Skip to main content
Bridge Michigan
Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source

Where are the Michigan men? College increasingly a female dominated pursuit

College students walking in the hallway
Women comprise an increasingly larger proportion of college students in Michigan as more men have opted to work instead of enroll. (Shutterstock)
  • The gap between male and female students is rising at Michigan colleges and universities 
  • Women who graduated in 2023 made up nearly 58% of those attending four-year schools, up from 55% for the class of 2013
  • Men appear to be choosing work over school, lured by plentiful jobs and rising wages

Michigan’s colleges and universities are increasingly dominated by women, a trend fueled by rising wages and plentiful jobs that are keeping men away from classrooms, experts say.

Mirroring a national trend, an estimated 69% of women in Michigan enroll in college within a year of graduating high school, according to the latest numbers from the state, while just 56% of men do.


That’s led women at many community colleges in the state — and several public universities — to make up 60% or more of all undergraduates. 


At Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek, women make up nearly 72% of undergraduate students.

“Why did men miss the memo about getting more education to get the jobs?” asked Brad Hershbein, a labor economist at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research in Kalamazoo.

“Women got the memo.”


Path to better pay

More women continue to seek higher education because that is viewed as the best way to ensure steady, good-paying jobs, Hershbein said.

Men are apparently reaching different conclusions.

Overall, 53.2% of high school graduates enrolled in a two or four-year college in 2022-23, down from 65.8% in 2012-13. 

But the male rate fell from 61% to 46.8% over that time, while the female rate fell from 70.3% to 59.6%.  

“It is definitely an issue we are monitoring,” said Donta Truss, vice president for enrollment development and education outreach at Grand Valley State University. 

At Grand Valley, women make up 60% of undergraduates.

Women, Truss said, continue to “hear and listen” to the message that a college degree has long-term value. 

With overall numbers of high school graduates declining in Michigan, the long-term trends could hurt every other university and college in the state.

“We’re working hard to be able to be in front of as many males as we can (to tell them about Grand Valley),” Truss said.

In Michigan, men with just a high school diploma can now make roughly $33,500 a year after five years. That’s $8,000 more, on average, than women with the same level of education.

“That’s compelling for a lot of people,” Hershbein said. “Especially if they weren't very enamored of school to begin with.”

But Hershbein said too many men are not realizing the big economic benefit from even modest amounts of additional education, such as skills training or certifications from industry groups.

“High school isn’t enough to prepare you for those (higher skill) jobs,” he said.

Wage data shows men could make $60,700 if they have a certificate, like in a skilled trade, and up to $71,700 with a bachelor’s degree.

For women, wages for high school grads are $25,700 — just above the poverty level for a family of three — making college a more sure-fire bet. 

Efforts to boost male enrollment

At Eastern Michigan University, once one of the state’s main schools for training teachers, a profession dominated by women, the gender imbalance has stayed relatively steady at about 60% to 40%, said Katie Condon, vice president for enrollment management.


That ratio holds among those seeking information about Eastern, those applying and those enrolling, Condon said. “They are opting out of the college search,” Condon said.

The school has tried to attract more men with more engineering and science related fields, but the overall gender ratios have remained the same, she said.

Hershbein, Condon and others said one of the factors lowering enrollment for both genders are fears over school debt and the value of getting a degree

“When (students) are unsure of what they want to pursue in college, they opt out of college,” Condon said.

If there’s a silver lining it’s that among public universities, Michigan’s gender breakdown is better than most states, at 54.6% women compared to 45.4% men.


The current gender ratio is surprisingly similar to the years before World War II, when more women than men attended college, Hershbein said. 

It flipped after the war and the adoption of the G.I. Bill, which included huge education incentives for war veterans, with over 2.2 million taking advantage by going to college and another 5.6 million got additional vocational training.

But it started swinging back, and women reached parity in the 1980s before becoming an increasingly larger majority of college students.

Now, with more high school graduates considering other options besides college, Hershbein wishes there was more focus in Michigan and across the country on educating middle school and high school students about all the different “pathways” to success, from college to the trades to other potentially satisfying jobs and careers.

College may not be the answer for everyone, he said, but too few places outline the variety of options, most of which require some degree of post-high school education, he said.

How impactful was this article for you?

Only donate if we've informed you about important Michigan issues

See what new members are saying about why they donated to Bridge Michigan:

  • “In order for this information to be accurate and unbiased it must be underwritten by its readers, not by special interests.” - Larry S.
  • “Not many other media sources report on the topics Bridge does.” - Susan B.
  • “Your journalism is outstanding and rare these days.” - Mark S.

If you want to ensure the future of nonpartisan, nonprofit Michigan journalism, please become a member today. You, too, will be asked why you donated and maybe we'll feature your quote next time!

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Pay with PayPal Donate Now