In the early 1970s, Naval Coastal Systems Center, Gulf Coast State College, Bay County School Board and Tyndall Air Force Base began lobbying for an institution of higher learning. In 1972, the Florida Board of Regents (BOR) directed the University of West Florida to establish a center in Panama City. Classes began that summer with an enrollment of 65 elementary education students and a staff of two. Facilities for the center were in the Bay County School Board Office Building and Gulf Coast Community College.

In 1976, the Bay County Commission purchased 17.5 acres between Gulf Coast State College and the waters of North Bay for use by the center. In 1981, the commission donated an additional 2.54 acres and three quadriplex buildings. When Florida State University accepted responsibility for the Panama City campus, in the fall of 1982, it was apparent that the existing five resident faculty could not provide all the instructional support necessary to meet the demands of a new campus. Two vans were placed on daily round trips to transport faculty from Tallahassee to Panama City.

On June 23, 1983, ground breaking occurred for the $9.1 million Phase I development of Florida State Panama City. The new facilities were formally dedicated on March 22, 1986. The administrative building was named in honor of Sen. Dempsey J. Barron, who sponsored the bill that secured funds for the permanent location of a Florida State University facility in Panama City. The new campus facilities opened for students in January 1987. In March 1987, an additional 5.62 acres along the bay were deeded to the State for use by the campus. This donation brought the campus to its current size of 25.66 acres.

A 1998 Study Commission, composed of key Florida State University administrators and area community leaders, reviewed the mission of Florida State University Panama City.  Among the recommendations put forth by the commission were the addition of daytime classes and programs and an increase in resident faculty.  In the fall of 2000,  full-time, daytime undergraduate programs began in Electrical Engineering, Information Sciences, Elementary Education, Social Science Education and Social Work.

Since 2000, FSU Panama City has grown to offer more than 30 degree programs with more than 30 resident faculty members. The Bland Conference Center was complete in January 2000 and named after the first campus dean, Dr. Larson M. Bland. In 2004, 2005 and 2006, the Florida Legislature approved construction funding for two new facilities: a $7.9 million Administrative Services Center and a $32 million Academic Center. The 14,000-square-foot Administrative Services Center, completed in March 2007, houses the police department, postal services center, maintenance department and receiving area as well as the central utility plant for the campus.

The Academic Center was formally named the Alfred P. and Mamie V. Holley Academic Center on Jan. 21, 2009, in recognition of Russell C. Holley’s naming gift in honor and memory of his parents. The three-story facility in excess of 100,000 square feet provides 21 general-purpose classrooms, student seminar rooms, study and meeting rooms, a library and learning center, a 500-seat multi-purpose lecture hall/­community room and 10 academic laboratories in support of programs in Public Safety and Security,  Civil and Environmental Engineering, Computer Science, Electrical Engineering, Advanced Scientific Diving and Underwater Crime Scene Investigation.

On June 8, 2012, The Florida State University’s Board of Trustees approved a four-year academic plan for FSU Panama City which allowed the campus to offer a limited range of general-education and lower-level courses that are focused on upper-level majors offered at FSU Panama City. This historic decision allowed for the admission of the first freshman class in fall 2013.

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