Op-ed: Brooklyn leads NYC recovery, but our colleges can help make it more equitable

Photo by Dietmar Rabich via Wikimedia Commons

Brooklyn is a force to be reckoned with.  More than 2.5 million people call it home. It is a cultural and economic beacon, especially today as we settle into a post-pandemic reality. Even after being among the hardest hit communities by COVID-19, Brooklyn has come back stronger than ever and is leading New York City’s recovery.

A recent report by the state comptroller’s office found that Brooklyn has weathered the storm of the last two years, regaining a more significant percentage of jobs compared to its neighboring boroughs since Spring 2020. Moreover, it predicts that Brooklyn will continue to attract companies, jobs and people over the coming years while continuing to serve as a hub for innovation and technology.

Even as tech startups, creative companies and experimental manufacturers help lead Brooklyn’s resurgence, there is an opportunity to create and keep well-paying jobs in our backyard. In fact, Brooklyn’s startup growth rate of 356 percent since 2008 is second only to San Francisco, according to The Center for an Urban Future.

To be sure, the report also highlights the need to address a series of inequities that our borough faces, including healthcare, housing and employment. The pandemic made these impacts on our most vulnerable communities bare, and we must confront them together if we want our next generation of Brooklynites to thrive. 

Luckily, Brooklyn is uniquely positioned to be at the forefront of a more equitable future. We can start by ensuring every New Yorker has access to the education and skills they need to succeed, especially in the fields that will help us make a fairer New York for all. 

However, that future has felt out of reach for too many who feel they lack the skills expected in some of the most competitive careers in fields such as technology, healthcare and the creative industries. Eighty percent of New Yorkers agree that we need to do more to prepare our workforce for the future. 

But Brooklyn can answer the call. Higher education has always been a pathway to economic mobility. In Downtown Brooklyn, more than 60,000 students attend one of the neighborhood’s 10 institutions, generating over $3 billion of economic activity every year. Colleges and universities in Brooklyn are educating the next generation of leaders who will tackle our city and the planet’s most pressing issues.

New York City institutes of higher learning must reflect our city’s rich diversity and adapt to the needs of the 21st century.  We need to create talent pipelines that connect students to the jobs created right here in our borough. Beyond jobs, we must prepare a new generation of critical thinkers and thought leaders who can confront society’s most pressing issues, whether it’s fighting climate change or protecting democracy.  

Core to our mission, St. Francis College is embracing and launching new academic programs that will create new leaders in competitive fields. Degrees in Community Health, Entrepreneurship and Global Studies will prepare students to be critical thinkers in how our society responds to today’s global health and economic crises. 

This fall, St. Francis College will open our doors to a new home in Downtown Brooklyn. This new state-of-the-art campus is centered around creating a tech-forward, 21st century learning experience focused on our student community. Technology is integral to our campus, whether it’s our flexible classrooms, state-of-the-art chemistry labs or medical operating rooms. 

Our institutions must be flexible and accessible to all, regardless of income level. At St. Francis College, we remain committed to creating accessible opportunities that propel our students to fulfilling careers and support their families and communities. 

Brooklyn will undoubtedly recover from the effects of the last two years, but we must do everything we can to make that recovery as inclusive as possible. We all play a role in our borough’s next chapter, and St. Francis College is excited to work alongside our neighbors to make it successful and prosperous for every New Yorker.

Dr. Martinez-Saenz has served as President of St. Francis College since September 2017.