Colbourn then moved to the United States, where he graduated with a Master of Arts in history from the College of William and Mary and a doctorate in history from Johns Hopkins University.
As a young man, Colbourn and his family moved to England where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in history at the University of London. Colbourn taught history at Penn State University and Indiana University Bloomington before he becoming the Graduate Dean at the University of New Hampshire in 1967. In 1973, he was appointed Academic Vice President of San Diego State University and served as Acting President from 1977–1978.
On July 1, 1978, Colbourn took office as the second president of the University of Central Florida (UCF).
He was appointed by the Florida Board of Regents on January 9, 1978 to succeed Charles North. Millican, the founding president of UCF. Under his leadership, and as the university"s academic programs diversified and grew away from its strictly technological and scientific beginnings, Colbourn suggested that the university be renamed. In 1978, Governor Reubin Askew approved the change of name from Florida Technological University to the University of Central Florida.
He established the university"s football program, honors program, the Central Florida Research Park and numerous satellite branch campuses. During his tenure, enrollment increased from around 11,000 in 1978 to over 18,000 in 1989.
Colbourn stepped-down as university president in June 1989, but remained on the faculty.
He was given the title of "President Emeritus" in 1990 and taught classes in history. Colbourn retired from UCF in 2006 but still remained active in the university community.
(American Founding and Constitution)
Member Organization American Historians, American Association State Colleges and Universities.
Married Beryl Richards Evans, January 10, 1949. Children— Katherine Elizabeth, Lisa Sian Elinor.