Joseph earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Berea College at the age of twenty. He helped with costs by working on the college’s janitorial staff and at a broom factory. Despite these responsibilities, he engaged in athletic activities on campus. During his four years at Berea, he played tennis and varsity basketball team. He continued to play basketball even when trouble from a serious high school football injury, which left one of his legs shorter than the other, required him to wear a knee brace while playing. In an interview with his hometown paper more than twenty-years later, Greene recalled being named an All Conference Basketball Player as one of his proudest moments.
The impact of his introduction to academia was lifelong. In a letter to Southern Miss President Dr. Aubrey Lucas in 1986, he acknowledged, “Berea had a tremendous influence on me and my attitudes.” Following his graduation, he obtained a DuPont scholarship to attend graduate school in economics at the University of Virginia, where he earned his master’s degree in 1943.