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History of Gulf Coast State College

Serving the community since 1957, Gulf Coast State College was the first public two-year institution to open after the 1957 Florida Legislature established a statewide network of community colleges. Located in Panama City on Florida’s Emerald Coast, Gulf Coast is one of 28 public colleges in the state, all located within commuting distance of 96 percent of the population. Dr. Ted W. Booker was named the first president (1957-1960), followed by Dr. Richard E. Morley (1960-1976), Dr. Lawrence W. Tyree (1976-1988), Dr. Robert L. McSpadden (1988-2007), Dr. A. James Kerley (2007-2014), and Dr. John R. Holdnak (2014-2022), and Interim President, Dr. Cheryl Flax-Hyman (2022-present).

The College has gone through several name changes over the decades beginning with Gulf Coast Community College in 1957. In 1958, the name changed to Gulf Coast Junior College, prompted by a change in mission to restrict offerings to academic programs. In 1970, the College changed its name again back to Gulf Coast Community College as its mission expanded to include service to the community. In 2011, the name changed to Gulf Coast State College after receiving accreditation to award four-year degrees, better reflecting the expanding mission within the defined service district.

To serve the higher education needs of African-Americans in the community, Rosenwald Junior College opened in 1958 on the campus of Rosenwald High School, and Calvin Washington was named president. On May 18, 1966, Rosenwald Junior College merged into Gulf Coast Junior College.

The Panama City Campus opened on September 17, 1957, with 181 students, and through the spring of 1960, the College operated in temporary facilities at the Wainwright Shipyard (located across the street from the present location at 5230 West Highway 98).  The City of Panama City provided 40 acres for the permanent campus overlooking St. Andrew Bay; the College purchased the remaining 40 acres. Construction of new buildings on the campus began in 1959, with the actual move to the new campus completed the next year.

 Buildings comprising the current campus and other college sites and their dates of first occupancy are:

  •  Natural Sciences Building, including the Ken Sherman Science Center (1960; renovated 1978, 1993, 2003, and 2006)
  • Administration Building (1960; renovated 1978 and 1989)
  • Enrollment Services Building (originally the Admissions and Records Building; 1960; renovated 1970 and 1995; renovated and renamed in 2010)
  • James R. Asbell Business Building (1960; renovated in 1978 and named for Mr. Asbell in 1979)
  • Russell C. Holley and Herbert P. Holley Language & Literature Building (1962; former Library; renovated and renamed Language Arts Building in 1977; renovated and renamed in 2004; renamed in 2006)
  • Billy Harrison Health Building (1965; demolished in 2003)
  • Human Resources (1965; former Maintenance Building; renovated and renamed Wellness Center in 1995; renovated and renamed Professional Development Center in 2003; renamed 2012)
  • Rosenwald Junior College Classroom Building (1965; originally the Student Center; renovated in 1978 and 1992 and renamed in 1994)
  • Amelia G. Tapper Center for the Arts (1967; renovated and renamed for Mrs. Tapper in 1994)
  • Social Sciences Building (1967; renovated in 2001)
  • Technology Building (1969; renovated in 1985; demolished in 2014)
  • Library (1976; originally named the Learning Resource Center)
  • WKGC-AM/FM Studios (1981; renovated in 2005)
  • George G. Tapper Health Sciences Building (1983; renovated 2009)
  • North Bay Center (1990; originally the Criminal Justice Training Academy; renamed the Charles H. Abbott Criminal Justice Training Academy and expanded to include the Abbott Classroom Building in 2000)
  • Robert L. McSpadden Student Union, East and West Wings (1991; west wing expanded to included two additional floors in 2004; renamed for Dr. McSpadden in 2016)
  • Natatorium (1991)
  • Facilities Management Building (1995)
  • Gulf/Franklin Center (1998)
  • Wellness Complex (2003; includes new gym named Billy Harrison Field House)
  • Workforce Development Building (2004; formerly the Florida Highway Patrol Building)
  • Public Safety Complex/Emergency Operations Center (2010)
  • Military Park (2012)
  • Advanced Technology Center (2013) 

For its first nine years, the College served primarily the residents of Bay County.  In the summer of 1966, Gulf County became part of the College’s service district, and Franklin County was added in 1984.

The College's mascot, the Commodore, was also chosen in 1966. A contest was held for students to submit their ideas of what the mascot should be and why. The Commodore, a title for a high-ranking naval officer, was chosen based on three unique factors that included: the College being founded on the soil of an old shipyard, the generous contributions the Navy Base made to the basketball team and that the Vanderbilt Commodores are geographically located exactly 500 miles away from the College.

GC Commodores
GC Commodores

Throughout its history, the College has been committed to providing a first-class education. This commitment is evidenced by the excellent performance of GCSC graduates who transfer to state universities as well as by consistently high GPAs and graduation rates that are higher than the Florida college system averages in most areas measured. The College currently serves more than 12,000 credit, non-credit, workforce, and/or continuing education students (enrollment data taken from Summer 2015 – Spring 2016 semesters).

Explore photos and publications from the College's history in the library archives: GCSC college history website

Gulf Coast State College does not discriminate against any person in its programs, activities, policies or procedures on the basis of race, ethnicity, color, national origin, marital status, religion, age, gender, sex, pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity, genetic information, disability, or veteran status. All questions or inquiries regarding compliance with laws relating to non-discrimination and all complaints regarding sexual misconduct or discrimination, may be directed to Lee Wood, Executive Director, Human Resources/Title II/504/Title IX Coordinator and Employment Equity Officer, Gulf Coast State College, 5230 W. US Highway 98, Panama City, FL 32401.