URBANA — Urbana University faculty and staff received word Tuesday morning that the campus would not re-open at the end of this term, according to Dr. Christopher Washington, UU executive vice president and CEO.
“It was a tough decision,” Washington said of the decision of UU’s executive team, with the support of the board, to shutter the doors of Franklin University’s only branch campus.
“I think the coronavirus was a tipping point for us,” he said, adding that attempts to stabilize UU’s financial situation had made progress since Franklin’s purchase of the university six years ago, but that COVID-19 had changed all that.
The future of the UU property is uncertain at this point. Washington said the focus will be on the students and staff the next couple of weeks.
A news release issued Tuesday states that students can finish academic programs online through Franklin University and that UU will assist those who wish to transfer to other schools. Complying with state COVID-19 guidelines, UU had evacuated the campus, and students have been doing their studies online.
Washington said some of UU’s 111 full-time employees will be eligible for jobs at Franklin and that resources are being identified to assist those losing jobs. Their severance packages will include outplacement services, he said.
Financial challenges are not new to the university.
“We were achieving far below the number of students needed for long-term viability,” Washington said, adding that of UU’s current student population, only 25 percent (about 350 students) are classified as residential students or commuter students. The rest (about 940 students) are enrolled in the College Credit Plus program for high schoolers, the Post-Baccalaureate Education program, the MBA-Healthcare program and the London Correctional Institute program. He said instruction for these students is off-campus and will continue.
He said the number of residential and commuter students needed to number about 1,000 for that “long-time viability,” but that reaching even half that number did not occur.
Still, Washington said progress was being made. “It’s safe to say that applications were looking pretty optimistic until January,” he said. Then news of COVID-19 spread. He said the number of current applications, compared to last year at this time, is significantly down.
“Our industry was significantly impacted by this,” Washington said. “All institutions in our society are being impacted by this global pandemic. The impact has been devastating.”
With millions of people filing for unemployment and more families unable to pay for college, high school graduates are re-thinking their future, Washington said.
“It’s deeply sad for me,” he said. “I’ve had the opportunity to lead the Urbana campus over three years. We’ve built relationships with the staff, the students and the community.
“My heart goes out to the faculty, the staff, the students,” he said. “Our students are some of the most hard-working and service-minded that I’ve met in my 30 years of education.”
He noted UU students’ participation in community projects such as Habitat for Humanity and Empty Bowls and the university’s relationship with the Urbana community, the Chamber of Commerce and Champaign Economic Partnership. He also noted improvements to UU buildings and grounds over the last six years.
“We were feeling good about our program, then something like this (pandemic) happens,” he said.
As for the future of the UU campus, which is owned by Franklin University, Washington said community leaders will be a part of that conversation.