Who We Are: A Historical Perspective

Wayne State University is a premier, public, urban research university located in the heart of Detroit. Founded in 1868 by five doctors who were determined to advance medicine beyond the crude care they had witnessed on the battlefields of the Civil War, Wayne State today pursues scholarship at the highest levels and serves a diverse body of nearly 28,000 students through a broad array of academic programs and high-caliber faculty and staff.

Throughout our history, we have provided students from all backgrounds access to a high-quality education, enabling them to realize their full potential and contribute to society throughout their lives. Our commitment to accessibility for qualified students of all backgrounds creates exceptional educational opportunities and enriches our communities. Our longstanding commitment to diversity and our rich, multicultural environment prepare our students for success and eventual leadership in a diverse, global society.

We are one of only six public, urban universities in the United States to have received the highest Carnegie Foundation ratings for both research intensiveness and community engagement. Since our inception, faculty and staff have provided a high-quality educational experience for hundreds of thousands of students, who have gone on to make outstanding contributions to our region and nation in every field of endeavor, including as corporate CEOs, government leaders, judges, teachers, policy makers, university presidents, astronauts, scientists, physicians, and engaged citizens. Our annual economic impact in Michigan is estimated at $2.5 billion.

Wayne State's impact and success are evident in many ways throughout our campus and far beyond. With more than 1,000 students, we have the largest single-campus medical school in the United States, and our contributions to the medical field have been immense. About 30 percent of Michigan's practicing physicians (and more than 40 percent in the metropolitan counties of Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb) have received all or part of their medical training at Wayne State University. We are home to the only National Institutes of Health branch not in or near the Washington, D.C., area dedicated to the study of premature birth and infant mortality. Since 2002, the Perinatology Research Branch has produced lifesaving research, cared for more than 20,000 at-risk mothers, contributed more than $350 million to Michigan's economy, and employed more than 130 physicians, researchers, and staff members.

Since its founding, Wayne State has been inextricably linked to Detroit, a city that has been a symbol of the American Dream and a kaleidoscope of cultures, ambition, inspiration, contradictions, and challenges. Following a long period of steady and, at times, explosive growth and development, Detroit suffered through a period of urban decline unprecedented in American history. In recent years, the spirit and resilience that once made Detroit great have re-emerged in full. There is a new vision, new leadership, willing participation, growing investment, economic growth, and — most of all — palpable optimism. Though it stands at a crossroad, Detroit is poised for success — and the world is watching.

An Unwavering Commitment

Throughout Detroit's changing fortunes, Wayne State has remained a steadfast partner, playing a leading role in the city's recent resurgence while maintaining the university's historical commitment to diversity, opportunity, and excellence. Opportunity is embodied in the chance for a diverse array of students from wide-ranging and underrepresented communities around the world to study with world-class faculty at a major research university and prepare for a lifetime of success. It is found in the cultural and community experiences that are unique to a Wayne State education. It is evident in the wide spectrum of academic programs at the undergraduate, graduate, and professional levels. At Wayne State, students learn from professors recognized nationally and internationally as being at the forefront of their disciplines while participating in the creation of new knowledge. Most of all, opportunity means a chance for students with desire and talent to achieve their dreams, no matter their background.

At Wayne State University, excellence is evident in the quality of our faculty, the caliber of our research, and the rigorous academic expectations of our students. It undergirds and guides our endeavors both in and out of classrooms and labs, and fuels a relentless pursuit of improvement.

Every Wayne State student has the opportunity to be valued, to learn in an environment that is focused on student success, and to be enriched not only academically but also by learning from others who are ethnically and racially diverse. Furthermore, they have the opportunity to participate in research that impacts not only Detroit but also the world. Students can learn from, and give back to, the community. They are encouraged to think outside of the box, along with how to be innovative and entrepreneurial. This is what we call the "Distinctively Wayne State University" student experience.

This experience springs from our proud heritage, and will shape our vision for the future.

Where We Stand Today

Like Detroit itself, Wayne State University stands at a crossroad. Its success as a comprehensive, diverse, public, urban research university provides a strong foundation on which to build. Its history and location provide the university with unique advantages, including a rich multicultural environment, a strong research ranking, a consistent commitment to academic excellence, a large and successful alumni base, and a location in a city whose revitalization is gaining momentum and attention. However, the university — not unlike higher education in general — faces an uncertain future characterized by increasing competition, technological upheaval, disruption to the existing higher education model, a growing demand for accountability, and economic uncertainty. To prepare for a bright future, Wayne State must prepare a plan to capitalize on its unique opportunities while managing its evolving and significant challenges.

Mapping the Future: Our Strategic Plan

All successful plans begin with the end in mind


WSU will be a pre-eminent, public, urban research university known for academic and research excellence, success across a diverse student body, and meaningful engagement in its urban community.


Wayne State's mission is to create and advance knowledge, prepare a diverse student body to thrive, and positively impact local and global communities.


While our vision and mission provide a destination and a purpose, our values guide us in our approach to work, our expectations of performance and behavior, our assessment of results, and, most importantly, our approach to working together. Our values cut across organizational boundaries, bind us culturally, and permeate our strategic and tactical initiatives.


When we work together, drawing upon various talents and perspectives, we achieve better results. 


We are unafraid to try new things, to test, and to learn by both failure and success. We
are relentlessly curious about the evolving world and how we can do things better.

Diversity and Inclusion

We value all people and understand that their unique experiences, talents, and perspectives make us a stronger organization and better persons. We seek and are strengthened by diverse points of view. We actively recruit students, faculty, and staff from different races, ethnic groups, and backgrounds locally, regionally, and globally. We strive for an inclusive and welcoming campus for all people regardless of race, ethnicity, creed, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic background, or place of origin.


We keep our word. We live up to our commitments and are accountable regarding our responsibilities and to each other. Ours is a greater calling, and we do what is right for our students, each other, our community, and the quest for knowledge.

Strategic Focus Areas

During our planning, certain themes emerged:

  • The importance of focusing on student success and the critical role faculty play
  • The distinctive educational advantage that our diverse, multicultural environment provides
  • The opportunity for leadership and service, which our participation in the revitalization of Detroit provides, and the importance of aligning our service with our mission
  • The necessity of encouraging innovation and a global perspective to compete in the 21st century higher education environment
  • The key role entrepreneurship will play in Detroit's revitalization and its synergies with an innovative culture on our campus
  • The continuous need to expand our research
  • The need for financial sustainability and operational excellence in a continually changing fiscal environment

Our discussions led us to focus our planning around seven interdependent Strategic Focus Areas, which are permeated by our values. They have served as guideposts in our planning.