park for many years and its students benefit from the research opportunities available to them through this partnership. They also benefit from the ability to enjoy and explore the beautiful hiking paths and views that the Smoky Mountains offer them, right in their backyard.
The University of the South
735 University Avenue, Sewanee, TN 37383
Year Founded: 1857
Acceptance Rate: 60%
Cost of Attendance: $65,754
Number of students: 1,735 undergraduates
The University of the South is also referred to as Sewanee, which is where it's located. Another of the richest schools in Tennessee, Sewanee has several gorgeous, historical buildings, but the most remarkable one might be the All-Saint's Chapel. It looks like something right out of medieval England.
In addition to its history, the University of the South also offers the “Sewanee Pledge” which promises to help fund summer internships and fellowships for students, enable students to take advantage of study-abroad programs at no added cost to tuition, and guarantee graduation in four consecutive years. If that last part is not met, Sewanee pledges to pay for one additional year of study so that students can finish their degree.
Pretty nice deal!
2000 North Parkway, Memphis, Tennessee 38112
Year Founded: 1848
Acceptance Rate: 54%
Cost of Attendance: $64,606
Number of students: 2,070
Rhodes College is the second oldest college on this list and you can tell its age by the style of its architecture. For those wanting that Gothic, Harry Potter-like feel to their campus, Rhodes is the place to find it.
Possibly the main draw of Rhodes, though, is its location. Situated in Memphis, students get full-time access to all the perks that this city rich in music history has to offer. Finish an exam and unwind with some live music on Beale Street. I don't hate it.
1900 Belmont Boulevard, Nashville, Tennessee 37212
Year Founded: 1890
Acceptance Rate: 88%
Cost of Attendance: $55,130
Number of students: 7,384 undergraduates
Belmont University started as a women's college but is now co-ed. The fact that it's smack dab in the middle of Nashville is enough of a perk for some. But there's also the fact of how mighty its Motion Pictures program is.
Students get hands-on experience in all the ins and outs of filmmaking and a curriculum that would make Marty Scorcese proud. Plus, it's one of the only places where students learn how to mix sound in Dolby Atmos, a surround-sound, high-tech system.
Belmont’s Motion Pictures program offers students hands-on experience in all aspects of filmmaking, from screenwriting and cinematography to post-production and distribution. With state-of-the-art facilities and a dedicated faculty of industry professionals, Belmont provides students with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in the competitive world of film. Variety has named Belmont University one of the top film schools in the U.S. more than once.
The University of Memphis
3720 Alumni Ave, Memphis, TN 38152
Year founded: 1912
Acceptance Rate: 85%
Cost of Attendance: $25,943 (In-State) and $32,795 (Out-of-State)
Number of students: 21,917 undergraduates
The University of Memphis is the only university on this list founded in the twentieth century. But don't underestimate it just because it's the youngest. The Tennessee Higher Education Commission has actually designated the University of Memphis as a place for centers of excellence, which receive special state funding.
The University of Memphis has five centers of excellence:
- Center for Applied Psychological Research (CAPR)
- Center for Earthquake Research and Information (CERI)
- Center for Research in Educational Policy (CREP)
- Center for Research Initiatives and Strategies for the Communicatively Impaired (CRISCI)
- Institute of Egyptian Art and Archaeology
Baylor School (Grades 6-12)
171 Baylor School Rd, Chattanooga, TN 37405
Year founded: 1895
Acceptance Rate: 40%
Cost of Attendance: $29,330 (Day Tuition) and $59,400 (Boarding)
Number of students: 1,050
That’s right, some secondary schools actually rank on this list of the richest schools in Tennessee!
According to Baylor's website, almost 60% of their seniors graduate with the equivalent of at least one college credit, whereas the national average is 15%. I mean, hey, if you're paying that much tuition, you'd better get some returns! Of course, Baylor offers some hefty financial aid packages, so more students can get access to this kind of enrichment.
Baylor also has a Walkabout program. If you're familiar with the term “walkabout,” it comes from Australian Aborigine culture and is a term to describe a rite of passage in which one comes to adulthood through communion with nature, in a break from their normal routine. In much the same way, Baylor students get the chance to connect with their own environment every day, whether that means paddling down the Tennessee River or navigating trails in Prentice Cooper State Forest. They can also partake in trips abroad to Panama or India, as well as shorter trips to other nearby states.
McCallie School (Grades 6-12)
500 Dodds Avenue, Chattanooga, TN 37404
Year Founded: 1905
Acceptance Rate: 55%
Cost of Attendance: $32,880 (Day) and $63,720 (Domestic Boarding)
Number of students: 980
McCallie School is also located, like Baylor School, in Chattanooga, TN. But it's got one big difference — McCallie is an all-boys school. This may explain why in addition to several sports teams, McCallie also has an Esports team. Boys do love their video games.
While McCallie's tuition is pretty steep, its website indicates that half of its students are on a financial aid plan, making the school's resources much more accessible.
Does it Matter How Rich a School Is?
In many ways, yes. The more money a school has at its disposal, the more resources — including financial aid — it has to offer students. You see the proof on college ranking lists, too. The schools with the largest endowments tend to rank the highest every year, and those names tend to carry the most weight with employers.
But endowments aren't everything. Sometimes, lesser-resourced schools have certain programs that are nationally recognized and in competition with the deepest pockets. Doing your research really matters.
The image featured at the top of this post is ©Sean Pavone/Shutterstock.com.