On March 7, 1850, the Swedenborgian Church founded Urbana College in Urbana, Ohio. Swedenborgian John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed, convinced local landowner John James to donate land to establish the college. Urbana College was the second college in Ohio to admit women into classes with men.
Urbana University grew slowly. In 1905, the institution employed only eight professors. In 1985, the college changed its name to Urbana University. In 2006, over 1,500 students enrolled at Urbana University. During the first years of the twenty-first century, the college experienced one of the fastest growing student enrollment rates in the United States. The institution offered two dozen degree programs. In 2014, Urbana University became part of Franklin University. The university but maintained its name and campus, and operated as a branch campus for both Franklin and Urbana University students. Due to low enrollment, and financial problems compounded by the coronavirus pandemic, Urbana University permanently closed its doors after the spring 2020 semester.