7 of the Best Public Universities in Michigan

Michigan State University entrance sign

By The 'Gander Staff

May 9, 2023

If it’s time to start thinking about where you or your kid is going for college, consider staying home in Michigan.

Michigan is not only known for its beautiful landscapes and Great Lakes, but it is also home to several prestigious public universities. These universities have been providing excellent education to students from all over the world for many years.

“I don’t think families and students recognize the gem of colleges and universities we have in this state,” Holly Markiecki-Bennetts, a counselor at Mercy High School in Farmington Hills, told MetroParent last year. “The grass is always greener.”

Let’s take a closer look at some of those gems.

University of Michigan


The University of Michigan, located in Ann Arbor, is one of the top public research universities in the country. Founded in 1817, the university has a rich history and has produced many notable alumni, including former President Gerald Ford, superstar quarterback Tom Brady, and Google co-founder Larry Page. 

With over 200 majors in a broad range of fields, the University of Michigan offers its students a diverse and comprehensive education. The university has a reputation for excellence in engineering, computer science, and business. Its engineering program is ranked among the top 5 in the country, and its Ross School of Business is ranked among the top 10 in the country.

Historical Fact: Even though the university was founded in 1817, college classes weren’t even held there until 1841. The first graduating class (1845) only consisted of 11 men—in 2022, U-M had 16,517 women and 14,802 men.

Michigan State University


Michigan State University, located in East Lansing, is a public research university known for its strong agricultural and natural resource programs. The university was founded in 1855 and has since grown to become one of the largest universities in the US based on enrollment. 

Michigan State University has highly regarded programs in business, education, and engineering. The university is also home to the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, formerly known as the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory, which is one of the world’s foremost laboratories for nuclear science research.

Fun/Historical Fact: MSU was the nation’s first land-grant institution. What’s a land-grant institution? It’s a classification signed into the Morrill Act by Abraham Lincoln. The act essentially gave land to a college or university in return for pledging to teach practical skills and knowledge—like science, engineering, philosophy, and agriculture—to all citizens, regardless of social class.

Wayne State University


Wayne State University, located in Detroit, is a public research institution with a diverse student body. The university was founded in 1868 and has since become one of the premier urban research universities in the country. Wayne State University has a reputation for excellence in health sciences, law, and business. 

Not only does Wayne State pride itself on fostering a diverse and inclusive community—with students representing more than 70 countries—it’s also rated the No. 1 Michigan university for social mobility by US News & World Report. Additional cool points: Students at Wayne State with families earning less than $70,000 are now entitled to tuition-free education with zero out-of-pocket costs thanks to a new state scholarship program

Fun Fact: Wayne State University is home to many notable alums, including actress Lily Tomlin, radio personality Casey Kasem, former Sen. Cora Brown, and Congressman Keith Ellison.

Western Michigan University


Western Michigan University, located in Kalamazoo, is a public research university known for its high-quality education programs. The university was founded in 1903 and has since grown to become one of the top universities in the Midwest. Western Michigan University has highly regarded programs in education, engineering, and business. 

Students can join and participate in numerous clubs, activities, and events during their time at WMU. Around 300 Student Organizations and clubs are registered at the university, and there are roughly 4,000 events held each academic year. From the school’s hip-hop dance group to its accounting club, there’s a wide variety of options available.

Historical Fact: Students from Western Michigan University trained for World War I and World War II on the university’s campus.

Northern Michigan University


Northern Michigan University, founded in 1899, is located in Marquette and offers a wide range of undergraduate and graduate programs. The campus encompasses 360 acres and features over 50 facilities, including award-winning laboratories, the university’s theater, occupational science buildings, and the world’s largest wooden dome, The Superior Dome.

Mental health and well-being are at the forefront for students, faculty, and staff at NMU. A Counseling Center, Health Center, and health advocates are available Monday-Friday, and on weekends. Online therapy sessions are also offered to students. Students can join an array of recreational events, sports clubs, and other organizations.

Historical Fact: The Center for Native American Studies at Northern Michigan University introduced the first (and only) Native American Studies bachelor’s degree in Michigan

Eastern Michigan University


Located in Ypsilanti, Eastern Michigan University was founded in 1849 and is a prominent research institution. The Princeton Review has named EMU’s College of Business among the best in the nation for the 18th year in a row, and has called the overall university one of the Best in the Midwest for 19 consecutive years. 

For high-performing students with lower income families, EMU offers tuition-free education based on several qualifying factors. There are over 200 majors and minors offered across Eastern Michigan University’s five colleges, including Anthropology, Hotel and Restaurant Management, Media Studies, Chemistry, and Theatre Arts.

Fun Fact: Every year, around 100 participants gather at Ford Lake to take part in the Frozen Leap to raise money for charities. EMU’s football team and coaches are known for partaking in this chill-inducing plunge.

Central Michigan University


Central Michigan University, located in Mount Pleasant, is a public research university established in 1892. More than 300 programs are available to students, including those in STEM, business, social science, humanities, and other various fields. There are over 400 student organizations and groups at CMU, making it one of the best universities for an all-around experience.

The school was ranked 3rd in Michigan for Best Online Bachelor’s Programs in 2023, and is often praised for being environmentally-minded. The College of the Arts and Media and its College of Business Administration are two of the highest-ranked colleges at Central Michigan University. 

Historical Fact: 31 students attended CMU when it was first founded in the 1890s. Back then, the school consisted of second-floor rooms over an office space in downtown Mount Pleasant. Now, Central Michigan University sits on 235 acres and over 4,5000 students are enrolled there.

RELATED: Michigan Just Cut Wayne State Students a Big Break on Their Tuition


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