Change likely to continue at Urbana University amid new leadership

Some students at Urbana University have questions about the changes at the campus but said they also hope it will bring more funding to the school.

Urbana’s president resigned Tuesday after two years with the school as the university potentially shifts to a branch campus of Franklin University in Columbus.

Franklin acquired the smaller campus in 2014 after Urbana University faced years of lean enrollment and serious financial struggles. As part of the deal, Urbana now functions as a division of Franklin, but retains its name.

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New leadership was announced the same day as the president’s departure. Christopher Washington is now the chief executive officer of Urbana.

The Columbus university has invested about $10 million dollars since it acquired the Urbana school.

Physical and technology upgrades have been in the past three years, Washington said.

“It’s fair to say we made those investments because we believe in the potential of serving that university,” he said.

Students have noticed the changes and heard about the possibility of more, they said on campus Wednesday.

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“I’ve heard a lot of positive things like bringing in a lot of funding and things like that,” said Elizabeth Phelps, a junior at Urbana.

The English major said she isn’t worried and thinks the changes will be good.

Athletes are excited, too, but they want to know more.

“I heard it’s supposed to get better. So, I’m really hoping that it’s true,” Holly Fisher, a sophomore swimmer for Urbana.

She also heard that a coffee shop might be built on campus. She’s the most excited about that.

However, she can’t forget what happened in the previous school year.

“A few of the sports here got eliminated last year and I really just hope that they keep the sports, keep them how they are,” Fisher said.

Another athlete remembers that as well and worries about her college athletics career.

“I’m a little worried that the cross country program might go away because we are not getting very many people,” said Ashley Long, a sophomore with the cross country.

She said her sport isn’t very popular at the school.

Sports are safe, Washington said, and he wants to add to the athletic department. He would like to add sports that complement the ones already on campus like track and field.

The two entities currently undergo a separate accreditation process, said Linda Steele, vice president of enrollment and student affairs at Franklin, a private nonprofit institution based in Columbus. If Urbana becomes a branch campus, she said, the Champaign County school would no longer be accredited separately, and would fall under Franklin’s process. Urbana has been under academic probation since November 2014.

If the branch campus status is approved, Steele said it would be a significant step toward ending the probation and allow Urbana University to add new academic programs and initiatives.

Changes will continue, Washington said, but they depend on future decisions made by other agencies. Franklin will likely learn this June if Urbana will become a branch campus.

“As a result of the determination that it is a branch campus, we can then add more programs, establish these partnerships and move some initiatives forward,” Washington said.

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