Updated November 30, 2022

Michigan is home to a particularly diverse group of colleges and universities. Find your best value school in Michigan on our top-ranked list.

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By Iris Stone

Michigan is home to a particularly diverse group of colleges and universities. There are large state schools that support long-running athletic rivalries (think Michigan State and the University of Michigan), plus small colleges, religious schools, and career prep/technology universities. Michigan also stands at an advantage to many other states, as its lower cost of living and real estate prices make it an overall more affordable choice than other regions of the U.S. In fact, in our list below, 70% of the colleges represented have a net price below $23,000 a year - a clear indication that an affordable education is within easy reach in this state. For information about the best affordable online learning available in Michigan visit our ranking of the top affordable online schools in Michigan.
Our goal was to identify not just the top Michigan colleges, but more specifically the ones that offer a lot of "bang for their buck." As such, we developed a ranking system that pinpoints some of the most important factors you'll need to consider when applying to college: student success (graduation rate), affordability (net price), selectivity (acceptance rate), and long-term value (return on investment).

Our Ranking Methodology:

Graduation Rate: This indicator refers to the percentage of students who complete their degree within 150% of normal time (six years for a typical four-year degree program). Schools that perform well in this area have a track record of keeping students engaged and successful for their entire time on campus. We weighted this category 30% of the total and retrieved the information from College Navigator.

Net Price: In order to make sure that cost was still a factor in the ranking, we also considered overall net price as an indicator. Taken from data on College Navigator, "net price" is an approximate value that refers to the average amount of money a student could expect to pay each year after taking into account tuition, room and board, living expenses, scholarship awards, and financial aid packages. We weighted this category 25% of the total.

Acceptance Rate: Academically challenging, popular universities tend to be more selective and thus have a lower acceptance rate. In order to pinpoint those colleges that boast rigorous academics and also receive a large number of applications, we considered acceptance rate - the percentage of students out of the total number of applicants who receive an acceptance letter. We retrieved this information from College Navigator and weighted it 30% of the total.

20-Year Net Return on Investment: Taken from information on the website PayScale, this statistic provides a picture of how much students can expect to make after they graduate from a particular college. More specifically, the figure is calculated by taking the average income an alumnus will make over his or her first 20 years after graduation and subtracting the amount paid in tuition. Schools with a high ROI tend to be better at preparing their students for the job market. We weighted this category only 15% because data was not available for all colleges considered.

After adding all the points, we gave each university a final score out of 200. The schools below have scores ranging from 81 to 174, and each has something different to offer in terms of its cost, quality, and reputation. No one college is perfect (which is why the scores vary so much) but this ranking offers you a premier selection of universities to help get you started on your search for an education in Michigan.

#1 University of Michigan Ann Arbor, MI
#2 Michigan State University East Lansing, MI
#3 Michigan Technological University Houghton, MI
#4 Oakland University Rochester, MI
#5 Madonna University Livonia, MI
#6 Central Michigan University Mt. Pleasant, MI
#7 Andrews University Berrien Springs, MI
#8 Rochester College Rochester Hills, MI
#9 Albion College Albion, MI
#10 Northwood University Midland, MI

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  1. University of Michigan

    Ann Arbor, MI



    Many dream about being a Wolverine; few get the honor. The University of Michigan, founded in 1817, is the state's oldest school—and its most iconic, nationally renowned for its academics and legendary sports teams. If you apply, don't bank on getting accepted; only 32% of applicants make it in. For those who do attend, Michigan has a 91% graduation rate—and on top of that an impressive 20-year ROI of $541,500. With the buzz of a big city packed into a college town, Ann Arbor offers students a one-of-a-kind undergrad experience. Restaurants of all stripes, concerts, events like the annual folk festival, an impressive farmers' market and a diverse population make Ann Arbor a lively and fun town for students who attend this top Michigan college.

  2. Michigan State University

    East Lansing, MI



    Want to be part of a proud tradition? There is none prouder than the Spartan tradition at Michigan State University—the first land-grant school in the country. Long thought of as "little brother" to the University of Michigan, MSU has truly come into its own as a nationally recognized center for research and academic excellence—particularly when it comes to its agricultural programs. And yet there's more to MSU than its ag programs. For example, Michigan State's elementary and secondary education program is ranked #1 in the country. And if you're after a college town experience, there's none livelier than East Lansing—particularly during tailgate season. Michigan State is an excellent investment with an average 20-yr ROI of $409,400.

  3. Michigan Technological University

    Houghton, MI



    In the heart of the Upper Peninsula's snowbelt, Houghton has the distinction of being one of the coldest, snowiest college towns in the United States. Even if you don't like the snow, you may find reason to give Michigan Technological University some consideration when you find out the average ROI for graduates is an astounding $661,700. One upside of attending school in Michigan's remote U.P. is that your classmates aren't likely to disappear on the weekend for a visit home. And with more than 240 student organizations, there is always something to do.

  4. Oakland University

    Rochester, MI



    After years of decline, Michigan's manufacturing industry is on the rebound as the automotive industry adds thousands of new high-tech jobs every year. Oakland University, a gem among cheap colleges in Michigan, is at the heart of that growth. Oakland's Automotive Tribology Center is the only such research center anywhere in America housed in an academic institution. Associated research helps advance the reliability, mobility and efficiency of automobile components. But if the automotive industry isn't your thing, not to worry. With more than 135 undergraduate programs to choose from, there's sure to be something of interest to you. OU welcomes students from nearly every state in the Union—and for good reason; the average 20-year ROI is $367,500.

  5. Madonna University

    Livonia, MI



    You may know that Madonna hails from Metro Detroit—but do you know Detroit's other Madonna? We're talking about Madonna University, of course. Just minutes outside the city in the affluent suburb of Livonia, Madonna University is a Franciscan Catholic university with about 3,200 undergrad students. The school has an admirable 12:1 student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 100 degrees. Recent growth gives Madonna a competitive edge among top Michigan colleges. In conjunction with the School of Business, Madonna's College of Nursing is offering Population Health Care Management as well as Health Care Informatics and Quality Systems Management. Other programs include Addiction Studies, e-Commerce, Writing, and Professional and Technical Writing.

  6. Central Michigan University

    Mt. Pleasant, MI



    You can forget the bitter rivalry between Michigan and Michigan State—the Central Michigan University Chippewas are the pride of Mid-Michigan - and with good reason. CMU stands out from the crowd with its unique academic programs, including Michigan's only undergrad meteorology program and the state's only event management major. The school's Biological Station on Beaver Island, the largest landmass in majestic Lake Michigan, gives students a rare look at the Great Lakes' ecosystem. Students enjoy $361 million in financial aid and scholarship every year, and graduates can count on a respectable $208,800 ROI over 20 years.

  7. Andrews University

    Berrien Springs, MI



    Andrews University may be Southwest Michigan's best-kept secret. In addition to being one of the top universities in Michigan, Andrews is the only Adventist university to be ranked nationally by U.S. News & World Report. The 3,400 students at Andrews represent nearly 100 countries from around the world, and the school's diversity is a point of pride. Events such as the International Food Fair and Culture Nights celebrate the diversity to be found on this tiny campus. With a 37% acceptance rate, admission is highly competitive. Opportunities abound for students who want to explore a career in missions—ministry fairs, service opportunities in the local community, and even the chance to spend a year abroad as a student missionary.

  8. Rochester College

    Rochester Hills, MI



    Rochester College moved to become a more inclusive, more diverse institution in 1997 when the name changed from Michigan Christian College. Today, the school remains firmly committed to educating students within a "values-based" Christian tradition. Rochester, like Kuyper, is notable for its affordability as a private, religious institution. Not only is Rochester one of the most affordable Michigan colleges around, it's one of the most dynamic. An active theatre company puts on plays and musicals throughout the academic year and the college plays host to conferences featuring nationally known speakers. Admission is competitive, with only 41% of applicants getting accepted.

  9. Albion College

    Albion, MI



    Chartered in 1835, Albion College is the third oldest continually running college in Michigan. Albion, one of the best Michigan colleges around, has maintained its small size over the years. Today, not many more than 1,000 students attend Albion every year, resulting in an intimate 11:1 student-to-faculty ratio. When you're not in class, enjoy the 340-acre Held Equestrian Center or more than five miles of trails on the school's nature preserve. In town, you can enjoy authentic Mexican food at local favorite La Casa Mexicana or, if you want to get away, a convenient Amtrak line connects you with Chicago and Detroit. While historically affiliated with the Methodist Church, today the school embraces students from diverse religious backgrounds.

  10. Northwood University

    Midland, MI



    Northwood University's exclusive focus is on business. As such, the stated mission behind the university is "to develop the future leaders of a global, free-enterprise society." Their alumni are certainly living up to this as some notable graduates include Amway heir Dick DeVos and Representative Candice Miller, the only woman to hold a committee chair position in the current session of the U.S. House of Representatives. While the school's main campus is in Midland, you can find additional locations throughout the Lower Peninsula. Business-minded students will also be interested to know that the school's 20-year ROI is a respectable $291,300.

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About the Author:
Iris Stone began her writing career as a freelance writer and researcher. She now owns and operates a writing and editing firm that works with clients all across the country. Her work has included articles related to education policy, colleges and universities, academic programs, and careers.

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