For Fort Lauderdale, it's more than an annual college rite. It's also an economic mainstay. But for years, the economic benefits were tainted by rough relations between restive students and a local police department that was trying to keep mayhem at a minimum.
However, if the 1982 season is any indication, the relationship between the city and out-of-town student population has improved.
''This is the nicest bunch of kids I've seen in 13 years. They are a pleasure to deal with . . . better dressed, cleaner cut, and very polite,'' says Paul Lorenzo owner of The Candy Store, a popular beach-front discotheque in Fort Lauderdale.
This stands in marked contrast to the early '60s. A 17-year veteran of the Fort Lauderdale police says he remembers scores of students rocking a city bus load of 40 passengers in an effort to push it over.
He says, ''In the '60 and early '70s they were belligerent and destructive. The students of recent years have a stronger sense of family, and respect . . . more of a 'do unto others' attitude. They are more mature and secure and are in good rapport with the police.''
The Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce estimates that the average student will have spent $60 a day, adding up to almost $100 million in the 10-week season that started the third week in February and ends the third week in April.
The students aren't the only ones making strides toward a better community relationship. The police department contacted colleges and asked them to stagger spring vacations instead of letting students out during the same two-week period. Observers say the addition of younger officers also helped facilitate changes.
The town, too, has done much toward improving its relations with students. This year some of the area's larger companies provided services for the students in tents right on the beach. For example, Western Union maintained a toll-free number for students who had gone broke and needed to wire home for more cash. And 18 area companies sent representatives to the beach in makeshift, office-tents to interview students for prospective employment in the Fort Lauderdale area.