TAMPA — Ask any college student: It sometimes feels like it takes forever to earn that degree.
But Hillsborough County School Board incumbent April Griffin might have gone too far in telling the St. Petersburg Times that she is "currently seeking" an associate's degree from Hillsborough Community College. Officials say she hasn't taken a class in five years.
"The last time she took classes was the fall of 2005," said college spokeswoman Ashley Carl. "She's not a current student."
Carl said Griffin had registered for more classes, but records show she was purged from class rolls in early January 2006 for nonpayment.
Asked to reconcile those facts with her statements in interviews and a Times candidate questionnaire, Griffin said she wasn't sure when she last studied at the college but recalled withdrawing from classes due to a busy schedule.
"I'm not going to put a whole lot of stock in HCC's records," she said, describing an error it made with her son's registration. "It was actually beyond 2006 that I was there."
Still, she said, it's been a while since she has taken a class at the college.
"I apologize for saying 'currently seeking a degree' when it hasn't been for the past two years," Griffin said.
Neither she nor her opponent for the countywide seat in District 6, Sally Harris, have earned college degrees.
Griffin has described her education as a struggle.
"My mother was married five times before I was 12 years old and was addicted to substances," she said. "I dealt with life as best I could."
She left home at 17, worked multiple jobs and got a GED. She later got married and delayed college to raise two sons.
Carl, the HCC spokeswoman, said it's not unusual for students to take time away from their studies. Some peck away at their degrees for years while taking time off for work or family.
"She started with us in the summer of 1996," Carl said, referring to Griffin. "Her record spans a decade. But I don't think that's unusual."
For her part, Griffin vowed to continue speaking up as a School Board member for students who need alternative, vocational or technical tracks to continue their education. She'll keep studying, too.
"It is my intention to get my (associate's) degree, and then move to the University of South Florida once I've got my A.A.," Griffin said.
Tom Marshall can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3400.