St. Johns River Junior College was established as a public institution in 1958 to serve the counties of Clay, Putnam, and St. Johns. It was one of several public junior colleges founded in accordance with legislation enacted by the 1957 session of the Florida Legislature.
Located in Palatka, the college was officially opened for organizational purposes on February 25, 1958. Dr. B. R. Tilley was appointed as the first president.
Classes for the 1958-59 school year were conducted in the educational buildings of First Baptist Church of Palatka and 191 students began the fall semester of 1958. The church facilities included seven classrooms in the educational wing and a temporary library and administrative office in the two-story frame building behind the church. A biology laboratory was set up by city maintenance crews in the old Davis Tank Factory. In its second year of operation, the college moved to its new campus of 96 acres featuring small ponds stocked with fish, rustic bridges, numerous pine trees, and room enough to meet the needs of a rapidly increasing enrollment. At the end of the second year, the college graduated its first class of 22 students.
During the first 10 years of operation, the college was responsible to the Board of Public Instruction of Putnam County and to the State Board of Education. A committee comprised of three citizens from each of the three counties served in an advisory capacity to the president of the college and to the School Board of Putnam County. In compliance with a legislative act, a District Board of Trustees was organized in 1968 as the governing body of the college. This board is composed of two members each from Clay and St. Johns counties and three members from Putnam County.
When Collier-Blocker Junior College in Palatka closed in 1964, the college absorbed its operation and began offering classes at that facility in the fall of 1964. At the end of Term II, 1965, all classes were moved to the main campus. The Collier-Blocker plant reverted to Putnam County.
The first president, Dr. Tilley, resigned his position in July 1965, and C. L. Overturf, Jr. was appointed interim president until Dr. Charles W. LaPradd was inaugurated as the second president on January 1, 1966. The last half of the decade saw a tremendous building program. Handsome architectural designs, functional and attractive renovations of existing buildings, and beautification of the SJRJC Palatka campus were all accomplished in major part by 1970.
After six years of service, Dr. LaPradd resigned in April 1972, and Dr. Robert L. McLendon Jr., former vice-president and dean of academic affairs, was appointed president. The new administration focused attention on increasing the educational opportunities and expanding services to the community throughout the three counties of the district.
In August of 1976, the Florida School of the Arts began full operation as a part of St. Johns River Junior College with a charter class of 51 students. The first state-supported professional arts school for high school and college students in Florida, the school has continued to grow as its curriculum has expanded. The Florida School of the Arts serves the entire state of Florida.
In 1977, the college underwent two major changes. The official name became St. Johns River Community College and SJRCC opened its first branch campus in Orange Park, a community in northern Clay County. The Orange Park Campus is now located on College Drive in the Doctors Inlet area. Construction of permanent facilities on that site began in 1987 and the college began operating in the new facility in 1989. A student center and expanded learning resources center were constructed in 1997.
In July 1986, the college opened its second branch campus, this time in St. Augustine in the Fullerwood School, a site made available by the St. Johns County School Board. After operating for more than nine years in the Fullerwood building, the St. Augustine faculty, staff, and students moved in January 1996 to the newly constructed campus located on State Road 16.
In 1997, Senate Bill 1688 authorized all community colleges to offer Workforce Development programs to include Adult and Post-Secondary Adult Vocational Programs. This opened the door to SJRCC becoming a fully comprehensive community college. This opened the door to SJR State becoming a fully comprehensive community college. The inaugural PSAV programs began in 1999 and included two criminal justice programs as well as apprenticeship programs in carpentry, electrical, and heating and air conditioning.
In 2003, the St. Augustine Campus opened the Workforce Training facility - The Higgins-Solomon Criminal Justice Center. The new facility houses the criminal justice and radiologic technology programs. The center includes defensive tactics, and medical first responder laboratories. In addition, classrooms and a multi-purpose room are wired for and utilizes the latest state-of-the-art instructional systems.
The College opened the Thrasher-Horne Center for the Arts on the Orange Park Campus in 2004. This complex hosts traveling art exhibits, Broadway-type shows and community events, and serves as a meeting site for business conferences and events.
In 2008, the College opened the Health-Sciences Building on the Orange Park Campus. This two-story 52,000 square foot facility provides nursing students with a state-of-the-art environment designed to simulate a hospital. The facility also accommodates related allied health programs as well as science labs.
SJRCC's third President, Dr. Robert L. McLendon Jr., announced his retirement in 2008 after serving 36 years as president. McLendon was the most senior president in the Florida Community College System. Before his last day on October 31, 2008, letters were permanently mounted on the entrance sign naming the Palatka Campus as the Dr. Robert L. McLendon Jr. Campus.
Joe H. Pickens, J.D., a Putnam County native and former state legislator, began his position as SJRCC's fourth president on November 1, 2008.
The College was granted approval to offer its first baccalaureate degrees in 2010 by the State Board of Education and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, moving the College from a Level I to a Level II accredited institution. Classes for two bachelor’s degree programs - Early Childhood Education and Organizational Management - began in January 2011.
Following legislation to rename the Florida Community College System as the Florida College System, Florida Statutes then authorized colleges accredited to award four-year degrees to change their names to better reflect their progression. A public name change survey was conducted in 2010, prompting College Trustees to change the institution’s name to St. Johns River State College. A new College logo and Viking icon were unveiled when the College officially transitioned to SJR State in January 2011.
The College continues its comprehensive educational role by expanding its offerings in academic, workforce development and adult education areas, as well as continuing and community education, to better serve area residents.