Twenty years ago, Nathan Herbig dropped out of college to pursue a career as a police officer and member of the military.
He started his own security company five years ago and decided to go back to school to finish his degree. Friends told him it was hard to go back to school and he wouldn't have the time. He wouldn't be able to do it.
"I'm here to tell you yes, I can, and it will be done," Herbig said.
Herbig completed his associate's degree last year and is working on his bachelor's with plans to get a doctorate.
Graduate Tampa Bay, a new initiative from the Tampa Bay Partnership, is aimed at students like Herbig, people who have some college education, but never finished.
At a news conference Monday, bay area college presidents formally announced the launch of the Graduate Tampa Bay campaign, which will target the 700,000 bay area residents who have some college credit, but no formal degree.
Getting just 30,000 of them to earn a degree is predicted to generate about $3 billion in new revenue for the area, said Ken Atwater, president of Hillsborough Community College and leader of the initiative.
Research from CEOs for Cities shows that college graduates on average earn $1 million more during their lifetimes.
Graduate Tampa Bay is the local arm of the Talent Dividend campaign, a competition between 50 U.S. cities to increase the number of residents with college degrees. The winner will receive $1 million for a national advertising campaign to showcase the region's professional talent.
However, the goal is not just to win the prize, Atwater said, but also to promote more secondary learning. By 2018, he said, 60 percent of jobs will require some form of higher education.
"Education now is not a choice, but a necessity," he said.
Atwater will be working in collaboration with local business executives and presidents from other bay area schools, including the University of South Florida, St. Leo University, Pasco-Hernando Community College, St. Petersburg College, Polk State College and DeVry University.
They aim to improve access to higher education through online curriculums, appealing to more businesses to offer tuition reimbursement or offering degrees where students can take required courses at two different colleges.
USF president Judy Genshaft said the Graduate Tampa Bay partnership will help remove some of the common roadblocks to higher education, such as high cost and inconvenience, to get more people back to school to finish what they started.
"We can empower those that think higher education is just a dream," she said.