On Thanksgiving, the eve of the Apple Cup this past November, one of the buses carrying the Husky Marching Band and UW Spirit Squad to WSU overturned, sending dozens of students to local hospitals. Thankfully, there were very few serious injuries, for which I will always be grateful.
The crash, which occurred about halfway between Seattle and Pullman, also prevented the band from completing the trip to this highly anticipated event of the football season. As Director Brad McDavid put it, “The Husky Marching Band is like a family, and we do everything together.” The Apple Cup would have to proceed without them.
And that’s when the magic happened.
In rural Grant County, where the accident occurred, local citizens heard the news and turned out in droves. Many left their own family celebrations to bring a community-sourced feast to our students, helping them recover from a traumatic event. And in Pullman, with only hours to prepare, the Cougar Marching Band learned “Bow Down to Washington” and performed it at the game to honor their absent counterparts. Both of these gestures were proof that whomever you root for, we are all Washington and we are all family.
That spirit of unity—the awareness that we’re all in this together—is our greatest strength, both as a state and as a community of Huskies everywhere. It’s fitting, then, that during the Apple Cup, WSU President Kirk Schulz and I announced a joint initiative—Yes, It’s Possible—to raise awareness that public higher education in Washington is both affordable and achievable for all students. We believe the time for this message is now because the importance of earning a credential beyond high school is growing, yet too many people are deterred from pursuing a degree by misinformation and misconceptions about college affordability and the availability of scholarships and financial aid from our institutions.
Without question, student debt levels in the United States are too high, but here in Washington—and in many other states—public higher education remains affordable, and the benefits of a degree far outweigh the costs. Nearly half of those who earn a bachelor’s degree in Washington leave with no student debt, and Washington ranks second in the nation in need-based grant aid per undergrad student. At the UW, we are proud that a full 60 percent of our undergraduates earn their degree with no known debt, and for those who do owe, the average debt is less than $22,000. And thanks to the Husky Promise, more than 40,000 low-income students at the UW have had their tuition and fees covered.
The UW and WSU join our state’s outstanding array of public community, technical and four-year colleges in preparing students to make the most of their lives and careers. And all of us are working together to ensure that students have a pathway to the knowledge, experience and preparation they will need. And that need is irrefutable: Whether it’s a certificate, an apprenticeship, a two-year degree or a four-year degree, the next generation of jobs will demand a more skilled and knowledgeable workforce.
Higher education is the surest route to that future, and the UW is proud to partner with the people of our state to ensure everyone has the opportunity to be part of it. And we are equally committed to ensuring that our students, families and communities know about these opportunities. As the collective response to the Apple Cup bus accident showed, we stand united. This spring, when I’m visiting Grant County to deliver an in-person thank-you to the community for the caring and generosity they extended to our students, I hope that this message of possibility is heard loud and clear. We are one community, and everyone has a stake in a well-educated world.
Wherever you are, in Washington or across the world, your support for and engagement with the UW helps create possibilities for students today and for generations to come. We are so grateful for all you do to bolster this great public university and to create opportunities in our communities. Near or far, we truly are in this together.