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A Brief History of the University of North Florida

The University of North Florida is a public university located in Jacksonville, Florida, the largest city in land area in the contiguous United States.

The 1,381-acre campus in Northeast Florida is considered a key driver in the region, with an annual economic impact of nearly $1 billion. There are six colleges at UNF: the Brooks College of Health, the Coggin College of Business, the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Computing, Engineering and Construction, the College of Education and Human Services and the Hicks Honors College.

UNF’s campus was first established in 1969 when 1,000 acres between downtown Jacksonville and Jacksonville Beach were set aside for development of the University. Initially designated as an upper division college for juniors and seniors, UNF opened its doors to 2,027 students in the fall of 1972. UNF began admitting freshmen in 1984. UNF’s first president was Thomas G. Carpenter, and the first class was supported by 117 faculty and more than 150 staff members. UNF graduated 35 students during its first commencement ceremony in 1973.

The University of North Florida was quick to expand and was accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in 1974. The school’s mascot, Ozzie the Osprey, was adopted in November 1979.

UNF began intercollegiate sports in 1983 as a member of the NAIA, later moving to NCAA Division II. The North Florida Ospreys made the move to Division I in 2009, competing in the Atlantic Sun Conference. Since that time, teams have excelled winning numerous conference championships and regularly competing in postseason play. In 2015, the men's basketball team received its first invitation to the NCAA Basketball Tournament.

In 2002, a 13-member Board of Trustees began overseeing the University. The new century also brought with it significant development of new structures on campus including the award-winning Student Wellness Complex, expansive Student Union and many other state-of-the-art buildings. In 2012, UNF opened its Biological Sciences building with 27 faculty research labs and a 6,000 gallon-capacity seawater system. UNF has been a leader in “green” building and on-campus sustainability. To date, there are 11 LEED-certified structures on campus, four of which have received gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council for excellence in sustainability. There are currently six residence halls on campus, including the five-story Osprey Fountains, complete with swimming facilities and a lazy river, and the Flats at UNF, an apartment-style housing option for upper-classmen.

In 2018, Dr. David M. Szymanski became the sixth president of the University of North Florida. Committed to student success, Szymanski believes in leading with respect and recognizes the value of partnerships in moving the University forward. Under his leadership, the University of North Florida maintains a commitment that students are always the first priority. UNF has launched a number of initiatives to support student health and well-being and ensure sustained academic success, timely graduation and career placement.

Today, nearly 4,000 students graduate each year from the University of North Florida. Enrollment has steadily increased, exceeding 17,300 in fall 2019. UNF employs nearly 600 full-time faculty and over 1,200 staff members, and offers 60 undergraduate degree programs, 36 graduate-degree programs and five doctoral programs, with distinguished Flagship Programs in international business, coastal biology, nursing, nutrition and dietetics, transportation and logistics, and music. UNF is known for providing students with transformational learning experiences — conducting research with faculty, taking part in community-based learning or studying abroad, which UNF students do at twice the national average.

UNF has more than 200 clubs and organizations for students, as well as an active Student Government and Greek Life. Spinnaker Media is a student-run magazine, radio and television operation that has won a number of national awards.

The University consistently ranks high for quality and value. UNF was recently included among nationally ranked universities on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges list — the first time UNF has achieved top-tier, national institution status on this listing. UNF also ranked 140 on U.S. News & World Report’s Top Public Institutions list. The University holds the prestigious Community Engagement Classification from The Carnegie Foundation, a designation held by only 5% of universities in the U.S., and numerous other distinguished rankings.

A member institution of the State University System of Florida, UNF is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges to award baccalaureate, masters and doctorate degrees.