The leaders of Nebraska’s public higher education institutions, Gov. Pete Ricketts and the business community joined together this week in launching a statewide campaign that aims to minimize college costs and grow the workforce by encouraging students to graduate on time.
The “Commit to Complete” campaign – initiated in 2016 as a University of Nebraska program and now expanded to include partners across public higher education, government and business – represents a coordinated effort to enhance student success and address Nebraska’s urgent workforce needs.
In the years ahead, Nebraska will have 34,000 annual job openings for high-skill, high-demand, high-wage workers like engineers and engineering technicians; nurses, dental hygienists and other healthcare workers; and computer network support specialists and other technology experts. More than two-thirds of those will require an associate’s degree or higher – meaning Nebraska must do more to build the workforce and economy of the future.
“Nebraskans rightfully want to know what we’re doing to ensure that our students graduate on time, with as little debt as possible, and with the skills they need to succeed in the workforce,” said University of Nebraska Interim President Susan Fritz. “Attracting and retaining more talent in our state is certainly part of the solution to the workforce crisis. But as institutions of higher learning, we also have a responsibility to help our students complete their academic journey on time.
“I’m pleased to join my colleagues in the public and private sectors in sending a strong message to students, families and the people of Nebraska that we care about our young people, we want them here, and we want them to be successful. This is an exciting opportunity for Nebraska’s public higher education institutions to help lead the way in advancing Governor Ricketts’ goal to grow Nebraska.”
Governor Ricketts said: “I encourage Nebraska’s college and university students to commit to complete their degrees on time. By staying on schedule, students increase their likelihood of getting a degree, limit their debt, and accelerate their transition into a rewarding job upon graduation.”
Currently, one-third of first-time, full-time, degree-seeking students at Nebraska’s public four-year institutions graduate within four years. One-fourth of first-time, full-time, degree- or certificate-seeking students at Nebraska’s two-year institutions earn their credentials within two years.
“I am so pleased to see the growing statewide momentum behind Commit to Complete, a program that speaks to the very heart of our educational missions at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and University of Nebraska Medical Center," UNO and UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, M.D., said. "Programs like UNO’s Completion Imperative – a shared goal of making sure every student crosses the finish line – fit hand-in-glove with this effort. We want all of our students to know that they will have the support they need to achieve their academic goals, attain a rewarding career, and become engaged leaders in their workplace and communities.”
While every student has unique circumstances, “Commit to Complete” aims to remind students and families of the cost savings and earnings potential that can come along with more timely graduation. Nebraska’s public institutions are tremendous values, but every additional year of school can add significantly to the cost of a degree.
Furthermore, given the increased salaries that come with a college degree, delays in graduation can put off a student’s earnings.
The Nebraska, Kearney, Omaha and Lincoln chambers have all endorsed “Commit to Complete” as a strategy for growing a skilled workforce for the state.
“There is a 50-state competition for workforce, and only some states will be winners. Nebraska’s success depends on our ability to produce many more college graduates to meet the urgent needs of businesses across our state,” said Bryan Slone, president of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce & Industry. “The Nebraska Chamber of Commerce is proud to support the Commit to Complete effort and applauds our university, state colleges and community colleges for working together to build our workforce and advance Governor Ricketts’ goals for growth.”
“Commit to Complete” offers a four-step plan for degree completion:
- Meet with an advisor to discuss the student’s needs, including the student’s work, family, military and other responsibilities.
- Make a plan, including a course schedule for each year of school. For example, at a four-year institution, a course load of 30 credit hours per year – either 15 credit hours each academic semester, or 12 hours per semester supplemented by summer coursework – is the recommended approach for graduating in four years.
- Stay on track. Students should continue to meet with their advisor at least once a semester or quarter. Students should also participate in internships, apprenticeships, undergraduate research or other cocurricular activities that align with their area of interest.
- Graduate sooner, prepared for the workforce, continued schooling or other next step.
Paul Turman, chancellor of the Nebraska State College System, said: “This initiative aligns well with the open access and affordability mission for the Nebraska State College System, as we strive to ensure on-time degree completion for the students we serve. For many of our students, time can be their biggest enemy on the pathway to degree completion, and we plan to implement a range of student success strategies to eliminate degree attainment hurdles.”
“There is little value in only running part of a race. The same can be applied to an education,” said Greg Adams, executive director of the Nebraska Community College Association. “At any one of Nebraska’s community colleges, completion may mean an associate’s degree, or it may mean completing a program of study which ends in having earned a credential or certificate. Regardless of the path chosen, the value is in completion.”
“Commit to Complete” builds on a long-standing statewide focus on student access and success and economic development. Each of the university’s undergraduate campuses, for example, has initiatives in place to improve retention and graduation rates. The Board of Regents in 2011 capped most baccalaureate degrees at 120 hours, ensuring that most students who take 30 credit hours per year graduate in four years.
All three colleges in the Nebraska State College System have reduced the number of credits required for a bachelor’s degree. They have also increased the number of dual-credit courses for high school students, providing an affordable jump-start on college that gives students added flexibility and helps ensure timely graduation.
In addition, Nebraska’s public institutions of higher education have worked together to craft pathway programs between institutions to guide students to their degree, regardless of whether they start at a community college or one of the four-year institutions. These partnerships include initiatives to expand access and grow the workforce, like the Rural Health Opportunities Program, Kearney Health Opportunities Program, Rural Law Opportunities Program and Urban Health Opportunities Program.
About the University of Nebraska at Omaha
Located in one of America’s best cities to live, work and learn, the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) is Nebraska’s premier metropolitan university. With more than 15,000 students enrolled in 200-plus programs of study, UNO is recognized nationally for its online education, graduate education, military friendliness and community engagement efforts. Founded in 1908, UNO has served learners of all backgrounds for more than 100 years and is dedicated to another century of excellence both in the classroom and in the community.