As I wait for a decision on what will happen to the Urbana University’s 128-acre campus which was purchased by Franklin University in 2014 and closed by Franklin at the end of spring semester 2020, I feel some apprehension. Why?
I began my career in higher education as a 26-year-old at what was then Urbana College and spent 13 years there. I became director of Teacher Education and a full professor before moving on to become president/chancellor of colleges as Janis Joplin sang, “from the Kentucky coal mines to the California sun.”
I’m still in touch on social media with a dozen plus of my former students at Urbana. Many of them have enjoyed success as attorneys, social workers, educators, and business owners. Their success has come from the values the college community endorsed and the ways in which faculty translated the college mission into programs and activities that enriched the lives of students and encouraged them to embrace commitments to service for the greater good.
According to a May 4, 2014, Dayton Daily News story by Matt Sanctis, “five banks agreed to take millions in losses” so that the transaction with Franklin could be realized. I’ve been unable to locate the dollar figure that Franklin paid for the college, but I believe it was modest. Following the purchase, Franklin invested a few million in campus upgrades and when I was there for a graduation ceremony a few years ago, I was impressed with the upgrades and optimistic about the future of the college.
I care about education at all levels, and I see a campus that will eventually begin to deteriorate if left vacant. I also am a pragmatist and am aware of the struggles colleges and universities face, problems that have been brought on by a host of factors, many of which were and are beyond their control.
As a person who has headed colleges both small and very large, I understand issues like accreditation which encompasses a host of standards that colleges must meet in order to be considered reputable: from curriculum to library resources and a host of other student services. Finally, as a retiree of the California Community College System, I now teach at a local college and am current on these standards.
As I give a brief overview of my proposal, please know that I have not spoken to “the powers that be” about any of what I am about to suggest:
-Long-time Congressman Jim Jordan is a powerful figure in Washington, D.C., and can use his influence to get an appropriation of about 20 million dollars to buy the college campus from Franklin University. He knows better than I the likely sources for securing these monies and certainly economic development coffers would be one. The viability of the tax bases of significant parts of Jordan’s 4th Congressional District and the well-being of those constituents in the communities is tied to the citizens’ educational status and resultant employment opportunities.
-Clark State College and Wright State University might be convinced to assume control of the programming to be delivered at the site, at outreach locations, and online. These educational institutions know about needs assessments and could have programming in place by the fall of 2022. They already have the curriculum, the faculty with expertise, and the required accreditation. To get an overview of their excellent and diverse programming, visit their websites.
-So many services such as libraries, career counseling, personal counseling and such are delivered virtually now, so with the resources already in place at Clark State and Wright State, that would not be a problem.
-For almost 10 years I have been working with military veterans, and they and their families could be housed in existing dormitories on the campus with some modifications (perhaps provided by the trades at area vocational schools) . Veterans, reservists, and active-duty military and their spouses and children eligible for Ohio’s College Credit Plus program could provide an important component of the student population. With a pool and a gym as well as playing fields already on campus, this would provide a thriving, nurturing environment for this group who have given so much to our country and continue to give. Legislation supported by Gov. Mike DeWine and passed in 2020, indicates military in our state are not required to pay out-of-state tuition when attending Ohio public colleges and universities.
First step: A task force representing the major players and made up of persons committed to the success of the venture and willing to approach this as a project to be outlined thoughtfully and expeditiously with the identification of necessary steps, persons responsible, financial considerations, deadlines, and assessment strategies. As I indicated earlier, I am a pragmatist and am not suggesting a “pie in the sky” approach, a return to what was.
What do students in the area, our veterans and their families, and communities have to gain? I think my readers can answer this question.