Palm Beach State College, Florida's first public community college, celebrated its 80th anniversary throughout 2013.
From its humble beginnings in 1933 with 41 students in a building next to Palm Beach High School, Palm Beach State College has grown to become the largest institution of higher education in Palm Beach County. Currently serving 49,000 students annually, the College offers classes at four locations and is planning a new campus to be built in west central Palm Beach County.
Over time, the College's mission has become more comprehensive to serve the educational needs of Palm Beach County residents. Palm Beach State College now offers bachelor's and associate degrees, professional certificates, workforce development and lifelong learning.
Learn all about the College's history and view images and videos from the past. You are invited to re-connect with the College by posting your memories and photos on the Time Passages history blog.
A Brief Chronicle
Establishing Florida's first public two-year college in the depths of the Great Depression may have seemed like folly in 1933. Large government expenditures were out of the question. Still, civic organizations and local citizens lobbied the County Board of Public Instruction to open a two-year public college for the area's high school graduates who were unable to find employment and couldn't afford to leave home to attend a university.
County School Superintendent Joe Youngblood and Howell Watkins, principal of Palm Beach High School, consulted with the University of Florida and the Florida State Women's College (Florida State University) and based the College's curriculum on that of the two universities. Because of the Depression-era budget, teachers at Palm Beach High School volunteered to teach at the College for free.
A total of 41 students began classes on Nov. 14, 1933, at the new Palm Beach Junior College adjacent to the high school in downtown West Palm Beach. Youngblood and Watkins (the first dean of the College) founded and nurtured the fledgling institution until John I. Leonard became its first president in 1936. Leonard was affectionately known as "Mr. Junior College" because of his dedication to the students, the College and the two-year college system.
By 1948, the College had outgrown its original building and moved to Morrison Field, a retired Air Force base used in World War II, where the library was housed in a vast airplane hangar and the Officer's Club became the perfect Student Union Building. Just three years later, though, the Korean Conflict erupted, and Morrison Field was reactivated. The air base later became Palm Beach International Airport.
In 1951 Palm Beach Junior College moved yet again, to Lake Park Town Hall, where the quarters were so cramped students had to be turned away, and enrollment dropped significantly to less than 200. Chemistry class was held in the jail. The local media dubbed it "the little orphan college," but the Lake Park location is remembered fondly by its alumni for the camaraderie that existed there. Master English and Speech Professor Watson B. Duncan taught classes in the nearby church and even in the hallway.
Almost five years later the Board of Public Instruction of Palm Beach County donated 114 acres in Lake Worth to the College, and the state gave PBJC $1 million for buildings. The College finally had a permanent home. Harold C. Manor, Ph.D., became president in 1958 directing extraordinary growth in enrollment, services and offerings, including many technical and vocational programs.
In 1965, the state legislature ordered that black and white two-year colleges be merged, and the mostly white Palm Beach Junior College and the all-black Roosevelt Junior College became one. Six professors and staff members from Roosevelt were transferred to PBJC, and other faculty members were transferred to the school district.
In the 1970s and 80s the College established satellite centers, then permanent locations in Belle Glade, Palm Beach Gardens and Boca Raton. Edward M. Eissey, Ph.D., president from 1978 to 1996, was the driving force behind the building boom and the name change to Palm Beach Community College in 1988.
Dennis P. Gallon, Ph.D., served as president for 18 years, beginning in 1997. Dr. Gallon expanded the College’s comprehensive mission with more workforce education programs and expanded business and industry partnerships. In 2008, the College received State Board of Education approval to offer its first baccalaureate degree, a Bachelor of Applied Science in Supervision and Management. Upper-level courses in this degree program began in 2009, and the College was renamed Palm Beach State College in 2010 to reflect its expanded educational offerings.
Ava L. Parker, J.D., became Palm Beach State College’s first woman president in 2015.
More History Info
Roosevelt Junior College
Stories From the Past
Time Passages History Blog
Do You Know Me?
Help identify who is in these photos