In 1892, Professor George Colcord and his wife, Ada, started Graysville Academy in Graysville, Tennessee, where 23 students enrolled that first year. In November 1897, the school's name was changed to Southern Industrial School, and in 1901, it was changed again to Southern Training School. After many expansions and name changes, the trustees voted to move the college toward university status in 1996. Later that year, they voted on a new name: Southern Adventist University, the same year that the first master's-level classes were offered.
Southern Adventist University offers a full range of undergraduate and graduate degrees in liberal arts subjects.