Nearly two dozen alumni from historically Black colleges recently graduated from Columbia University earning their master’s degrees through a new fellowship by the Ivy League school. And they didn’t pay a dime.

The 22 students were the first cohort of the Columbia HBCU Fellowship program, part of the Columbia University School of Professional Studies. The program provides talented graduates from HBCUs with a rigorous, Ivy League graduate education and career advancement opportunities with top global employers. Fellows receive a full-tuition scholarship and room and board for a master’s degree at SPS.

In total, 11 Black colleges that Columbia has partnered with were represented in the program, including Florida A&M University, the University of the District of Columbia, Morgan State University and Delaware State University. The students had the option of earning master’s degrees in eight majors, including Bioethics, Sports Management, Strategic Communication and Construction Administration.

“We want to be able to provide an innovative curriculum that has practical applications, but we also want to graduate a diverse pipeline of students,” said SPS Dean Dr. Jason Wingard. “We knew that we had to provide funding, housing, free tuition and other wrap-around career services working to attract students and to be able to prepare them for what corporations are looking for.”

The partnership schools helped Columbia recognize qualified applicants for the program. The average GPA for the students upon entering the program was 3.6 on the 4.0 scale. The students also participated in community service projects, joined or started student organizations and did internships in their fields.

“The program was a different experience coming from an HBCU background,” said Spelman College graduate Lauren Fleming, who earned her master’s degree in Nonprofit Management. “I’m going to pursue an opportunity with a classmate who is the executive director of an organization that is trying to eliminate infant mortality in rural Haiti.”

Kwame Baah is a graduate of the University of the District of Columbia and earned a master’s degree in Construction Administration. He plans to use his degree to establish a construction company to create job opportunities in the United States and his native country of Ghana.

“It’s been an adventure,” he said. “We’ve all had fun learning new things. I’m definitely going to move back to Ghana in couple of years.”

Tuesday, the students, along with Columbia University administrators, came together for a celebration breakfast on campus where Thurgood Marshall College Fund President and CEO Dr. Harry L. Williams was the keynote speaker.

Columbia has selected 24 students to be part of the next fellowship. They are set to begin taking classes in the fall.