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A Brief History

1930sThe idea of a junior college in Palm Beach County came about largely as a community response to the problems of the Great Depression. Young men and women, unable to secure employment following graduation from high school, were expressing an interest in continuing their education. However, the economy of Palm Beach County had been in decline since 1925, and many parents found it impossible to send their sons and daughters away to a university for four years of college.

West Palm Beach civic leaders, led by Joe Youngblood, county superintendent of public schools, and Howell L. Watkins, principal of Palm Beach High School, met in 1933 to help establish a junior college as part of the educational system of Palm Beach County. An advisory board was organized from the local civic groups, and the University of Florida assisted in organizing a college by advising what courses to offer and by tentatively approving the courses and instructors.

Palm Beach Junior College was thus founded as Florida’s first public community college under the jurisdiction of the Palm Beach County Board of Public Instruction. Classes began on November 14, 1933, with 41 students.

In the beginning, PBJC was a coeducational day-student junior college with primary emphasis on preparation for upper-division work in colleges and universities. For the first 15 years, the College scheduled classes in its building on Gardenia Street and at the adjacent Palm Beach High School in West Palm Beach, where Mr. Watkins served as both dean of the College and principal of the high school.

The first graduation exercises were held on June 5, 1936. Three students were awarded the associate in arts degree.

 

1940sIn 1942, PBJC received accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools (now Southern Association of Colleges and Schools). Previously, approval was given by various bodies, including the Florida Association of Colleges and Universities and the State Board of Education, and credit for work completed at PBJC was given only on a conditional basis by the University of Florida and the Florida State College for Women (now Florida State University).

The 1945 session of the Florida Legislature established the Foundation Program (later Minimum Foundation Program) to allow state funding for education. Two years later, a bill was passed to include junior colleges in the program. As a result, in December 1947 Palm Beach Junior College, which already held the distinction as Florida’s first public junior college, became the first public junior college approved by the State Board of Education for participation in the Foundation Program. Under the provisions of this law, an advisory committee for the College, made up of cultural, business and civic leaders, was appointed by the State Board.

The year 1947 also marked a great milestone in the history of the College, as PBJC made plans to move from its cramped quarters on Gardenia Street to a spacious 21-acre site at Morrison Field, then a deactivated World War II Air Force Base and now Palm Beach International Airport. On February 7, 1948, under the direction of its first president, Palm Beach County school superintendent John I. Leonard, PBJC was operating with a full schedule on its new campus on the western edge of West Palm Beach.

 

1950sReactivation of the base at Morrison Field for the Korean Conflict forced the College to surrender title of the property back to the Air Force, and PBJC faced a major crisis. The depression had long since vanished in the wave of prosperity brought on by World War II, and some community leaders were in favor of allowing PBJC to dissolve.

But spirited support by college students and faculty convinced the community that PBJC was a living, vital part of the growth pattern of the area. When it was apparent that the only location available was the one PBJC formerly used and shared with Palm Beach High School, the Town of Lake Park offered the Board of Public Instruction the use of its town hall on Park Avenue. Upon recommendation of the College Advisory Committee and the concurrence of state department officials, the BPI accepted the Lake Park Town Hall as the new home of Palm Beach Junior College.

The building was remodeled to meet College needs, and classes began at the new facility in September 1951. The space, however, proved to be inadequate, as PBJC was forced to carry on a curtailed program in restricted quarters. Enrollment and faculty dwindled, as PBJC’s student body fell by more than half in that first semester in Lake Park. Serious consideration was given for further development of the Lake Park site, with the thought that the town could become the permanent location for PBJC. The addition of space rented in the Community Church of Lake Park allowed the College to increase its enrollment to the full capacity of its facilities until September 1955, when PBJC had to refuse admission to over 100 students. Soon, the College was on the move once again.

When the Palm Beach County Commission donated 114 acres of land on the western shore of Lake Osborne, west of Lake Worth, to the College in 1955, PBJC had finally found a permanent home. The State Legislature approved more than $1 million for buildings, and construction soon began on PBJC’s first permanent campus, which opened at the corner of Lake Worth Road and Congress Avenue to 651 students in September 1956.*

In 1958, Dr. Leonard retired, and Harold C. Manor became Palm Beach Junior College’s second president.

 

1960sUnder the leadership of Dr. Manor, the College continued to develop an excellent academic reputation as well as strengthened its role in preparation of students for upper division work. At the same time, PBJC developed many specialized, business, technical and professional programs designed to be completed in one to two years. Before long, the College had expanded to nearly full use of its Lake Worth site. By the end of the decade, the College already had purchased land in Palm Beach Gardens for a second campus.

Black students were first accepted to the College in 1961, and four years later, in 1965, the Board of Public Instruction merged Roosevelt Junior College, a seven-year-old black institution located in West Palm Beach, with Palm Beach Junior College. The merger of PBJC with Roosevelt, which was under the presidency of Britton G. Sayles, brought its properties, students and six of its 18 full-time faculty members to a united Palm Beach Junior College campus between June and August of that year.

Public junior colleges in Florida were operating under the county boards of public instruction until legislative action in February 1968 placed them under the jurisdiction of district boards of trustees. On July 1, 1968, the College Advisory Committee was dissolved and the College, which had been governed for 35 years by the Palm Beach County Board of Public Instruction, came under the authority of the Palm Beach Junior College District Board of Trustees.

 

1970sPalm Beach Junior College opened the 1970s serving nearly 5,500 credit students – more than eight times the enrollment when the Lake Worth campus opened in 1956. By the early 1970s, satellite centers were established in temporary facilities in Belle Glade, Boca Raton and northern Palm Beach County.

The center in Belle Glade opened first, in Fall 1972. With the aid of the Glades Steering Committee, temporary facilities were obtained in the Belle Glade National Guard Armory and the north wing of Glades General Hospital. By 1974, classes were available at several locations, including Glades Central High School and the Glades Correctional Institute in Belle Glade, the Alexander D. Henderson University School at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, and at four sites in northern Palm Beach County, including the Palm Beach Gardens and Suncoast High Schools.

Groundbreaking for the first buildings at the permanent Belle Glade location took place on a 40-acre site in 1976. Classes began in the new two-building, 12-classroom facility in January 1978.

Meanwhile, the North and South centers continued to develop through the ‘70s and into the ‘80s. Much of the growth during this time was the result of efforts by Edward M. Eissey, a former Board of Trustees member and PBJC alumnus, who became the College’s third president on September 1, 1978, following the retirement of Dr. Manor.

 

1980sVigorous expansion in the areas of Continuing Education, service to senior citizens, new and innovative educational programs, increased cooperation with business and industry, closer ties with cities and the county, and unflagging zeal in pursuit of college objectives at both county and state levels became hallmarks of Dr. Eissey’s administration. By 1987, PBJC was serving more than 42,000 students annually, 20,000 of whom were enrolled in non-credit vocational, continuing education, and avocational classes and programs.

At the beginning of the 1980s, problems with repair, renovation and equipment were becoming major issues for the College. To solve the new problems facing the College, PBJC asked the voters of Palm Beach County for help. The state legislature granted the College permission for a special election, and voters answered by granting a two-year half-mill levy by a wide margin on March 11, 1980.

Facilities expansion continued as credit enrollment passed the 10,000-student mark in the fall term of 1980. Construction began on the new PBJC North campus on PGA Boulevard in Palm Beach Gardens on July 26, 1980, with classes beginning on the 108-acre facility on May 6, 1982. In the fall term of 1983, PBJC South used portable classroom buildings on a 50-acre site leased from Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. In 1986, state funding for the first permanent classrooms was provided, and the first building at PBJC South opened in 1989.

By the end of the decade, the College was serving nearly 15,000 credit students per term.

In 1988, the Board of Trustees approved Dr. Eissey’s recommendation for a name change from Palm Beach Junior College to Palm Beach Community College to more accurately reflect its comprehensive mission and the expansion of its programs and services.

 

1990sIn 1991, PBCC North was renamed the Edward M. Eissey Campus in honor of the College’s president. Also that year, Palm Beach Community College came full circle when the Palm Beach County School Board returned the original PBJC building on Fern Street to the college for a nominal payment of $10. Plans were immediately made to restore and renovate the historic structure to use once again as an educational facility. Restoration was completed in 1997, and the building is now the de Hoernle Historical Building, with facilities to serve students in downtown West Palm Beach.

Meanwhile, the College continued to expand its offerings to include over 100 associate in arts, associate in science and certificate programs, continuing studies courses to upgrade job skills, and personal enrichment seminars. In 1994-95, Palm Beach Community College served nearly 54,000 students, an all-time high for the college, in all areas of instruction.

Following Dr. Eissey’s retirement in November 1996, PBCC Vice President of Administration and Business Affairs Dr. G. Tony Tate, who had served the College for 39 years, assumed the presidency on an interim basis. Dr. Dennis P. Gallon was named the College’s fourth president in July 1997.

 

2000sUnder Dr. Gallon’s leadership, the College expanded its comprehensive mission with more workforce programs and partnerships with business, industry, other educational institutions and various agencies.

And as in years past, growth followed.  PBCC entered the 2000s serving nearly 17,000 credit students per term and closed out the decade with almost 27,000.  New state-of-the-art educational facilities popped up all around the college -- at Lake Worth, the Education & Training Center and Natural Science buildings; at Palm Beach Gardens, the Center for Early Learning and Bioscience Technology Complex; and at Boca Raton, the Countess de Hoernle Humanities and Technology Building.

But the biggest news was yet to come.  In 2008, PBCC 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 new 4-year degree program began with more than 300 students in August 2009.

 

todayThe decade opened with the College reflecting on its identity again, in light of its expanded educational offerings.  On January 12, 2010, PBCC became Palm Beach State College.

The College soon was offering upper-division classes to more than 1,000 students a year, and the first bachelor's degree graduates walked across the stage in May 2011.  Four-year programs in information technology and nursing followed, and by 2014, Palm Beach State was offering eight baccalaureate tracks across three degrees.

And facility expansion continues.  The Belle Glade campus opened its Technical Education Center in August 2010, while at Lake Worth, upper-division classes moved to the College's new Center for Bachelor's Programs in August 2012. and the public safety complex opened in January 2013.  In addition, Palm Beach State broke ground in November 2014 on a new Loxahatchee Groves campus, which opened in February 2017. 

The new campus will bear the name of Dr. Gallon, who retired in 2015 after 18 years with Palm Beach State.  The College welcomed Ava L. Parker as its fifth president -- and first female president -- in July 2015.

Other areas of focus continue to include designing and implementing a contemporary technology infrastructure to improve the quality of instruction and college operations, expanding distance-learning opportunities over the Internet, and continuing to create partnerships with education, business and other institutions and agencies in the community.

 

* Some data sources indicate the Fall 1956 opening enrollment may have been 745.

 

An Historical Perspective

Fall term credit/prep headcount Fall 1933: 41   Fall 2015: 29,051
Total credit and non-credit course sections 1933-34: 20 (approx.)      2015-16: 9.638
Total enrollment hours (SSH/CHE) 1933-34: ** 900-1,200 (approx.)     2015-16: 614,271
Total full-time equivalents (FTE) 1933-34: ** 30-40 (approx.)     2015-16: 20,476
Full-service locations 1933-34: 1   2015-16: 4
Number of degrees and certificates awarded 1935-36: 3   2015-16: 7,246
Palm Beach County population 1930 census: 51,781   2015 estimate: 1,378,417

** Using 2015-16 definitions

The information for this history of Palm Beach State College was gathered from many sources, including past college catalogs; the 1980 PBJC Self-Study; the 1993 President’s Report; the 1993 Walk of Fame dedication program; From Dream to Excellence in Thirty-Eight Years, a history of Palm Beach Junior College through 1971, by Edgar L. Money, Jr.; and various archived records.

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