How Maurice Wiggins Used Columbia’s Tuition Exemption Benefit to Earn Two Master’s Degrees

Maurice Wiggins, an employee of Columbia University Irving Medical Center, at his graduation in May 2019.

Maurice Wiggins at his graduation in May 2019. (Photo courtesy of Maurice Wiggins.)

When Maurice Wiggins moved to New York from Florida, he knew he wanted to get an advanced degree and he knew that he wanted to earn it from Columbia University. But he would have to get in. And he would have to figure out how to pay for it.

As luck would have it, Wiggins was recruited in 2011 for an HR position at Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC). Most regular, full-time salaried University employees who have completed two years of continuous service may take advantage of a benefit that pays full tuition for their undergraduate and graduate courses at Columbia University, Barnard College, and Teachers College. The children of eligible employees also may qualify for a 100% tuition exemption for undergraduate degrees at Columbia and Barnard College. 

When he had two years of service under his belt, he successfully applied to the University’s School of International and Public Affairs to pursue an executive master of public administration (EMPA) degree. “Where I came from, Columbia and schools like it weren’t within the realm of what we thought we could achieve,” he told CUIMC Today. “It was a personal goal for me to be able to say ‘I can go there, and I can graduate.’” 

The EMPA is designed for working people. So, for three years Wiggins worked full time while taking classes on Saturdays and some weeknights. When he got his EMPA, he immediately went back to school—to Columbia’s School of Professional Studies—to earn a master of science degree in strategic communications. He graduated this month.


“Time management has been key,” he said, speaking of how he balanced a full-time job with classes. “It was also really helpful that the things I was learning about I could actually practice at work. Some of the projects covered information that I would bring back and implement.”


Wiggins’ new skills and knowledge have helped him in his current role as director of HR and strategic planning for the medical school’s Department of Pathology & Cell Biology. His title reflects a recent promotion as a result of his new credentials and knowledge.


“The University has been pretty good at identifying opportunities that align with my new skills,” he noted.


Read more about Columbia University’s tuition exemption benefit program.