Tuition assistance program continues

Children, families and elected officials gathered Monday at Tallahassee Community College to celebrate The Florida Prepaid College Program’s 20th year of service.

Stanley Tate, Former Chairman of the Board, said The Florida Prepaid College Program was established in 1987 by the Florida Legislature to help ensure that Florida families would have affordable means to save for their child’s college education.

“There’s 1,300,000 kids that got an education because of this program,” Tate said. “Most of them would not have gotten it, because of the issue of affordability, especially African Americans.”

When the program conducted its first enrollment period in 1988, Gov. Bob Martinez purchased the first two Florida Prepaid College Plan contracts for his twin granddaughters.

He said the plan was initially started for parents that wanted to save for a two-year community college degree for their kids. 

“It was Congresswoman Carrie Meek that persuaded the chairman to expand the program to four-year universities, which contributed to the enlargement of the program before it went to the legislature,” Tate said.

According to the program’s website, the program sold 58,651 dormitory and tuition contracts within its first year. 

Within 18 years, the board sold 1,052,080 total contracts.

While sales continue to increase, the 2007-2008 enrollment is now at 1,297,064.

“It feels wonderful.  It’s a great success,” said Ted Hoepner, chairman of the board. “We couldn’t celebrate unless we were doing well.  We now have over 880,000 students enrolled, and last year we paid over $50 million to the university system for students attending. “

The program has several different cost effective programs and payment plans for parents to choose from, which also allows the child to attend in-state, out-of-state, public or private institutions.

“I enrolled my 6-year-old daughter into the program two years ago,” said Ronschelle Laidler, special guest speaker from Jacksonville. “I like the program because it’s something you can afford. You can pay for their two year or four year education, or you can elect to pay for their dormitory or activity fee.  Because of the a la carte pricing, it really helped me out.”  

With the years of success that the program has received, board members said that they are optimistic that the prepaid program will only continue to flourish in the next twenty years to come.

“I hope the program continues to stay big enough to influence the legislature not to increase tuition to such a degree that kids from low income houses can’t afford it,” Tate said.  “If we don’t have an educated population, this country is ruined.  What made Florida great is we have a higher percent of college graduates then almost any state in the United States, and that’s all because of prepaid.”