Tuesday, September 30th, 2014
Mostly False
LeMieux
Says U.S. Rep. Connie Mack "took seven and a half years to finish college."

George LeMieux on Friday, February 24th, 2012 in a web ad

George LeMieux says Connie Mack 'took 7 1/2 years to finish college'

A campaign Web ad from George LeMieux

George LeMieux depicts Florida Republican U.S. Senate rival Connie Mack as a man who vaulted from college party boy to congressman. And those college days, well, they lasted awhile, according to LeMieux.

In the Web ad "Two and a Half Macks" LeMieux says that  "Connie the IV took seven and a half years to finish college," while showing a buffoonish-like Mack wearing a T-shirt that says "Kollege" and dancing around in front of a University of Florida sign.

We’ve already checked other claims in the same February 2012 Web ad including that Mack "failed to pay his child support" (False) and whether his only job in the real world was an events coordinator for Hooters (Mostly False). In this item, we will explore how long it took Mack to finish college.

Mack won a seat in the state House of Representatives, representing Broward and Palm Beach counties in 2000. He then moved to Southwest Florida and won a seat in Congress in 2004.

LeMieux’s campaign directed us to a 2000 article in the Palm Beach Post, which detailed Mack’s route to his college degree:

"Born Cornelius H. McGillicuddy, the younger Mack attended public high school in northern Virginia, transferring in the middle of his junior year to the Massanutten Military School in Woodstock, Va.

"He left the military high school a year later in January 1986, lacking an English credit to graduate, and finished his high school requirement by enrolling that month at Sante Fe Community College in Gainesville.

"He spent 2 1/2 years at the community college and transferred to the University of Florida in May 1988. He graduated from the university five years later, and three months shy of his 26th birthday, with a bachelor's degree in advertising."

Subsequent news articles have repeated that it took Mack seven years, or seven and a half years, to finish college, including a 2012 Miami Herald article about Mack’s past. The Herald wrote about Mack’s time in college in connection to a legal case stemming from a 1992 bar brawl with professional baseball player Ron Gant. A jury found Gant started the fight but Mack didn’t win the legal damages or fees that he sought. The article stated that "Gant’s legal team sought to portray Mack as a troublemaking lightweight, noting he went to military school and that it took him more than seven years to get an advertising degree that, ultimately, he parlayed into a consultancy to promote Hooters, the Florida restaurant chain known for its scantily clad waitresses.’’

We contacted spokespersons for the two schools mentioned in the Palm Beach Post article.

Known as Sante Fe Community College at the time (it’s now called Sante Fe College), Mack started in the spring term of 1986 and graduated in June 1988 with an associates of arts degree, said registrar Lynn Sullivan. That’s about two and a half years.

Mack then transferred to the University of Florida in May 1988 and graduated in May 1993 with a bachelor’s of science degree in advertising, UF spokesman Stephen Orlando said. That’s about five years.

So the math works. But there’s more to this story.

We first asked about the overlap from May-June 1988, when Mack was technically a student at Sante Fe and UF. Orlando, the UF spokesman, said that it wasn’t unusual -- students can be admitted and register for classes with the presumption that they will earn the associate’s degree during that same semester -- in this case, the "summer A" semester of 1988.

Then there’s the Post reference that Mack was finishing his high school requirements by enrolling in community college. Sullivan, the Sante Fe registrar, told us in an email that she couldn’t provide additional information.

Mack campaign spokesman David James says the amount of time it took Mack to finish college depends on PolitiFact’s definition. For starters, Mack was dual-enrolled in high school and college in the spring of 1986 -- so the date he enrolled in community college overlaps technically with the time he would still be considered in high school.

On top of that, James said, Mack took two years off from school -- 1991 and 1992 -- to work a full-time sales job. Mack finished school through correspondence classes, earning his diploma in 1993.

That information -- at least the part about Mack being away from UF for 1991 and 1992 -- is corroborated through school records.

Orlando said that Mack was at UF starting with the "summer A" session in May 1988. He continued at UF through the fall of 1990, records show. But Mack did not take classes in 1991 or 1992. He returned for the spring semester of 1993, taking a couple of courses that were not on campus.

That means  Mack was taking classes at or through UF for about three years, not five.

Our ruling

The claim here is that Mack "took seven and a half years to finish college."

There’s a kernel of truth to that statement. Mack enrolled at Sante Fe Community College in 1986 and graduated from the University of Florida with a bachelor’s degree about seven and a half years later in 1993.

But UF records show that Mack did not take classes for two of those years, 1991 and 1992. There’s also a minor point that Mack says he was dual-enrolled in community college at the same time he was completing his high school degree.

Those, to us, are critical facts that would give someone seeing the ad a much different impression of Mack’s college career -- which fits our definition of Mostly False.