Janitor Earns Columbia University Degree After 12 Years Of Study

Gac Filipaj janitor Colombia University degreeHe's an immigrant who became a janitor, and on Sunday, he'll also be an Ivy League graduate, with a degree in classics from Columbia University.

It's a classic American success story, but not the kind you read much in these recessionary times. Gac Filipaj, 52, came to the U.S. from war-torn Yugoslavia in 1992 barely speaking a word of English. On the advice of his first English tutor in New York, he began working as a janitor at Columbia University so that he could take advantage of the school's tuition-exemption benefit program that allows employees to enroll in classes for free. Lucky for him, because according to Collegedata.com, tuition and fees at Columbia cost $45,290.

Filipaj, after entering Columbia's School of General Studies in 2000, chose to major in classics. And this spring he completed enough credits to graduate, often attending classes in the morning and working until 11 p.m. at night. "The most difficult thing is ancient Greek -- it's just a killer! Latin is a little bit easier, at least for me," Filipaj told CBS New York. (Correction: An earlier version of this article said that Columbia's School of General Studies is open-enrollment. It is not.)

And after getting such a fancy degree, he remains focused on education.

"I want to try, if I can, to get [my] master's," he told CBS New York. "I'd rather clean bathrooms two or three more years and get the master's than get a lot of more money and get better job and stuff like that."

The accomplishment has not gone unnoticed by the deans of Columbia.

"The key is he was in class with every other undergraduate at Columbia and competing with them," Professor Peter Awn, dean of the School of General Studies, told the TV station.

Filipaj told New York's Daily News that he grew accustomed to seeing the surprised faces of his classmates as they came across him sweeping floors at Columbia.

He says that he has sent much of the money that he has earned back to his family in the former Yugoslavia.

The university does not release salary information for its maintenance staff. Some janitors in New York City public schools famously earned big salaries, due to overtime. But many in this occupation do not. In fact, workers at Diversified Maintenance Services in Minnesota last week announced that they're planning a lawsuit against their employer for allegedly failing to pay overtime wages.

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