Grech: The evolving value of a college education

By Thomas Grech, executive director of the Queens Chamber of Commerce

Summer is now in full-swing! School is out and vacations are on the horizon. Congratulations to all the students who have graduated and to their parents who have supported them along the way. As this month’s theme is education, I want to discuss several initiatives the Queens Chamber is working on and has been taking part in.

From Then to Now

In today’s economic landscape, especially in New York City, the traditional route of elementary school-middle school-high school-college is not what it once was. While this system used to be the norm, it no longer applies in the same sense.

In the past century, our society has undergone a massive transformation in how we view our education policy. In the early to mid-1900s, going to college was a rarity. For those lucky enough to have the time and money to be admitted, a college graduate’s earning potential was significantly higher than anyone in a trade school.

Then came the late 20th century, where graduating from college was the norm. Now, a college degree alone is not sufficient to compete. Students walking the traditional path must aim to pursue higher education, whether that be a degree from graduate school, law school, or medical school.

It seems as if the tide is now turning. With the increase of automation, artificial intelligence, and diluted job markets, students are being forced to pursue the trades and more creatives outlets for making a paycheck. Students are turning to specialized trade schools and community colleges to make that return on investment.

The Queens Chamber is making a concerted effort to not only acknowledge this trend, but provide the options to students who wish to take a non-traditional route.

Workforce Development

Put simply, the term “workforce development” means being “job ready”; i.e. being prepared and specifically trained for the job at hand. As I drive through the borough, I inevitably catch glimpses of the vast amount of “Help Wanted” signs. One of the primary goals of the Queens Chamber is to identify these opportunities and work with the universities, colleges, community colleges, and trade schools to be able to best gather and analyze this information.

“Job readiness” not only applies to academic and technical skills; it also applies to the intangibles such as people skills and language skills. The Queens Chamber is rallying businesses, high schools, and all places of higher education to make sure our students are graduating as prepared as possible to deal with the ultra-competitive economic landscape.

Incubating Spaces and Entrepreneurship

As an adjunct professor of Entrepreneurship for nearly seven years, I am the first to point out that it is very difficult to be successful as a business owner and entrepreneur. Due to this realization, I have made one of the Queens Chamber’s major tenets helping these entrepreneurs.

An example of this is partnering with Queens College in setting up the Queens College Tech Incubator (TIQC). The available office space includes one, four, six, eight, and ten-person private work spaces, as well as one co-working space that could accommodate up to 12 private work tables. TIQC also consistently holds events, panel discussions, networking mixers, classroom style presentations, and conference meetings for its members.

Further, the TIQC possesses a reliable computing and networking infrastructure that will give members a competitive advantage and help grow a business. We also have worked with York College, the home of the only Queens Start-Up NY location, as well as LaGuardia Community College. It is the intention of the Queens Chamber to develop this model throughout the borough.

Further, the Queens Chamber is planning to roll out an Entrepreneurial Committee which will assist those who wish to pursue their individual endeavors. Similar to the mini “Shark Tank” event we hosted last winter, we plan to hold many more of these type of meetings and roundtables so like-minded individuals have an environment in which to thrive.

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