August 26, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Nebraska Independent Colleges Foundation (NICF) President James Johnson Ph.D. is used to change. Dr. Johnson, his wife, Lesa, and his Harley-Davidson moved to Omaha four years ago, after serving respected stints at a handful of universities across the nation. Such positions included president of Ohio Valley University in West Virginia, and director of forensics and assistant to the provost at Texas A&M University.

The communication skills he has gained after a lifetime in education are making a difference in the lives of underprivileged college students in Nebraska. “We raise scholarship funds to help needy students in Nebraska attend Nebraska colleges, primarily independent colleges,” he says.

Founded in 1953, the NICF has a staff of three and is about to get a whole lot busier as they prepare to double their size and serve more schools. Currently, they raise scholarship funds for the students of Union College, Bellevue University, York College, and Hastings College.

Johnson says that, statistically, students who come out of independent colleges are hired quicker than state school graduates and they are promoted faster.


JamesJohnson1“I think it’s because of some of the types of students that private colleges attract and also smaller class size, smaller teacher/student ratio (that allows) more individual attention in the classroom,” he says.

Johnson says that the schools they currently work with are leaders in certain fields. “York, for example has an excellent teacher preparation program. Union has a very good physician assistants program with a waiting list on it. Bellevue is probably, in my opinion, one of the leaders in nontraditional programs. Hastings has such a vibrant legacy and heritage and history that speaks well for all of their programs.”

Since Johnson began his teaching career in 1983 as a professor of communication at Lubbock Christian University in Texas, he has seen the average age of a student increase.


“When I started teaching, the average age of a college student was about 23,” Johnson says. “Now the average age of the college student today is closer to 30. We have so many more adults going back to retrain or going back to make career changes.”

A recipient of the 2008 President’s Volunteer Service Award, which was presented by President George W. Bush, Johnson enjoys teaching and the relationships he has with students. He says he is able to fulfill his desire to teach through his leadership consulting firm, Ethos Leadership Group, where he serves as chief executive officer.

Johnson notes that the NICF has an annual golf tournament that has grown in attendance by 50 percent over the past four years. The tournament raises awareness and provides an opportunity for fundraising. NICF accepts donations from both corporate and individual donors.

“I enjoy being able to tell donors, when they write me a $1,000 check, that $1,000 is going to scholarships.”

Johnson has his eyes set on a big prize for the foundation—a fundraising challenge of $2.5 million. If NICF reaches that goal by the end of the year, an independent donor will match that sum, bringing the total to $5 million raised. Now that’s enough money for a lot of books.

Visit nicfonline.org for more information. B2B

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