Wichita State University is the state’s major urban research and innovation university. We honor our history as a municipal university in our efforts to engage the community in ways that support our neighborhood, city, region, state and beyond. We are committed to increasing economic development and prosperity for the people and communities of Kansas by addressing income inequality and overcoming health and education disparities. While the office of engagement is a driver of engagement and prosperity work at Wichita State, we are not the only driver. Many offices and university personnel work to leverage the assets of the university in the broader community. It’s truly an “all hands on deck” philosophy.

An engaged university:

  • Actively involves the public in the research activity of the institution,
  • Develops teaching activities which positively impact the community and enhance student engagement skills,
  • Increases the two-way flow of knowledge and insight between the university and wider society,
  • Seeks to maximize the benefits that the institution can generate for the public. 

The Office of Engagement has adopted the following definitions of engagement and economic development, from a framework developed by the University Economic Development Association’s (UEDA).


The Four PIllars of Engagement

Wichita State is an anchor institution in South Central Kansas that can help overcome economic disparities, health disparities, educational disparities, and help stop the outward migration of millennials. For more than 125 years Wichita State has been an integral part of the growth and prosperity in Kansas. Wichita State is committed to reinvigorating the public purpose of higher educational institutions and be a vital agent and architect of a flourishing region, by addressing income inequality and overcoming health and education disparities. The 4 Pillars of WSU’s Strategic Engagement in addressing disparities and driving partnerships and collaborations are: Education, Health, Economics and Culture.

Why Education?

According to the Kansas State Department of Education, in 2017, half of all fourth graders in the state were below proficiency in reading. The statistics are even more alarming when divided by specific racial/ethnic groups. In 2017, more than 70 percent of African-American fourth graders in the state were reading below grade level, as were nearly 67 percent of Hispanic fourth graders. WSU is dedicated to sustaining an environment that promotes our student’s academic success.

Improving education can improve health in several ways

  • Educational attainment increases health knowledge, literacy, coping, and problem-solving skills, thereby influencing health behaviors.
  • Education shapes employment opportunities and related benefits, such as income—another determinant of health.

Education affects social and psychological factors, like self-efficacy and social support

According to ExcelinEd

  • 88 percent of students who failed to earn a high school diploma were struggling readers by the end of third grade.
  • 7 out of 10 inmates cannot read above a fourth grade level.

When 76.5% of USD 259 students are coming from homes of poverty the larger community must be responsive and adaptive to the students and family’s needs.

WSU must also be conscious and responsive to the university experience of non-traditional students. It may be significantly different for those who are breaking a family tradition from those who enroll as an expected continuation of both their own education and family history.

By strategically focusing WSU’s many resources-from faculty, staff, and students, to academic programs, and research WSU can address educational disparities which include, access to child-care.

As the job market changes, family dynamics have evolved but only 2.9% of Child Care Centers and 8.5% of Group Child Care Homes in Kansas offer care during evening hours and even fewer provide overnight or weekend care.

Why Health?

Health outcomes in Kansas indicate significant disparities in the incidence and prevalence of disease as well as access to care. Despite the improvements in the overall health of the country, racial and ethnic minorities in Kansas experience a lower quality of health care- less likely to receive routine medical care and face higher rates of chronic disease like cancer, diabetes, heart disease and mortality than non-minorities. Whites largely show rates that are also consistent with or below state averages.

Health inequities are in large part a result of historic and ongoing poverty, structural racism, and discrimination, and they can be mitigated by policies and community action in powerful ways. Closing these gaps is one of the most crucial barriers to overcome in developing a healthier Kansas. Failing to address health disparities comes at a steep price in excess medical care cost, lost productivity, and premature deaths.

Disparities in health and health care not only affect the groups facing disparities, but also limit overall gains in quality of care and health for the broader population and result in unnecessary costs. Addressing health disparities is increasingly important as the population becomes more diverse.

Why Economics?

Economic development, as defined by framework developed by the University Economic Development Associations (UEDA), in higher education means proactive institutional engagement, with partners and stakeholders, in sustainable growth of the competitive capacities that contribute to the advancement of society through the realization of individual, firm, community, and regional-to-global economic and social potential.

Looking at Shocker Neighborhood and the mapping inequality area descriptions shows historic economic barriers that prevented minorities from participation in economic activity through practices like redlining and loan discrimination, making it difficult or impossible for people in certain areas to access mortgage financing and thus become homeowners.

In partnering with community stakeholders, conditions necessary for economic prosperity can be restored and created.

Why Culture?

The Culture of Wichita State is to honor our history as a municipal university in our efforts to engage the community in ways that support our neighborhood, city, region, state and beyond. These strategies recognize the importance of place and target challenges. Place conscious engagement is a new generation of initiatives guided by five insights:

  • Many of the opportunities that families need to thrive are located outside their immediate neighborhoods. Place-conscious initiatives therefore work to connect to city and regional opportunities while expanding opportunities within target neighborhoods
  • The optimal scale for tackling neighborhood challenges varies across policy domains. To maximize effectiveness, place-conscious initiatives therefore work horizontally, by integrating efforts across policy domains within a neighborhood, and vertically, by activating city, state, and even federal policy levers and resources.
  • No single organization can perform all the tasks and activities needed to transform a distressed neighborhood into one that effectively serves poor children and their families. Place-conscious strategies therefore integrate the work of multiple organizations with complementary missions.
  • Place-conscious strategies explicitly define, measure, and track progress toward shared goals to hold themselves accountable and continuously adapt and improve their strategies based on solid information.
  • Poor people move a lot, and the mobility of these households creates both challenges and opportunities for neighborhoods. Place-conscious initiatives recognize and plan for residential mobility and they work to ensure that neighborhoods function effectively as “launch pads” for families.

Sources: Urban Institute, Kansas Health Matters, Association of American Medical Colleges, National Academies of Sciences Engineering Medicine, District Snapshot 2020-2021, Pathways through which education can affect health. SOURCE: Egerter et al., 2011b. ,National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement