Wayne State is a nationally recognized urban center of excellence in research and one of only 10 U.S. public universities in major cities holding the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching’s designation as "doctoral university: highest research activity" by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, as well as the foundation's most comprehensive classification for community engagement. WSU is among the nation’s top public universities for total research expenditures ($218 million) according to the National Science Foundation.

Wayne State University is also a University Research Corridor (URC) partner with the University of Michigan and Michigan State University. The URC partners formed this alliance to improve the understanding of the vital role these three universities have played, and will play, in revitalizing the state's economy.