‘It’s a huge loss’: Urbana University’s closure to affect 350 students, 111 jobs

Urbana University will close and cease enrollments at the end of the 2020 Spring semester partly due to the coronavirus.

Closing the university will affect 350 students and 111 full-time employees, school officials said.

University officials made the decision to close Friday during an executive team and board meeting, Urbana University Executive Vice President Christopher Washington said.

The stress of the COVID-19 pandemic after struggling with declining enrollment “for many years” lead to the decision to close Washington said.

“We weren’t able to raise our enrollment above 500 students and that’s where we need to be to have a capable and economic campus,” Washington said. “So with coronavirus, it was really a tipping point in terms of enrollment projections we were seeing in the last month or so, we really couldn’t handle the negative impacts of that.”

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Urbana University is a branch campus of Franklin University, which is located in Columbus. Franklin acquired Urbana University’s assets in 2014 in order to “effectively serve students,” according to Franklin’s website. In 2017, through approval by the Higher Learning Commission, Franklin brought Urbana under its accreditation as a branch campus.

The average cost to attend Urbana University is roughly $32,000 a year, according to the university’s website.

“Like many small rural campuses across the country, the Urbana University Branch Campus has experienced low enrollment for many years,” a statement from Franklin University said. “Franklin University’s effort to stabilize the Urbana campus have met with some success in recent years. However, the global coronavirus pandemic has added a level of stress and uncertainty to Urbana’s prospects that make it impossible to sustain, compelling Franklin University to discontinue physical operations on the branch campus.

The university currently serves 1,254 students, the statement said.

Of that student population, 75%, or 940 students, are enrolled in the College Credit Plus program, the Post-Baccalaureate Education program, the MBA-Healthcare program and the London Correctional Institute program.

“These students will continue their studies uninterrupted and unchanged, as their instruction does not occur on the Urbana campus,” the statement said.

The remaining 25% of Urbana’s total student population, or 350 students, consists of residential and commuter students who are now finishing the spring semester online as directed by Gov. Mike DeWine’s guidelines as part of efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19, the statement said.

“These students will be able to complete their academic programs online through Franklin University. Students who prefer to transfer to other institutions will be assisted in doing so,” the statement said. “For students in the final stages of their studies, a flexible “teach out plan” (a plan for the completion of their academic program) will be developed.”

Jesse Reliford, an Urbana University freshman baseball player and Kettering Fairmont High School graduate, said he was shocked to find out about Urbana’s closure by email Tuesday morning.

“Honestly, I’m at a loss for words,” Reliford said. “I’m disappointed for sure. I was excited to go back and now I’m just disappointed. I’m honestly at a loss for words.”

Reliford said as an athlete Urbana’s decision to close the campus means he has to “start over.”

“I have to make the decision to find another school. I just call it a rock in the road — a rock in my road. I have to start somewhere new again,” Reliford said. “Since this happened, I am just focused on pursuing my education. I want to be a high school history teacher.”

As for transferring schools and his NCAA eligibility, Reliford said he isn’t sure about that either.

“Our coach texted our group message and said he would be back with us with answers,” Reliford said. “I have to start reaching out to coaches and see if someone will take me. Someone has to take a chance on me.”

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In addition to students, 111 full-time employees on the Urbana campus will be affected by the closure, the statement said.

“A number of full-time employees who work at the branch campus will be offered employment at Franklin University,” the statement said. “Those who will not continue at Franklin will be offered severance packages that include outplacement assistance to help with this difficult transition.”

David Decker, president of Franklin University, said the university’s “highest priority is to ensure students experience a seamless transition of their academic studies that our branch campus employees have the resources to make their transition as well.”

“As institutions of higher education across the country struggle to identify ways to stay open, we will do all we can to help students identify the best alternative forward to fulfill their education goals in an affordable manner,” Decker said.

Washington said it’s “still to be determined,” how many Urbana employees will take a position at Franklin.

“There are opportunities available for a number of employees at Franklin,” Washington said. “We are going to hold small sessions in the coming weeks to allow us to hear what people’s goals are for the future and what will work best for them.”

The status of the university’s Johnny Appleseed Museum is still be determined. “Officials are looking into all aspects of this question and will post an update when a decison is made,” according to the website.

Washington said he is taking Urbana’s closure “really hard.”

“I’m deeply saddened about this — for what this means for so many people. We have a really great relationship with our alumni. A lot of professors have given their heart and soul to this university,” Washington said. “I thought (Urbana University) was a really special place. It’s a huge loss.”

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