The State Area Vocational-Technical Schools were established as a statewide system by action of the 1963 Tennessee General Assembly in compliance with the Federal Vocational Act of 1963. The purpose of the schools was to better meet the occupational and training needs of citizens, employees, and businesses in the state. It was the intent of the legislation to locate and construct each school to serve residents within a fifty-mile radius.
On April 16, 1964 the bids were opened for the Athens State Area Vocational-Technical School. The school was number three of original eighteen proposed Area Vo-Tech Schools. At the cost of $443,000, construction began in May 1964 and completion was set for January 1965.
The school opened in June 1965, with a total of 25 students enrolled in three programs--Automotive Mechanics, Air Conditioning, and Machine Shop. In September 1965, Drafting, Electronics, and Industrial Chemistry classes were added.
In 1969, one shop was added to the original facility. Another two-shop addition was completed in March 1975. Located on a 15-acre site along Highway 11 by-pass, the facility contained some 25,600 square feet of floor space on one level.
The Industrial Chemistry program was closed in 1967.
In 1989, the Auto Mechanics program received Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification, and the program name was changed to Automotive Technology. In July 1992, the Office Occupations program name was changed to Business Systems Technology. The change was made in an effort to better reflect the changes being made in technology in that program.
In April 1993, a satellite program in Practical Nursing was begun at the Tellico Education Consortium in Vonore. In the fall of 1994, another satellite program in Practical Nursing was started in Copperhill.
In June 1997, the Drafting program name was changed to Drafting & CAD Technology.
In 1998, the school had nine full-time programs: Auto Body Repair, Automotive Technology, Business Systems Technology, Drafting & CAD Technology, Electronics, Industrial Maintenance, Machine Shop, Practical Nursing, and Welding.
The school has over 200 full-time students. Special industry classes are designed and developed to meet the needs of local industries and businesses.
Robert E. Barnett was hired as the school's first superintendent and served until his retirement in 1989. The title of superintendent was changed to Director. Margaret Mahery served as Director from 1990-2002 and Stewart Smith has served as Director from 2002 until present.
The school services individuals from a broad geographical area comprised of McMinn, Monroe, Bradley, Meigs, and Polk counties. It is governed by the Tennessee Board of Regents and is one of 45 institutions in the Tennessee Board of Regents System, the sixth largest system of higher education in the nation. The Tennessee Board of Regents is the governing board for this system, which is comprised of six universities, thirteen two-year colleges, and twenty-six Colleges of Applied Technology. The TBR system enrolls more than 80 percent of all Tennessee students attending public institutions of higher education. The Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology is fully accredited by the Council on Occupational Education.
In 1994, the Tennessee General Assembly appropriated a $46 million bond issue for Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology for construction and renovation for nine (9) technology centers and for equipment upgrades for all 27 centers. Athens received $375, 900 for equipment upgrades.
In 1995, the General Assembly appropriated $37 million for construction and renovation for eleven (11) centers and equipment upgrades for all 27 centers.
Athens received $2,591,000 for construction/renovation and $137,182 for equipment upgrades. This brought the total for construction/renovation and equipment updates to $3,174,082 for Athens. In 2007 the General Assembly appropriated $525,200 to the TCATA for equipment upgrades.
TCATA became the first post-secondary institution in the State of Tennessee to have a school-wide membership in SkillsUSA. TCATA joined SkillsUSA in November 2004 and was presented with a charter on April 26, 2005.
July 2013 The state’s workforce training schools known as Tennessee Technology Centers renamed Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology.
January 2014 Business Systems Technology was changed to Administrative Office Technology.
Electro-Mechanical Program began September 2014.
Working with city, county, and state government AND industry and business leaders to conceive and develop CAMBI.
In January 2015, the Tennessee College of Applied Technology Athens, in partnership with seven area high schools (McMinn Co. Polk Co., Meigs Co., and Bradley Co.) was awarded nearly 1 million dollars from Governor Haslam’s LEAP Grant to implement a Mechatronics program in the high schools. In August, the program launched with over 250 students enrolled in classes that teach the fundamentals of manufacturing and electromechanical technology, giving students the opportunity to earn dual credit from Cleveland State or dual enrollment with the TCAT Athens.
January 2016 opened an Instructional Service Center at Cleveland High School offering Electro-mechanical in the evening.