A glimpse into one state’s university enrollment changes

Bryan Alexander
3 min readApr 5, 2022

How is public higher education changing?

We have a new sketch of an answer to this question for one state. The Detroit News recently ran an article about Michigan’s public universities, focusing on enrollment. I’d like to share some of it here.

The overall picture is one of most Michigan public institutions losing enrollment over the past decade to various degrees, except for a couple enjoying the opposite experience:

Some of this is unsurprising. The University of Michigan is one of the world’s great universities. Michigan State is also highly ranked. Naturally they attract students (like myself, back in the day).

Yet, setting aside Michigan Tech’s near-plateau, I think the rest of the picture is not so well appreciated. Consider how many of those institutions saw their student numbers drop by values in the 20s — or 30s. Central Michigan University (CMU) lost nearly one half of its enrollment. It is actually closing up some residence halls this fall.

Now, those are all relative numbers, comparisons and proportions. What are the absolute numbers? According to Michigan Association of State Universities (MASU) data, total enrollment in state universities was 303,969 in 2011. By 2021 it fell to 262,985, roughly a 14% decline. 2022 numbers are still to come. 2011 seems to have been the peak, as I’ve noted elsewhere.

What’s behind this overall net loss?

The News article cites demographics, which makes sense, since Michigan’s overall population is barely growing: 9,883,640 in 2010 leading to 10,077,331 in 2020, according to Census data. The state’s median age is somewhere in the upper 30s, depending on source (Google versus Infoplease). Some are concerned that Michigan is aging up and out, producing fewer kids, as per the global demographic transition I’ve mentioned before.

The article also mentions COVID, although it adds that the decline predated the pandemic. And it adds a cultural detail:

“Lou Glazer, president of Michigan Future [states that] “you’ve got this drumbeat, which we think is inaccurate but is out there, that says getting a college degree is less valuable…”

Bryan Alexander

Futurist, speaker, writer, educator. Author of the FTTE report, UNIVERSITIES ON FIRE, and ACADEMIA NEXT. Creator of The Future Trends Forum.