Colbourn was born on October 24, 1953, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada; despite working in the United States since 1996 he retains his Canadian citizenship. He did his undergraduate studies at the University of Toronto, graduating in 1976; after a masters degree at the University of Waterloo, he returned to Toronto for a Ph.D., which he received in 1980 under the supervision of Derek Corneil. He has held faculty positions at the University of Saskatchewan, University of Waterloo, University of Vermont, and Arizona State University, as well as visiting positions at several other universities. He has been one of three editors-in-chief of the Journal of Combinatorial Designs since 1992.
^Bulletin of the Institute of Combinatorics and its Applications, volumes 43–45, 2005; Proceedings of the 36th Southeastern International Conference on Combinatorics, Graph Theory, and Computing, Congressus Numerantium 172–173, 2005.