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Three years after the University of Nebraska launched a public awareness campaign aimed at encouraging students to work hard to complete a college degree in four years, there are signs the initiative is working.

The number of students graduating has outpaced enrollment increases at NU, said interim President Susan Fritz, meaning students are graduating earlier and entering the workforce.

"We've already seen the impact of it," Fritz said Tuesday during a news conference to relaunch the Commit to Complete campaign.

Started in 2016 by former NU President Hank Bounds, the initiative stressed to students the benefits of completing a four-year college degree in four years or less, encouraging students to take a course load that would keep them on track and to meet regularly with an academic adviser.

Fritz said with a growing focus on outcomes in higher education and more students graduating with crushing debt, she wanted to create a coalition of higher education, business and state government leaders to broaden Commit to Complete's reach and impact.

Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Gov. Pete Ricketts and representatives of Nebraska' community colleges, the state college system, the Chamber of Commerce and the state Department of Education, Fritz said Commit to Complete reflects a "unified commitment to success."

Ricketts framed completing a college degree in four years as a win-win proposition both for students and the state as a whole.

"We've got a huge need here in our state for those folks who get a degree," he said. "The sooner you get a degree, the sooner you can be in the workforce helping grow the economy of our state."

Other leaders in higher education, such as Paul Turman, chancellor of the state college system, said joining Commit to Complete fits nicely with internal strategies now underway to offer students more advising and help them think about their career goals sooner.

"I think what's so critical about making a statewide effort is the fact that now it starts to instill upon parents and students the importance of getting their degree done and getting it done on time," said Turman, who oversees the college system with campuses in Peru, Wayne and Chadron.

Paul Illich, president of Southeast Community College, said the college, which serves a 15-county area of Southeast Nebraska, has pushed to build the physical capacity of its learning spaces to accommodate more students.

Nebraska's six community colleges have also taken on a "more aggressive approach to advising," offering those services to students both at the program level and college level in order to help steer them through.

"Eighty percent of all community college students are employed either part-time or full-time," Illich said. "So they need that aggressive mentoring, that aggressive advising to understand how to navigate that schedule so we can get them through as fast as possible."

Nebraska Chamber of Commerce President Bryan Slone said Commit to Complete is integral to helping meet the demand for a highly skilled and trained workforce since there are thousands of job openings on any given day.

In addition to filling the needs of businesses, improving graduation rates will make Nebraska a more attractive place for college-going students from other states, Slone said, growing the workforce.

The public information campaign is just that, however.

While many college students work to help pay tuition or living expenses, the Commit to Complete campaign doesn't direct any additional state funds to public colleges or universities to lower costs or provide scholarships.

Fritz said what the Commit to Complete campaign does is help students find a path through their college coursework — to internships and part-time jobs that relate to their majors and into a career.

"It's good for the student. It's good for the state. It's good for the employers here in the state," Ricketts said.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7120 or cdunker@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @ChrisDunkerLJS