In 1987, members of the Florida Legislature and I collaborated with passionate and forward-thinking business leader Stanley G. Tate to embark upon a path that would revolutionize how Floridians planned for financing their children’s college education. With strong convictions that the stability and growth of our state was heavily dependent on higher education and the opportunities it provided our students, the Florida Prepaid College Program was signed into law.
On Sept. 22, 1988, the first open-enrollment period for Florida Prepaid College Plans kicked off, and in that first year more than 55,000 plans were purchased. The program’s first beneficiaries were Emily and Lydia Keen, my twin granddaughters, who received their degrees from the University of South Florida. The value of a Florida Prepaid College Plan was one that my family and I could not overlook, so the important investment was made again for the futures of our other grandchildren, Alex Martinez, currently attending the University of Central Florida, and his sister, Christine Martinez, a freshman at Vanderbilt University.
I couldn’t be more proud to have been a part of such a valuable and groundbreaking program, now the largest and longest continuously operating prepaid college in the nation.
Over the past 25 years, 20 states, including Florida, have offered prepaid plans. Today, there are only 11 states with prepaid plans that continue to enroll new participants. Since September 1988, 1.6 million plans have been purchased for more than one million children and nearly 350,000 Florida students have attended college using their Florida Prepaid College Plan benefits. The variety of plans, flexibility of payment and overall peace of mind knowing that funds are secured and guaranteed by the state, set Florida Prepaid College Plans apart from any prepaid plan of its kind.
Florida is still considered one of the most affordable states for in-state tuition. Nonetheless, it is no secret that college tuition across the country has increased significantly in the past 10 years. With it, student financial aid, including grants and other state funded scholarships, such as Florida Bright Futures have decreased. As a result, many families and students are faced with limited options, often relying on student loans, subjecting graduates to substantial amounts of debt for years to come.
The latest official numbers from the Federal Reserve note that the amount of outstanding U.S. student debt is at $1.18 trillion as of the end of the second quarter. Since the end of 2008, the amount of U.S. student debt outstanding has swelled 61 percent. Over the same period, the largest component of U.S. consumer borrowing — home mortgage debt — has shrunk 11.3 percent.
This reality only reiterates the point that as parents, in the same sense that we plan ahead and actively work to achieve any financial goal — whether the purchase of a home or entrepreneurial venture — the same discipline and attention should be invested to secure the educational and financial future of tomorrow’s leaders, our students.
It’s only fitting that on the 25th anniversary of the largest and longest continuous operating prepaid college in the nation, we not only celebrate its continued commitment to helping Floridians save for future higher education expenses but also encourage Florida families to engage in college saving. Although it may seem intimidating, saving can be quite simple and smart — especially with a plan with proven achievement and commitment to future success.
This month I complete payment on my fifth Florida Prepaid Plan for my 6-year-old grandson, Frank Martinez.
Former Florida Gov. Bob Martinez, who signed Florida Prepaid into law, lives in Tampa.