Office of the President

July 28, 2014

The optimism behind our outlook

Michael K. Young

A person can get a lot of mileage out of a dash of optimism, and the University of Washington has more than 150 years of history to prove it. From the bold actions of early visionaries who built the Territorial University to the remarkable achievements of subsequent generations who discovered the cure for tuberculosis and pioneered the human genome, an optimistic outlook — a believe-it-in-our-bones mindset that good things will happen if we pursue them — has taken us a long way. Successfully navigating a century and a half of sweeping, sometimes turbulent, change has further affirmed our upbeat institutional worldview. We are seasoned and sager, and we go boldly toward a great future.

Plenty of recent UW achievements invigorate our optimism today. First and foremost, our faculty are 21st-century leaders passionate about discovery, as evidenced by their capturing of competitive research funding that grew by $100 million in the aftermath of the 2007–09 recession. We’re equally encouraged by current rankings, which place the UW among the top five universities in the nation for research commercialization.

Our partnerships with stakeholders are stronger than ever, our undergraduates are thriving thanks to a transformed Husky Experience and the UW has just been named a great college to work for in a 2014 national survey by The Chronicle of Higher Education. And, we just closed fiscal year 2013–2014 with a record-breaking $482,452,318 in private support —exceeding last year’s total by more than $140 million.

Growing the economy is another area in which the UW delivers in a big way. All kinds of data tell us that a college degree increases one’s earning potential, but the news is even better on our campus: UW graduates consistently are among the top earners of all college graduates, according to PayScale’s 2014 college salary rankings widely reported in The Economist and The Atlantic. Perhaps less well known is the connection between per-person earnings (the individual good) and the health of our broader economy (the global good).

Between UW alumni earnings, research funding, commercialization and other outreach, including our regional and global contributions to human health, the UW’s impact on our economy is real and long lasting. Our contribution of more STEM-educated graduates than any other institution in the Pacific Northwest, a commitment we are working to grow rapidly with Seattle’s booming tech sector, shows the direct correlation between producer and product to the economy. And more broadly, growth in our capacity to partner through health care, and research and scholarship with industry, agencies and other universities on the discoveries that will shape our world is expanding the combined impact of us all.

If ever on tough days we question whether college is worth it, or whether the great public universities of our country truly address the complex challenges of the world, the answer is a resounding yes. I’ll say it again: yes, yes, and yes. The University of Washington — in partnership with our great state — sees the future through the eyes of the next generation and those who are shaping it. And we are more optimistic than ever.