New Urbana U. leader pledges closer ties with businesses, community

Urbana University may become a branch campus of Franklin University in Columbus. JEFF GUERINI/STAFF
Urbana University may become a branch campus of Franklin University in Columbus. JEFF GUERINI/STAFF

Urbana University’s new executive vice president said Wednesday he plans to develop closer ties between the university and local businesses.

Christopher Washington was named executive vice president of Urbana University last month after former President George Lucas resigned. Washington said Wednesday the university will play a more active role in the region and will develop deeper ties with area businesses, particularly in fields like manufacturing.

“We have to offer programs of study that are relevant to the surrounding community,” Washington said.

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Washington is taking over at a time when Urbana University will shift to a branch campus of Franklin University. Franklin acquired the Champaign County campus in 2014 after Urbana University faced years of lean enrollment and financial struggles. As part of the deal, Urbana now functions as a division of Franklin but retains its name. Franklin is a private, nonprofit institution based in Columbus.

The two entities currently undergo a separate accreditation process. If Urbana University receives approval to become a branch campus of Franklin, it would fall under Franklin’s accreditation process.

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The Columbus school is working through that process with the Higher Learning Commission, an accreditation agency. Franklin hopes to receive approval to combine accreditation for the two universities as early as next month, Washington said.

Urbana University has been under academic probation since November 2014 when the smaller campus faced a variety of challenges. The university has about 1,800 students and has a roughly $31 million economic impact on the region.

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Washington said he’s already meeting with leaders from Champaign County businesses and school districts to ensure the university’s academic programs are aligned with the skills employers want. Champaign County and the surrounding areas rely heavily on manufacturing, he said.

“We really are looking to ensure we’re more integrated into the Urbana community,” Washington said.

Staying with the Story

The Springfield News-Sun has provided extensive coverage of financial challenges at Urbana University, including stories on its impact on Champaign County and digging into what its acquisition by Franklin University means.