Colburn is former provost and senior vice president at the University of Florida, November, 1999 to January, 2005, and has been a member of the University of Florida history faculty since 1972.  He served as Chairman of the Department of History, 1981-1989, and Vice Provost and Dean of the International Center at the University of Florida, 1997-1999. Colburn was named teacher-of-the-year on three occasions and has authored or edited fourteen books, including most recently: From Yellow Dog Democrats to Red State Republicans (2nd ed., 2013) and Florida’s Megatrends with Lance deHaven-Smith (2010).

Colburn has served as a Distinguished Lecturer for the Organization of American Historians, a professional organization of over 8,000 members, and as a Roads Scholar for the Florida Humanities Council, speaking internationally, nationally and statewide on history and politics. He was also a regular contributor to the Orlando Sentinel for twenty years and more recently has written for the St. Petersburg Times, the Florida Times Union, the Miami Herald, the Gainesville Sun, and the Ocala Star-Banner. He has written over 200 essays on state, national and international politics. He has appeared on many news programs to discuss civil rights, race relations, state and national politics, and international political developments.

He is a Vietnam Veteran and also served as a Fellow in the United States Senate from 1993 to 1997 where he worked on national and international issues. He is also the founder and director of the Reubin O’D. Askew Institute on Politics and Society at the University of Florida. The Institute provided public programs to civic leaders and citizens on critical issues confronting Florida and the nation. In 1999, the Askew Institute received the Distinguished Community Service Award from the Florida Board of Regents for its service to the State of Florida and the nation. He currently directs the Bob Graham Center for Public Service at UF.