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Carmi Rotary Club Hears From Vincennes University President At Thursdays Meeting

The Carmi Rotary club had a very interesting program on Thursday, as the president of Vincennes University was on hand to talk about that Indiana school.

President Charles “Chuck” Johnson made the trip to Carmi to discuss his favorite, topic, Vincennes University. He started with a little personal history, stating that he had grown up in Washington, Indiana, and had ancestors all throughout Knox County, Indiana. He told the club that his wife was also a southern Indiana girl, having grown up in Vincennes. He told the club that he has been at Vincennes University for 10 years, starting out as Provost, before moving into the president’s role.

President Johnson gave the Rotarians a quick history of the university. He stated that Vincennes University was founded in 1801 and is recognized as one of the oldest colleges in the Midwest. In 1899 it was officially established as a junior college, and in doing so, became the first junior college in the United States.

He then talked a little about the challenges Covid had caused at the University. He proudly explained that when the lockdown began, the school was on Spring break. By extending that break by just one week, they were able to transition from in-house to on-line for every student enrolled. As he said, this was quite an achievement in such a short time.

His talk focused on five things that the recent Covid lockdown has done to higher education not just in our area, but nation-wide.

His first topic was the growth of on-line learning. Even when the lockdowns ended, a lot of students chose to do 100% of their schooling on-line. He believes this will be a permanent change to the education system. He believes that what we might see in the future is a hybrid of the two. A student might do all of the “book” learning as an on-line student, and only go to the campus for classes that require hands-on instruction.

The second major change post-covid, is the loss, nationwide, of over one million students. Statistics show that in this past year, only 53% of eligible students opted for college. This is the first time in many, many years that the number has fallen below 60%.

President Johnson pointed out, that with today’s red hot labor market, a student fresh out of high school can make eighteen or nineteen dollars an hour now. When that is compared to two or four more years of school, a good number are choosing to join the workforce. His fear is that those jobs may not last, which will leave that potential student without the skills to pursue another career.

The third point, which is a hot topic in the country today, is student debt. The president explained that between 2007 and 2019, student debt in the USA went from 640 billion to over one trillion dollars. He went on to say that while everyone hears the stories of the Harvard grad who majored in French movie studies, and is now working at a Starbucks, in reality that is not the average holder of student debt. In fact, the largest group of debt holders are students who never finished college. Because of that, they remain in debt, but don’t have a degree to go after the higher paying jobs that would allow them to pay off the loans.

He went on to explain that one of the largest part of anyone’s debt is housing debt. In most cases, that cost is not covered by scholarships, so the student is left paying sometimes extremely high rents. At V.U. they have started a program that offers rent-only scholarships, and they hope this will be able continue in the future.

The fourth area impacting higher education is the mindset of many high school students. There is still the belief in our country, that you not only need a degree, but you need it from a big, well-known school. This is simply not the case. A Princeton University study showed no difference in pay between graduates of large universities and smaller ones. In reality, the degree means more than where it was obtained. As he stated, parents need to start talking financially to their kids about what is more important, a degree and a massive amount of debt from a big school, or the same degree with little or no debt from a smaller local school.

Lastly, President Johnson spoke about the new work-school programs that are popping up at universities. In these programs, students work part-time or even full-time at a company, and go to college at the same time, using part of the earnings to pay off the school bill. Vincennes University has programs with Hershey Chocolate, Marathon Oil, and Cummins currently and could see more in the future. He was extremely proud to tell the Rotarians that Vincennes University partnered with Amazon on three different degree programs that also allowed the students to work with the retail giant.

All in all it was an extremely informative talk and the Rotarians were very happy to have the president on hand for the day’s meeting.

In club business, the day’s 50/50 raffle was replaced with a game of “heads or tails”, and the last person standing was guest Barb Peters, who claimed the day’s cash jackpot. Cindy Conley was named as the day’s phantom.

The Carmi Rotary club meets every Thursday at noon at the First United Methodist Church on Main Street in Carmi. Anyone wishing to learn more about this civic organization is welcome to attend a meeting or speak with any Carmi Rotarian.


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